We were going long before Black '47

Emigration from Co. Monaghan and from most other counties during the Great Famine of 1845-47 and afterwards, has been well documented in the history books. Two other organised ‘emigrations’ from Co. Monaghan are lesser known - the ‘Cahan’s Presbyterian Emigration’ of the 1790s which is covered in a number of Monaghan publications, and the lesser documented ‘Canon Moynagh Emigration’ of 1830.

Entering Co. Monaghan by any of the major roadways, one might notice the large brown signs on the left-hand side of the roadway, which state that ‘Co. Monaghan is twinned with Prince Edward Island.’ In a previous ‘Monaghan Yearbook’ the emigration to mainland Canada was well documented, but not the emigration to PEI, which was actually an organised emigration and was of a slightly earlier period.

For very good reason Monaghan has been twinned with PEI, for the simple fact is that so many of that island’s population are directly descended from Co. Monaghan immigrants of the early nineteenth century. The largest immigrant population to the small state had come from Scotland, while the second largest, at 25 per cent, came from Ireland. Of that 25 per cent, by far and away the largest single influx came from Co. Monaghan, principally from the north of the county and particularly from the Emyvale area and the parish of Donagh, which lies just north of Monaghan town. This was in the 1830s and is still referred to in North Monaghan as ‘the Monaghan Emigration.’

To find the origin of this we have to go back to 1768 when an Irish priest named Fr. Wynne was ministering on the island of south Uist, one of the islands in the Outer Hebrides off the West coast of Scotland, a very strong Roman Catholic enclave in an otherwise very Presbyterian country.

During his spell there Fr. Wynne came into conflict with one of the main landowners on the island, or ‘laird’ as they are called there. This particular laird, to show his anger with Fr. Wynne, began a persecution of the Catholic tenants on his island estates and, in order to protect these from this persecution, Fr. Wynne advised many of his parishioners to emigrate to Canada. There was no ‘big deal’ about that at the time, as many Scotch Presbyterians were emigrating to North America during this period and transport across the Atlantic was both frequent and readily available.

Among those who left the island for Canada was a man called John McDonald, a wealthy Catholic land-owner, who emigrated to Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. McDonald was able to buy up large tracts of land on the island at a very cheap rate, and duly did so.

John McDonald’s third son by his second wife was also called John McDonald and this young man was intended for the Catholic priesthood. With this in mind he was sent to Paris, France for his education and, on his ordination and because of his Scottish connections, he was sent to minister in the Gorballs area of Glasgow. The Gorballs area today is quite a thriving and respectable part of Glasgow city but at that period was very much a slum area.

Among the inhabitants of the Gorballs was a very large immigrant population from Ireland and quite a lot of these came from North Monaghan, particularly from the Emyvale area. These people had come from a farming background but were now working in factories where the very poor conditions were far from being conductive to good health or in any way suitable for them, and many were dying at a very young age. Fr. McDonald, realising their plight, wrote to his father PEI and asked him if he would take them as tenants on his estates across the Atlantic. McDonald senior agreed, and so a large number of these people emigrated en masse to PEI from Glasgow in the early 1820s.

Among those 1820 emigrants were a large number of Irish, who had been involved in the earlier migration - from Monaghan to Glasgow - and these were given land at a very cheap rate by McDonald senior. These ‘double emigrates’ found conditions on PEI much more suited to them than had been the case in industrial Glasgow. They were now involved mainly in farming, which they knew best, and soon made good homes for themselves in the New World.

John McDonald (senior) died some time later and the young Fr. McDonald inherited all his estates on PEI. He then went over there himself and became both pastor and landlord to the immigrants from Glasgow, which now included so many Irish. Many of these, who had come originally from Monaghan, decided that it would also make a good life for their friends and kinsfolk back home and so they went to Fr. McDonald and asked him to write to their Parish Priest at home in Ireland to see if he could arrange for their relations to join them in PEI. These people, remember, were illiterate became of the Penal Laws which did not allow Catholics to receive an education. Hence the request to Fr. McDonald.

Fr. McDonald duly wrote the requested latter and it arrived with the Parish Priest of Donagh parish, a man called Canon Patrick Moynagh. Fr. Moynagh, too often a witness to the dreadful conditions existing around him in North Monaghan at the time, having already seen his parishioners through two famines in 1817 and again in 1822, soon organised a mass emigration from Donagh parish to head to PEI. This included no less than sixty families, probably anything up to 400 people in all, and they set off across the Atlantic in 1830, to make a new home for themselves on this small island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It is important to remember that this emigration was pre-Famine when the population of Donagh stood at round 10,000 and so the loss some some 400 people at that stage would not have been as severely felt then as it would be today, when the population stands at just over 2,500. Such an exodus now would leave an almighty hole in the current population of the parish.

These emigrants found a land very similar to the one they had left and duly made new homes for themselves there. Most of their relations followed in due course and these in turn attracted others from a wider area to follow suit. Most of these settled in the area known as Fort Augustus, but others spread put further afield and founded smaller settlements which they named after their locations back home, and so we have both a Donagh and an Emyvale in PEI today.

Fr. Moynagh deserves special mention here. He had been Parish Priest of Donagh parish for an amazing 45 years, from 1815 until his death in 1860. During that time he was also Prior to Lough Derg (St. Patrick’s Purgatory) in Co. Donegal for a period of fifteen years, while he also built the parish church in Donagh, St. Mary’s Church at Glennan in 1837 as well as five primary (National) schools. Add to all that the fact that he actually paid the passage for several of those 1830 emigrant families who could not themselves have afforded it and would later still carry his parishioners through the Great Famine of 1845-7.

Uniquely, this Canon Moynagh was a very great friend of Fr. Charles McDermott, parish priest of the neighbouring parish of Errigal Truagh. However, he differed very much with Fr. McDermott on the question of emigration, as the latter was very much opposed to his parishioners leaving ‘Catholic Ireland’ and probably losing their faith in pagan lands elsewhere. For that reason Fr McDermott did not allow any of his flock to leave the PEI at that time but many of them did so at a later date when news of the better life over there finally filtered back to North Monaghan. These later immigrants from Errigal Truagh parish settled mainly in the area known as Kelly’s Cross.

It is no wonder that his parishioners erected a very impressive tomb to Canon Moynagh following his death in 1860. That tomb is at the rear of St. Patrick’s Church at Corracrin, just south of Emyvale village, and it has become a ‘place of pilgrimage’ for visiting descendants of those early emigrants.

The man who has done most of the major research into this Monaghan emigration to PEI is Professor Brendan O’Grady, a former professor at Charlottetown University on the island. His reason obviously stemmed from the fact that he himself was descended from a Wexford emigrant of the 1815 period, while his wife was a lady called Leah Delaney, whose direct ancestor had come over from the village of Emyvale during the ‘Moynagh Emigration’. They first returned to Emyvale in the late ‘seventies to check on the Delaney ancestors.

Only recently he has produced a magnificent book on the subject, entitled ‘Exiles and Islanders’ in which he details the entire story of this emigration and follows the progress of many of those who left in 1830 and later. This is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the PEI Monaghan connection.