Immigration Patterns for the
McKeon and Foy families 

While Irish came to the United States from pre-revolutionary times until now, the families we discuss here came in distinct times and patterns.  The McKeons came during the time of the famine, the 1840s; historians term this the "Old Immigration".  The Kansas group came over in the 1880s, the Foy/Mullin/O'Grady came around the turn of the century, 1890-1915; historians term this the "New Immigration" Later groups, including Lyons and Concannons came in the mid twentieth century.   The present essay concentrates on these periods, but recognises that a some came at other times (e.g. the Morley boys in the 1920-1930 period).

Mayo was one of the poorest counties in Ireland, and conservatively 250,000 souls emigrated from there during the Great Famine Period ( See essay   County Mayo History).  Certainly Berrys, Foys, Egans and other relaativeds went to America during the Old Immigration, but documentation is sketchy about these.

When I question a person of Irish descent to ask where his parents or grandparents came from, more often than not the response is the west of Ireland:  Clare, Mayo, Sligo, or Donegal.  These were the poorest counties.  After Cromwell, relatives in other part of the island were forced to move to Connaght, where their relatives were forced to divide their land, a process  which resulted in smaller farms.  Like other agricultural based groups, the Irish maintained a high birth rate; many hands were needed to operate the land.  But the inheritance laws pointed to only one or two of the next generation to inherit the land, so the younger children had to find their livelihood elsewhere.

Old Immigration

At the time of the famine, most immigrants came over on cargo ships, which had carried goods to England and Europe and were returning empty.  The immigrants were used as ballast.   One peculiar pattern was for Mayo Irish to get to Glasgow, Scotland, a major shipbuilding center.   This route had been known because many of the Mayo men journeyed to Scotland at harvest time to help out with the harvest and earn enough to have their family survive the long winter.  This was particularly true for men from Achill Island, just outside Westport.

The immigrants would stay in the hills around Glasgow waiting for the high tide, when the cargo ships would set sail for America.   As the tide rose, the price for transportation dropped, so it became a game to see how low the price would go before the captain set sail.   Many Irish missed their boats, and there grew up a colony of Irish in Glasgow which remains to this day.

One day in 1969, I stayed overnight at a Marist Brothers' house in Chateau Richer, a town 25 kilometers north north of Quebec City about half way to the shrine of Saint Anne-de-Beaupré.  At breakfast, an old Brother asked me my name.  I told him Richard Foy, expecting him to note that it might have some connection to Sainte Foy, a suburb of Quebec just south of the city.  Instead he immediately said "C'est un nom irlandais!"  -- "It's an Irish name" --and he disappeared from the dining room.   It seems he was interested in geneology.  He returned with a list of Foys who had emigrated from Ireland through Quebec.  Grosse ÎIe, in the Saint Lawrence River,  was used by Canada the same way the USA used Ellis Island -- to screen immigrants and turn away those with infectious diseases.  It is a small island shielded from by city of Quebec by the huge wooded ÎIe d'Orléans. By June 1847 over 25,000 Irish had been quarantined on Grosse Île or on ships anchored nearby.  Partridge Island, a quarantine station off St. John, New Brunswick, a nearer landfall to Ireland, received 17,000 Irish from 99 vessels in the same time period.  Four Foys from Mayo are buried on Grosse  ÎIe , and there are approximately nine other Foys who made it to the mainland.  Many of the Irish who landed at Quebec moved rapidly towards Montreal and crossed to the United States, which was often their primary objective, Canada being under British rule.  I was only cursorily interested in genealogy in 1969, and that old Brother must have gone to his reward by now, so I never discovered the names or the exact towns of origins of those Foys.

 The cargo ships of the 1840s used sails,  but some had auxiliary steam power.  The majority of the passengers were in steerage.  This meant they were housed in the hold of the ships.  Passengers were to bring their own food and what possessions they had.  The ship provided a fire on deck, and passengers took turns cooking their food at that fire.   If the trip across the Atlantic took longer than expected and food ran out,  hunger and starvation were the end result for some.  The close quarters and unhealthy sanitary conditions meant that disease spread rapidly among the immigrants.  Some historians estimate that as many as 50% of the passengers on these cargo ships never made it to America, and were buried at sea.  This percentage seems overstated, but the death toll was heavy.

There was also a principle of adverse selection involved.  The managers of the absentee landlords convinced several that it would be cheaper to pay the passage of poor people to America than to support these people in the poor houses, for which the landlords were responsible.  Several prominent landlords in Sligo and Donegal subscribed to this concept.  But the land managers often chose the weakest  of the poor to send abroad, figuring that these would be the least likely to help out on the estates or eventually become self supporting.  Thus the groups shipping out to America often carried higher disease profiles than the Irish population in general.  Because  of the high death rate, these ships were nicknamed "coffin ships".

Once in New York, the new arrivals sought out relatives who had preceded them.  Others were dumped into Five Points, a notorious slum.  Some remained there all their short lives, while the more ambitious, adventurous and lucky ones  moved north in Manhattan.  The McKeons moved to Broome Street, then some moved to Queens, others to Hell's Kitchen, and eventually to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Kansas migrants

From the earliest colonization periods of the United States, there was a great need for skilled workers.  Advertisements were common for skilled masons, carpenters, metal workers, and farmers in England, Ireland,  Germany and the Scandinavian countries. 

The two decades following the Civil War (1865 - 1885) saw frenetic construction of railroads across the United States, totaling 50,000 miles of track and tracing the rail patterns still in existence today.  The Union Pacific receives the most attention in the literature as it traversed Nebraska and crossed the "Great American Desert" to connect San Francisco to the East at Promontory Point.  But the United States had purchased land from Mexico (the  1853 "Gadsen purchase") to provide a  path for a transcontinental railroad along a southern route to Los Angeles and/or San Diego.  The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe reached the west coast in 1883, following a southwesterly route through Kansas.   Numerous other lines sprang up, many of which became feeder lines for the main routes and eventually absorbed into the main lines.   

The financing of the railroads was through a combination of capital raised through stock and bond issues and also through land grants from the government, as well as government subsidies for each mile of track, the subsidy varying with the difficulty of the terrain.  Once the railroad was built, the owners had the problem to continue its profitability.  They did this by encouraging transcontinental commerce, but also by attracting Europeans to settle along the path of the railroads and thus ensuring continuous usage of the railroad.   The entrepreneurs advertised in European newspapers, offering rail transportation to European ports, free or reduced rates on the passenger ships, and free transportation to the site of the particular railroad.  To encourage permanent settlement, the entrepreneurs sought skilled families, not individuals.

About the same time,  sea merchants realized the potential for designing ships specifically to transport people rather than using people as ballast.  The new type of ship was usually powered by steam, with perhaps some auxiliary sails.  Ships sailed from many ports, including Liverpool, Queenstown (now Cobh in County Kerry).    The destinations were the major ports in the United States:  New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans.  Transatlantic crossing time was reduced to two or three weeks, and death and disease rates were much lower.  This was partially from the design of the ships, but also because Canada and the United States instituted screening procedures which refused access to immigrants with known communicable diseases.

Marilyn Maloney Wasylk in a yet-to-be-published memoir relates: 

"On Easter Monday, April 6, 1985, the Foy family left Kilcolman for Queenstown and, on arrival there, they were all checked for vaccinations....  They left Queenstown in a few days and were on the water for ten days, on a White Star Liner, City of Berlin.  They landed at Castle Garden, New York...

"They left for Abilene, Kansas on the train.  The trip took three nights and two days.  They arrived early in the morning of April, the 23rd.  There was a big crowd "to see the greenhorns, as they were called.   They stayed with the Berry families around Abilene.".

"Railroads during the continental expansions of the late 19th century recruited settlers.  They paid for transportation across Europe to ports, ship's passage, plus railroad passage across the country to a piece of land or a job in the new community.  The railroads needed buyers for the land the government had given them for the right of way.  The railroad companies also wanted the land settled and productive so that they would have customers for their services."   Excerpt from "The New World Book of Foys" published by Halbert's Family Heritage.

New Immigration

"Although steamer lines began in 1816, as late as 1846 sailing ships were still dominating long-distance navigation.  The early steamships were powered by paddle wheel until the introduction of screw-driven iron-hulled steamers designed specifically for immigrant transport.  By 1870 nearly half of the voyages across the Atlantic were by steamer and much faster as a result.  The time of a voyage shrank from a variable 30 to 90 days to a reliable 10 to 14 days.  The typical steamer weighed up to 5,000 tons and carried up to 300 cabin passengers with 1,500 in steerage.  The threat of fire, shipwreck, and disease was a constant."   Excerpt from "The New World Book of Foys" published by Halbert's Family Heritage.

"The steamship companies played a major role in producing the tide of immigration.  They established agents in major European cities, advertised in newspapers and with broadsheets, and even sent sub-agents to remote villages to spread the work about the advantages of emigration.  The agents received commissions on the tickets they sold..."  Excerpt from "The New World Book of Foys" published by Halbert's Family Heritage.

"There was also a brisk business in prepaid passage, with established settlers sending postal orders to purchase tickets for friends and family members wishing to emigrate." Excerpt from "The New World Book of Foys" published by Halbert's Family Heritage.

The part of the Foy family that included my father, Peter Foy,  came to America in the period 1892 to 1924, so most of them came through Ellis Island.  The Ellis Island web site gives some information about these brothers and sisters, but not a complete picture.  The transport ships first docked at Manhattan, where immigration officers walked through the first and second class quarters.  Those passengers were allowed to disembark directly onto Manhattan Island.  Then the ship would cross over to Ellis Island where the steerage passengers were processed.  If a relative came via first or second class, his/her name would not be included on the Ellis Island lists.  An interested party should know the date of arrival and the name of the ship, then inspect the passenger manifest.

Inspection of Ellis Island records gives us some information about the Foy family:

Maria Grady (later Sheridan) of Ballaghaderin, County Mayo,  arrived March 5, 1896 from Queenstown on the liner Majestic.

Thos John Grady and Mary Frances Grady of Ballaghaderin, County Mayo arrived March 27,1902 from Queenstown on the liner Oceanic.

Jane Foy (later O'Grady)  left Queenstown (Cobh) to arrive in New York  21 Sept 1906 on the steamer Baltic.  According to Robin Duval, Jane came on the same ship as Margaret, but Margaret was in first or second class, so her name does not appear at this time on the Ellis Island list. She must have returned to Ireland, as she is listed on the same ship as Jo Mullin White in 1914.  Perhaps she went back to pick up Jo in anticipation of World War I.

Susan Olwell (Patrick Foy's future wife) took the Majestic and arrived in New York 10 May 1907.

Delia Foy took the Carmania from Queenstown to New York and arrived 19 May 1909.

Patrick Foy  left Queenstown on the Baltic and arrived in New York 1 May 1911.  Age 21 when he arrived,  he had spent two years working in England, then returned to Ireland before coming to America..

Peter Foy took the Baltic from Queenstown and arrived in New York 2 May 1914.  He was 19 years old.

Margaret Foy came to New York from Queenstown on The Celtic, which arrived 9 October 1914.  She brought with her Jo Mullin White, who was not recorded because she was only 12 at the time.

Cecelia Foy arrived on the Mauretania 25 December 1919 along with Luke Patrick Foy, whom she escorted from Ireland.   Cecelia is noted as a US citizen.   Cecelia, Hannah and Elizabeth had studied nursing in England, then joined the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  Hannah and Elizabeth may have come to the States on troop ships, as the three of them gained US citizenship via their war service.  The legend is that Cecelia smuggled Luke into the States because he suffered from tuberculosis.

Josephine remembered vividly her fear while staying on Ellis Island that she would be turned back to Ireland.  She came on the same boat as her Aunt Margaret.  When they passed immigration, they were ferried to Manhattan Island, where Jo expected to greet her father, whom she had not seen since she was a little girl.   A tall, gray-haired man with a booming voice announced himself as Michael Mullin, took her by the hand, and led her to the elevated train.  They took the third avenue el to the 76th street station, and the man delivered Jo to her mother.   The man was Paddy Murray, a cousin.  Jo's father was unable to get free from his post office position on a weekday...

Post World War II arrivals

This group would include the Lyons girls, the Concannons and the Morleys.  Transportation changed quickly from sea to air. and most of these recent greenhorns came by airplane.  Usually they stayed with relatives.  The Lyons girls stayed with Uncle Thomas Joseph and Cis Morley in Richmond Hill.  The Concannons were sponsored by Uncle Jack Morley who operated Morley's supermarket on 779 Yonkers Avenue.  Young Mike Morley was sponsored by his uncle Michael Morley who operated a store on 120 Lake Avenue, Yonkers, New York.

The Morley boys themselves came in the late 1920s or very early 1930s.  For some time they stayed with the Mullins.  I remember their staying with our family in the Bronx in the early 1930s.   Thomas Joe told me that he came to the USA via Canada, and came to Canada via England, but I never got the details.

most recent revision:     February 1, 2004
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