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Famine emigration stories: Corkman who made it to US went to war in exchange for land for his family

Between 1845 and 1851 around 1.2 million people left Ireland, a new exhibition looks at some of their stories.

THE STORIES OF Irish people who fled the famine are being told in a new exhibition in Dublin over the summer.

It looks at how the famine gripped the country and how workhouses, emigration or starvation became the only options for hundreds of thousands of Irish people.

Between 1845 and 1851, around 1.2 million people left Ireland and it continued at a high level after the famine with five million people emigrating by 1910.

Florence Burke

Florence Burke was 19 when he and his younger brother John fled the famine in Cork in 1848 and landed in Staten Island in New York.

better pic Florence aged 19 (right), his brother (middle) and unidentified friend or relative, photographed upon arrival in Staten Island, New York.

He lived in the rough Five Points area of New York before moving to West Springfield, Massachusetts where he got married and had a family while working as a tenant farmer.

In exchange for a portion of farmland for his family, he enlisted in the Union Army during the 1864 American Civil War as a ‘substitute’ for a wealthy man who was drafted.

Six months later, aged 35, he died in a battle in Petersburg, Virginia.


The exhibition described how, “He made the ultimate sacrifice but benefited his wife and children and the next generation of Burke’s.”

His son’s children went to colleges such as Brown and Boston University and all became professionals working as judges, dentists and for the government.

His great-great granddaughter Ellen Alden discovered an old letter box with letters and photographs of Burke in her attic in Andover Massachusetts four years ago.


The letters were addressed to his wife, also called Ellen, whilst he was serving in the Union Army. Alden went on to write a book about her ancestry.


Gerard McCarthy has produced the exhibition himself over the past six months, including a 15 minute video as part of it.

McCarthy worked as a computer programmer and in sales but started working on his passion, which is history, during the centenary of the 1916 Rising. He produced a small film and went around schools in Ireland showcasing it.

He told that for this exhibition people were happy to give him stuff  for free and people sent him information about their Irish ancestors.

The exhibition, which is on the top floor of St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, is open from 29 May – 30 September.

Read: The story of the hundreds of Irish men and women who left Ireland for China up to 100 years ago>

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