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Celtic Waves: The Flow of Irish Emigration cover image

Celtic Waves: The Flow of Irish Emigration 2003

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by The Cinema Guild
Directed by John Michalczyk
VHS, color, 54 min.

Jr. High - Adult
History, Immigration

Date Entered: 07/28/2004

Reviewed by Gloria Maxwell, Reference Librarian, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, MO

Ireland is composed of 32 counties, and its people have an attachment to the land that they claim is in their blood. Millions of Irish have been forced to leave their homeland in the last century and a half. This film looks at the reasons for those migrations and the toll that has taken on Ireland’s people and their country. The first significant exodus took place from 1845 to 1850, the time of the Great Famine. In a land where the average Irish laborer ate 12-14 pounds of potatoes each day, the failure of this crop was devastating. In 1845, approximately 1/3 of the potato crop was wiped out; in 1846, nearly all of the potato crops failed. Restrictive land policies, coupled with “Black ‘47” only heightened emigration. Coffin ships, as they were called, took the lives of many emigrants before they reached their destination.

At the turn of the century, another wave of Irish were again forced to leave their homeland. Annie Moore, a 15 year old girl from County Cork, was the first Irish immigrant to go through Ellis Island. People left from every Irish port, desperate to find a place that could support them. This wave is described as a “calculated, steady immigration.” In other countries, people moved from farms to cities, but in Ireland, they had to move to another country. Eight million Irish left during the famine years and another four and one-half million left by the turn of the century. Friends and family would come and stay all night, holding a wake for those who were emigrating, knowing they would never return. If someone was not able to marry into land or inherit a farm, there was no future for them in Ireland. Chain migrations followed, with those already situated sending money back home for others to come to America or Canada. This group carved out a new live in a new homeland.

The third wave occurred in the 1950s. Young people grew up hoping to emigrate in order to escape the real poverty in which they lived. The difference this time was that Britain provided lots of opportunities for Irish unskilled labor. Those who immigrated to Britain tended to reject traditional Irish values. Ireland lost its most creative and innovative younger generations with each wave of emigration. When counties no longer had enough young people to marry, that county lost its viability.

The concluding section of the film deals with emigration during the 1980s, when unemployment rose and social welfare was curtailed. The level rose to the same proportion as that of the late nineteenth century.

In the 1990s, the Irish economy rose to the point where people began to return to Ireland. Those who returned came back with advanced degrees and skills. This has created a more divided economy in Ireland: some areas are doing very well, while other places have neighborhoods where no one has an income. The unskilled and poor are still forced to leave in order to survive and those who returned home were not always welcomed back. Despite the hardships and losses felt and experienced, when all is said and done, every Irish man or woman longs to return home.

Beautiful cinematography provides an attractive backdrop and heightens the poignancy of this film. The use of illustrations, photographs, and stills enhance the narrative. Numerous historians and social historians, along with a poet, archaeologist and genealogist provide authoritative voices to this story. A pleasant and appropriately Celtic soundtrack provides an authentic atmosphere. Celtic Waves is useful for classroom instruction and adult education programs. Highly Recommended.