Thursday, April 28, 2011


                                     June 9th 1892

Irish Immigrants Leaving Home
    Living in Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland wasn’t the best place for a seven-year old-boy to live his childhood. My father, Damien Kenan, was constantly forced to sell his land to wealthy landowners in England, but still had to work on it for them. The key to the end of our hunger every single night only depended on the potato crops. If they didn’t grow in time, our owners wouldn’t pay us and we would starve for several days. In 1845, a mushroom infected the potato fields. A devastating famine that killed approximately 2.5 million people resulted in three more crop failures in 1846, 1848 and 1851. This demoralized my father and my mother, Anna Duff. My brother and I couldn’t stand not eating for days and days, and our parents noticed that. One night, our father gathered us and
told us that the next day, we would leave on the SS State Florida, departing from the Port of Larne. None of us could express the joy we felt.

                                                                                 June 10th 1892

Irish Vessels Departing

Finally, we were about to leave our hometown, Bangor. Starting a new life in another world. Our father warned us: He said there would be a high chance of getting sick (catching the flu), since our boat was full with other people like us. He said we could even die. But we didn’t care, we were going to America. It was still a pretty long trip, about 2 weeks long, so my brother Paul and I figured we would get bored. And all of the sudden, a loud voice was heard that announced the boarding onto our ship, the SS State Florida departing from the Port of Larne. As soon as the gate opened, hundreds of Irish ran onto the deck, fighting to get a place. Luckily, we were amongst the first, so it was relatively easy to get on the boat. Once on it, a tall man showed us a little cabin, he said that this would be were we would sleep. My father saved up money for us to get a room. I understood because others had to sleep in the steerage, where it was very crowded. The price for the voyage in our room was $60, when the one in the steerage was only $40, but I knew it made a big difference. Everyone was so happy. My mother, Anna Duff, was crying tears of joy, we all felt like doing the same.

                 July 2nd, 1892: 

The Irish Remedy
            No one could even attempt to describe how our family felt. Knowing we belonged to a new world, now that we arrived in New York. Finally, after 2 weeks and a half of sailing on a steam boat, sleeping in cabins twice as small as our rooms in Ireland, getting sea sick every 2 days, we were beginning a new life. At Ellis Island, every Irish family ran to the medical exams,  where we were questioned about our health and previous conditions. They wanted to know if we were frequently sick on the boat, so we obviously said no. If we said yes, we would be sent back to Ireland. We were really scared- What would happen if we didn’t fit their demands? What if didn’t answer the questions well? Will they send us back home? They called our names, and a man in a suit showed us the way to the offices. There, the officers started the “interrogation”, as my parents called it. They handed us a list for all of us to fill in. That’s what it said:
  1. Number on list.
    2. Name in Full.
    3. Age
    4. Sex
    5. Married / Single
    6. Occupation
    7. Able to Read / Write
    8. Nationality, Country/ City/Town
    9. Race
    10. Last Residence
    11. Name & Address of relative in native country
    12. Final Destination
    13. No. on list
    14. Whether having a ticket to final destination.
  2. 15. By whom was passage paid?
    16. Whether in possession of $50.
    17. Whether ever in U.S. before.
    18. Whether going to join relative if so, list name and address.
    19. Ever in prison, almshouse institution for care of insane etc.
    20. Whether a Polygamist.
    21. Whether an Anarchist.
    22. Whether coming with an offer promise, or agreement of labor.
    23. Condition of Health
    24. Deformed or crippled
    25. Height
    26. Complexion
    27. Color of eyes/hair
    28. Identifying marks
    29. Place of Birth


                 August 7th 1893

NYC 19th Century Food Market
I have just moved into my new home in the Lower East Side: 137 E. Houston Street (ghetto area) with my new family. We have settled into our new apartment which isn’t bigger than our old house back in Ireland, but we were still satisfied that we have moved to New York, our new home. My new room was as small as a carriage. In that room there was just a bed and a lamp with a mirror over it. The kids' room has a bunk bed that we had made when we just arrived. Our Irish neighbor has a Laundromat; he has offered my wife a job to help pay the expenses of our furniture. She would earn 10 cents a week which was a good salary. I was ready to go find a job the following day. I was thinking of going to work at the Brooklyn Bridge because most of my chaps from BangorIreland were working there. I decide to go out to the market to look at the prices and compare them to the ones in Ireland. Onions were 4 for 2 cents, milk for 4 cents, other vegetables were 3 cents. When it came to meat; the prices were high for a pound of meat you paid 6 cents which is a lot and 6 sausages cost 10 cents.

                August 8th 1893

Brooklyn Bridge Workers
           I have just started my day with some bread and a bowl of hot milk. Once finished, I headed towards my bathroom to shave my beard to look nice and sharp. I then got into my fanciest clothes to impress the supervisor so I could be able to get this job. I am now heading to the Brooklyn Bridge to apply for my new job. Then I arrived at the supervisors waiting room. There was a huge waiting line of people who were trying to apply for the job. The people were all immigrants like me; one was from Russia who only knew a few words of English. After an hour long wait it was finally my turn to impress the supervisor. There was a time limit of 10 minutes to talk all about yourself and what you want to work in. His first words were “How do you do?”, I answered back “Fine!”. I discussed how back in Ireland I was the most talented and skillful farmer. He took a close look at me and said out loud “We have a winner!” At first I thought he said that I had won something but he meant that I was the best worker so far. He then handed me a paper and told that I was the manager of the workers on the bridge. I started to cry with joy. I headed home but there was something wrong with my stomach which I was worried about because the next day was when I started to work.


                 August 9th 1893

Laborers in The Bronx

                       At 7 A.M. I woke up to get some breakfast for my family. I went across the street at the food market to go and fetch some eggs, milk, and bread. Once I got all my groceries I went back home to make breakfast before starting off for my first day at work. I then made myself a sandwich with some left over ham from last night. Once finished with my breakfast I headed towards work. I was late for work by 2 minutes. I checked in by signing a time sheet. I started to work by supervising my staff, when suddenly a fight broke out with two workers. I came over to stop the fight; once I had split them up I brought them to the office of the owner. The boss thanked me and said that he has to have a word with them. When they exited they kicked a can and said “We're fired!” I was shocked that this had happened the first day of work. I finished my day with satisfaction and dissatisfaction.


               February 18th 1894


School, in 19th century New York

The life in America was hard, but the living conditions were somewhat better than my old life.  We were from a town in Ireland called Cork.  My brother Thomas was only seven years old when we got to America.  I was twelve.  Most of the time, our parents worked and we didn’t see them very often during the day so I had to babysit my brother.   He was an easy child to take care of.  He didn’t whine or complain because we sometimes didn’t get any food.  He understood how hard it was in America.  We didn’t go to school but we were sometimes home schooled by our mother.  She would teach us mathematics and science and the little rest she knew.  In my spare time, I would play football (soccer). I really liked America, it was so much nicer and it was nothing like Ireland.  We lived in a small apartment in downtown, New York on John Street but it was all our family could afford. It took me a couple months to get used to New York.  We had three neighbors and we only knew one of them: Mr. Perkins, who was also an Irish immigrant from a town called Belfast.  Our other two neighbors weren’t too friendly.

          February 20th, 1894

Nothing's too good for the irish

It was hard in America to make new friends.  Most of the kids I met outside in the street wouldn’t like me because of my accent and the fact that I wasn’t American.  Most of the kids in the neighborhood were American.  Every day at night I would help my mom do the chores and the laundry.  There was no fun in our house.  My brother and I would play with bottle caps.  Some days, my father would take me to work with him so I could learn his job.  Afterwards, we would sometimes go to a park and play football or, as Americans called it, “soccer”.  That was the only time I would have fun in New York.   Sometimes, I would take my little brother to the playground near our house.  To pass time, i would often sing songs. We went to church regularly, every sunday. It was far away from our street but my mother insisted that we went.My chores in the house were:
-take the garbage out every day
-help my mother wash the dishes
-help my mother with the laundry
-take care of my little brother    

           March 10th 1894

Paul's Parents

The difference between my life in New York and my old life was that I couldn’t go to school now.  I really missed my old life in Ireland.  I was first in my class.  I had a lot of friends.  Here, now that life was much harder, I had to learn the job of my father.  Every time I would work with my father, there were always other Irish boys working with their fathers.  The laboring was very hard.  It took a lot of hard work, strength and determination.  I had to carry large bags that were very heavy and when my father and I walked home, we had to watch out because there were gangs and bad people in our neighborhood.  It wasn’t a very safe place to live.  One night, when we were walking home, a gang member attacked us and robbed us.  For the whole week, we barely had enough money to live.    

             April 3rd 1894

Women Job

     Even though we made it to New York City, I still thought that we would have even more serious problems. The first problem was my chores. While my husband went to work and my children were just sitting there lonely, I had to go to the Laundromat, where I found a real back torturing contraption. To make it work I had to scrub the clothes on a rectangular shaped cleaning utensil. When I found myself thinking that I finished for the day, my husband came holding a basket filled with food and he told me, "Can you whip us up a dish?” All the time my children comment on what we are eating. They always look disappointed that the only thing we eat is supper. I’m always very disappointed when they say that. It makes me so helpless and it feels as if I failed to fulfill my own and most important duty that I have as an Irish mother.

  April 5th 1894

Ireland in the 19th century

          When I first arrived in New York, I felt reborn. The only time I felt new in Ireland was when I got married with Damien Kenan. He is a very nice man but now that we have arrived in New York he has become more preoccupied by his job and the friends that he met during his job than his own children. Sometimes, on his day off he plays soccer with his children on the road when the cars aren’t passing by. New York is a very big and a city of rebirth because new buildings and new cars and the news are very current these days and unlike Ireland there is enough food for everyone. Sincerely I do not want to go back to Ireland ever even if everything got better. Nowhere is better than here. 

                January 16th 1895

Stereotype of an Irish House

     We became very used to the New York and to the house we live in situated in  Brooklyn. Even thought every thing was going as planned, we still have to work together to keep the house standing because the roof was very sensitive to any sudden vibration of  growth of the weight like when it rains, if it rains too much it might collapse. I remember the summer storm that hit New York. The house was like a pool. We thought that all hope was gone. Except for my husband he was the engineering wizard. He knew what to do with the help of his job which concern’s building. He knew every corner of the house, he even drew a diagram of the house in case of emergencies like these. We had to work together to get this done the proper way. Each of us had a task to complete, I had to get some material and wood so we can unplug the holes on the roof. When we finished we all knew what we could do. We can withstand anything that came against us as long as we worked together.

1 comment:

  1. Hello:

    I love the pics here and am seeing some that I've not seen before in my research for a documentary film that I am well into the process of making. Would you be kind enough to get back to me so I can discuss the possibility of using some of these stills and any copyright permissions, etc.? Thanks, in advance, for your consideration, Patrick