Friday 30 May 2014

The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme

The true story of 117 girls from Kerry workhouses
shipped to Australia in 1849/50
A new book – The Kerry Girls; Emigration & The Earl Grey Scheme – tells the true story of 117 Kerry girls sent to Australia in 1849/50 from workhouses in Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney and Listowel, under the auspices of the Earl Grey 'Orphan' scheme.

It will be launched this weekend by Jimmy Deenihan, TD, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (details below).

Its author is Kay Moloney Caball, who spoke to Irish Genealogy News about her research. "I ran a restaurant recruitment business which went into free fall in 2009 and I took the opportunity to complete a Diploma in Genealogy & Family History at the University of Limerick. One of my assignments on this course led me to the Earl Grey scheme; I'd never heard of it before. Most people in Kerry had never heard of it, either!

"I thought that the girls – a courageous, resilient, gusty and spirited lot – should be better known.

"I also found that their descendants in Australia were hungry to find out more about their backgrounds, especially their family circumstances and the reasons they were in the Workhouses."

Kay's initial research was based on the identification of the girls from the four workhouses and matching these with shipping and baptismal records. Further study took her to the Minutes of the Boards of Guardians of each workhouse, contemporary newspapers in both Kerry and Australia, British Parliamentary Records etc.

"I was able to trace back quite a number of the girls to their parents through the records on the invaluable I also discovered that, though the scheme was called the Earl Grey 'Orphan' scheme, less than half the Kerry Girls were orphans in the accepted sense; most had one parent alive when they left Ireland."

The 192-page book sets out the circumstances that led to the girls' confinement in the workhouses, their 'selection' and shipping to New South Wales and Adelaide, their subsequent apprenticeship, marriage and life in the colony. While it is not a Famine book, it sets out the terrible circumstances left behind in Kerry and the mixed reception afforded to these 'useless trollops' following their arrival. It questions whether their emigration was an opportunity or a tragedy, and whether they were pawns in a political struggle between Imperial and Colonial interests.

The Kerry Girls is published by The History Press Ireland, price €14.99. It has black & white illustrations/images and photos of some of the girls, provided by their descendants, and the chapters are interspersed with histories of the girls and their families after arrival in Australia, again provided by their descendants. It is available in Easons, Hodges Figgis and Amazon, as well as The Book Depository where there is a special introductory offer and free postage to international destinations.

Launch details:
The Boys’ School, Church Street, Listowel, Co Kerry, at 2pm on Saturday 31 May. Part of Listowel Writers' Week.