Annie Moore will forever be known as the first emigrant to pass through the gates of Ellis Island's emigration centre on the 1st of January 1892. Her story, however, goes far beyond its gates and represents so much more than just that simple fact. Annie was no more than a child when she made the 5,000 km journey from her homeland in County Cork to the east coast of America. Not travelling alone, she made the journey with sole responsibility for her two younger brothers. Unimaginable responsibility in the modern world for someone of just fifteen years. Like so many Irish before her and after, they travelled to the U.S with hope in their hearts for a better life. An epic journey into the unknown driven by desperation and absolute necessity. Ireland and its people had suffered unexplainable hardship throughout the 19th century and emigrating to the four corners of the earth was the only option for so many. Millions left their homeland knowing that they would never see its shores again.
Iconic statues to commemorate Annie's journey have since been erected on both sides of the Atlantic. The first of which is poignantly positioned on the promenade in Cobh(pronounced Cove), County Cork. Cobh is also famous for being the last port of call for the Titanic before its fateful, maiden voyage in 1912. The towns deep-water harbour was the main departure point for the majority of Irish natives emigrating to America and other far flung destinations at the time. Along its beautiful waterfront, stands the statue of Annie and her brothers. It depicts a haunting scene of the three siblings preparing to leave all they knew behind in search of a new life. One of Ireland's most visited statues, it remains a unique symbol of our troubled past. Annie's journey represents every man, woman and child who've emigrated from our shores through necessity over the course of our history. She has become the face of so many lost generations. A symbol of our most painful moments. Despite this, she also remains a beacon of hope for our future. Stepping aboard the steamer that morning, there was no way she could have possibly known how important her story would become to our countries history.
Annie's story was one that typified the plight of most Irish emigrants in the 19th century. Ireland was a country almost entirely dependent on agriculture, with little in the way of opportunities for people such as Annie and her family. When 'The Great Famine' ravaged its way through the country midway through the century, millions were left with no option but to look for hope beyond Ireland's shores. People were in desperate need of jobs and opportunities to create a life for their families. Those opportunities simply did not exist in Ireland. The decision became a matter of life and death, emigrate, or perish. Mass emigration to places such as England, America and Australia became the norm as our population continued to diminish throughout the century. Ireland's people were scattered to the four corners of the earth. The path to America was well trodden by the time Annie made her journey. Millions had already disappeared when she boarded a ship at Cobh in December 1891. By that time, 'The coffin ships' which saw so many perish whilst making the voyage to America were a thing of the past. Steamers had replaced the old wooden ships and could ferry emigrants across the Atlantic in around 12 days. This ensured that Annie and her brothers could arrive in good shape, which would be vital to their prospects.
Ellis Island in New York harbour was the destination for Annie and her brothers. Beautifully described in song as " An isle of hope, and an isle of tears" . It represented the end of one life and the beginning point of another for millions until its closure in 1954. All emigrants who wanted to enter the U.S had to pass through the emigration checkpoint before beginning their new lives on the American frontier. To this day, over 40% of Americans can trace an ancestor to Ellis Island's records. Upon arrival at Ellis Island, all emigrants were immediately checked for any form of disease. Even the slightest hint of an issue would almost certainly mean immediate deportation by way of a dreaded detention centre on Staten Island. Luckily for Annie and her brothers, they arrived in New York harbour in good health and were allowed entry to the States without any major issues. She was the first of millions to pass through its gates, an incredible feat for someone so young and a moment that would be forever immortalised in the pages of history. To this day, her bravery and spirit is held dear to the hearts of all Irish-Americans who've heard her story.
Elements of myth and legend have since been attached to Annie's story beyond Ellis Island. Some claim that she eventually headed West before meeting a tragic end on the plains of New Mexico, but no record of any such event exists. New York marriage records show that it's most likely she remained in New York for the remainder of her life. In 1895, she was married to a German-American by the name of Augustus Schayer at St. James Church. Annie would go on to have at least 10 children in her lifetime before dying of heart failure in 1924. Her body is buried in Queens and beautifully marked with a Celtic cross. Her statue in Cobh stands 5,000km away from her final resting place, but her legacy has travelled still further. She travelled across the Atlantic in search of the new world, and I hope it brought her everything she could have wanted. As long as there are native Irish, and Irish-Americans in this world, her story will be told, her legacy will go on...
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Slán go fóill.