At the height of the Famine in February 1851, Timothy O’ Sullivan, his wife Mary and three children ages from ten and five years old, – through their desperation entered the workhouse in Kenmare. Having seen their neighbours starve or wither away from Famine fever, they finally decided to give up their few acres of land and enter the squalor of the poorhouse. The biggest landlord in the area, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, a man most heavily taxed to pay for the poorhouse- decided instead to pay the bare minimum fare to assist inmates to emigrate. By the end of March, therefore, the O’ Sullivan family found themselves on a long march from Kenmare to the port of Queenstown along with 200 other victims of poverty. Put on a cattle ship bound for Liverpool they were each given the £5 to pay for their passage from Liverpool to New York- the New World. As the cattle were worth more than the passengers, they spent this first part of their journey on deck – most of them sea-sick to the point of death. Liverpool had become an overcrowded slum – swelled by the mass Famine exodus – but there they would wait for secure passage surrounded by filth and disease. At the start of May, their passage paid, they were finally on the quayside waiting to embark when 5 year old John wandered away. Despite their desperate searches he was not to be found. Faced with the choice of staying in slum ridden Liverpool with the loss of passage having paid their only money – or leaving for America: they left. The desperate
mother would then continue to write letters for the rest of her life- in a effort to find her lost child. She never discovered what happened to him. For generations of the O’ Sullivan family the agony of this woman’s loss became embedded in their story. Each new generation was to continue the search and each one meeting again with loss. Such stories as this, countless stories of hardship endured and enduring loss, are the heritage of Irish Americans.