The prendergast Letters Collection, one of the noteworthy manuscript collections at Boston College's John J. Burns Library, provides an account of the experiences of an ordinary family in Country Kerry, Ireland, from 1840 to 1850. The letters include myriad details of the lives of family members and neighbors, reports of weather, agriculture, and local events and economy, along with commentary on matters of national importance such as politican Daniel O'Connell's movement for the Repeal of the Act of Union. Most important, the letters offer a rare contemporary, firsthand account of Ireland's an Gorta Mor, the Great Famine that began with the failure of the potato crop in 1845, Letters written in the months and years following the announcement of the first crop failure provide insight into not only the sufferings of one family but also the response of the community and nation as this crisis transformed Ireland. James and Elizabeth Prendergast were the parents of six children. Their letters from Milltown, Country Kerry, dictated to a scrivener, were posted to sons Thomas and Jeffrey and daughter Julia Riordan and her husband Cornelius, all of whom had emigrted in search of employment to Boston, Massachusetts--a city that would itself be transformed by the famine-era influx of Irish immigrants. In addition to transcriptions of the forty-eight letters in the collection, this volume includes contextual essays by historian Ruth-Ann Harris and genealogist Marie Daly. The evidence of the letters themselves, along with the contributions of Harris and Daly, demonstrate the ways in which the family of James Prendergast was at once exceptional and typical.
SHELLEY BARBER is archivist, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. RUTH-ANN M. HARRIS is adjunct professor of Irish studies, Boston College. MARIE E. DALY is director of readers' services, New England Historic Genealogical Society.
"These letters are important for how they open a window on the lives and struggles of famine-era Irish and their immigrant offspring in America, in this case Boston, who stood somewhere between the 'relatively undifferentiated mass of those who barely survived' and 'those who became distinguished major figures.'... This book fills an important niche in the spectrum of studies in the field."
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