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'I began to think of leaving Ireland'
Edward Robbins's Memoirs, 1800-1853
 


Kilmonaghan cemetery at Clara, County Offaly

 

Edward Robbins (1802-1866) was born in Clara, County Offaly - at that time, King's County - in the bosom of a middle-class rural family. He inherited the family farm lease and, as a result of personal industry and social connections, advanced in his rural business as well as in public life. Robbins was appointed valuator for the Poor Law Unions of Edenderry and Tullamore, and to the Board of Works in County Roscomon. However, the product of his farms was not enough to provide for his large family and in 1849 he emigrated to South America with his wife and eleven children. After a rocky start in Buenos Aires, Robbins worked as shepherd in Cañuelas. He died in 1866 and was buried in San Pedro.


1802 I was the oldest of the children of my parents. I was born this year on the 3rd day of January. I was baptized by Rev. Father MacNamee. [...]
1809 The lease of Killeens expired this year and the landlord wanted to increase the rent from 27 shillings to 50 shillings per acre, in consequence of which my father rented a farm of land at Bolart, next town land but one to Killeens, and went to reside there. I travelled over much land in Ireland and I seldom met a spot more convenient or better for a farmer. In this thrice happy home my brothers, sisters, and myself grew up to Man and Womanhood, "seats of my youth when every sport could please". [...]
1817 My father took me occasionally to school this year to teach me farming, and he gave me some money to buy flax yarn and get it manufactured into linen. The linen trade was very profitable in Ireland this year and for some previous years, but after a couple of years from this date it would not remunerate the manufacture.
1818 I left school and commenced to learn farming. My father then occupied three farms containing between 170 and 180 Irish acres of land, namely, Bolart, Gurteen, and Cloarany. [...]
1822 My father commenced building the house at Killeens, finished a range of offices at the close of last year, got a new contract of the lands of Cloatany, at a high rent. [...] I was in the full height of my glory at this time, no care, nothing but sport. [...]
1825 Was a very dry hot summer and harvest. The oat crop in many places was short in straw and the people foolishly pulled it. The contract for the farm at Gurteen expired, and the landlord occupied, and my father resigned the farms at Bolart and Cloatany (they were high in rent), keeping only the farm at Killeens on which he resided. The wheel had got a turn with us and times were dull, and to my brothers, sisters and myself it was a sad change to meet any cheek. [...]
1830. On Friday, February the 19th, I was married to Margaret, youngest daughter of the late James Eagan and Judy Winn, of Newton, near Faheeran Parish, of Kilcumrearagh, King's Co., by the Rev. Father Murtagh, Roman Catholic Church (Tobber). [...]
1832 [...] Tithe meetings this year, a large one at Moate, County Westmeath, on the 29th June. Cholera first made its appearance in Ireland and many died of it in the large towns. [...]
1834 Cholera again appeared in Ireland. Mrs. Brady and James Summers died of it at Clara. Making preparations to leave my father. I lived with him from my marriage. [...]
1836 The summer and harvest very fine; good prices for cattle and sheep and for all kinds of grain. My father and I had large harvest of wheat and all other kinds of grain; the wheel got a turn and by God sending the good harvest and good prices that we almost gained our former position. Tithe meetings all over the Kingdom more frequent, and the people who would not pay were arrested and cast into prison, but almost all resisted. [...]
1838 My first entrance on the stage of public life was on the 16th of April. On the previous day, I was written for by the Independent and the Liberal Club of the County Westmeath to go to their meetings at Mullingar in order to engage me to value the lands of the Freeholders. [...]
1839 This year is memorable in Ireland in consequence of the terrible wind that was on the night of the 6th of January (twelfth night). Nothing like its violence was ever felt in Ireland, England or Scotland. [...]
1842 [...] The distemper set into my cows and the loss I met with on that account shook my capital a lot. My brother Pat married about the 22nd of April, Mary, youngest daughter of James Brien, of Cor a Collin Parish of Meelane, King's County The first failure in the potatoes appeared this year, much seed potatoes did not grow, and had to be sown the second time.
1843. The distemper again attacked the cows and horned stock. My wife's illness continued to increase and my stock of cattle and money to decrease. I now felt it impossible to attend with advantage to my family and to public business. [...]
1845 This was a sad year for Ireland. The potato crop almost all got black and unfit for use. [...] This year I had seven acres of potatoes, the yield was very fair but they paid nothing as they were almost all black.
1846 This was a fearful time for the poor of Ireland. Fever and dysentery to an awful extents in many parts of it. Provisions of every kind doubled the usual prices, the poorhouses filled to overflowing. I had not one rood of potatoes sowed this year and, those who had, met with a poor return. I had a good harvest of corn. [...] Were I to endeavour to record the misery I saw in that part of the County Roscommon to which I was sent by the Board of Works, it would appear incredible. Except at Scull or Skibereen, there was no other part of poor dear unfortunate Ireland so very badly off with fever and dysentery.
1848 On the 23rd day of March my sister Rose died and was buried at Noughville, County Westmeath. I was at the September fair of Banagher and dined at uncle John Deehan's for the last time. I began to think of leaving Ireland. My family was large, my two farms too far asunder and both too small apart to support my family, and I could not brook the idea of getting into difficulties and perhaps into prison for debt. [...]
1849 Early in the month of March I left for Liverpool and I arranged for a passage to Buenos Ayres for myself and family. [...]

Acknowledgements
This text has been extracted from Edward Robbins's memoirs, kindly sent by Julia McInerny of San Pedro.
The complete version has been published in Edmundo Murray's Becoming Irlandés: Private Narratives of the Irish Emigration to Argentina, 1844-1912 (Buenos Aires: Literature of Latin America, 2006), pp. 29-36.


 

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