Shrine Left PanelThe successive failures of the potato crops in the 1840's, the inability or willingness of the British Parliament to respond to the ensuing famine, forced evictions of the peasants from their homeland by British landlords, epidemics and resulting emigration, resulted in Ireland losing nearly one half of its' population within just a matter of years. The right panel of the mural portrays life in Ireland during the period of the Great Hunger showing row houses in Galway, an eviction scene and a contemporary newspaper depiction of some of the millions who immigrated to America from the late 1840's through the end of the century.
The middle panel portrays the often terrifying voyage across the Atlantic, in which thousands died from shipwreck and fevers. Those fortunate enough to escape often died in the notorious "coffin ships" that transported thousands to Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere. It is estimated that over 5,000 transatlantic crossing of ships loaded with Irish refugees were made between 1845-1851, approximately 2,000,000 persons per year. The use of unseaworthy vessels or passengers and crew succumbing to fevers en route resulted in the deaths of thousands. The scene here in a detail from British artist J.M.W. Turner's painting "Slaveship" (1840). It selected for Turner's particular
ability to portray the violence of the sea, and the fact that some of the earliest "coffin ships" were actually retired British slavers employed to transport evicted Irish peasants.
Having survived all of this, the newly arrived immigrants, many of who did not speak English, found that they were not entirely welcome. While many were not poor or unskilled, many others were agricultural workers who then found themselves competing for menial labor in America's large cities. Both for comfort and protection, the Irish settled enclaves that became "Irish neighborhoods". The story of the Irish workers, who settled around the B&O Railroad yards on streets like Lemmon St. in St. Peter's Parish, is one such story. The left panel shows us more than one generation of the men of this neighborhood at work at the B&O and suggests the fact that the descendants of the immigrants carried on this tradition up into the Mid-20th Century.
Shrine Right PanelEmigrants leaving Queenstown for New York. This mural and memorial wall, the exhibits inside 918-920 Lemmon St., and the very buildings themselves are meant to honor those who came before us. Whether we are descended from railroad families or have a different story to tell, The Irish Shrine is a place for all Irish-Americans to connect with the powerful story that resulted in our lives here today.