Like a bad memory, it has faded, but still unsettles. The workhouse at Bahaghs still stands in a muddy field three miles outside the town of Cahersiveen in County Kerry. Originally built as a lodge for the wealthy McCarthy family, it was converted to a “sanctuary to the destitute” in 1842, and served the region as its poorhouse until 1922. Bahaghs was conceived to accommodate 800 “inmates,” but within a decade, the Potato Famine exploded its population, requiring further expansion.
My visit to this grim ruin was a poignant one, as well as a wet one. It’s my contention that my ancestors were driven here for a few years before they left for the United States. The less well-known famine of 1879 hit western Ireland quite hard. Tenant records show John Lynch (my gr-grandfather) abandoning (or being evicted) from his family’s rented plot in 1881—the same year two of their young children died of whooping cough. In 1884, the Lynches were sent to America on a huge ship, The Furnessia, which docked — very unusually — nearby, scooping up many of the local population in a “sponsored emigration” scheme. Two ships did the same the year before. Newspaper interviews in New York City with passengers from my ancestors’ ship state that they came from the workhouse. The press were less than happy at the arrival of these “paupers.” From Manhattan, the Lynches found their way to southeastern Connecticut where relatives had settled before them. There they made an abrupt change of lifestyle from a difficult life of farming to a hard life of textile factory work.