O’Regan’s Bere Island: Emigration to Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
As a descendant of Irish immigrants, I felt like a child who was orphaned, longing to know about my birth family. I wondered where they came from, who they were, why they left Ireland, who they left behind, how did they leave, and where did they go?
My search began in 1998, when I first visited Ireland on US Government immigration business. I arranged to meet an Irish cousin, Bernie Cahill 1, from Rerrin village, Bere Island. When we met in Dublin, Bernie handed me a document, written by Beara genealogist Riobard O’Dwyer, which explained how we were related through the O’Regan’s of Greenane, Bere Island. Bernie’s fraternal grandmother, Johanna O’Regan, was a first cousin to my maternal great-great grandfather, John Joseph O’Regan. Johanna’s father Daniel and John’s father Patrick were brothers. Patrick emigrated to American and Daniel remained on Bere Island.
Bernie arranged my first visit to Bere Island in 2000. Since then, I have returned every year with family members, introducing them to the beauty of the Island and its people. Knowing our family’s emigration story, connecting with our Irish cousins, being able to return to the home of our ancestors is a precious gift. I feel fortunate to have been given this gift and will always be grateful to Bernie, Riobard, my Irish cousins and friends. We have directly connected with our family’s heritage. This connection has brought me and my family an internal peace.
O’Regan and Lowney Connections
Patrick O’Regan was born on March 18, 1808 to Denis and Ellen O’Regan. At the age of 26, Patrick married Honora Lowney from Greenane, Bere Island on February 2, 1834. Honora was the daughter of Cornelius and Julia Lowney and was born in 1819. At the time of their marriage, Honora was 15 years of age. Patrick and Honora had 11 children together. Eight children were born on Bere Island and another three were born in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1852, at the age of 44, Patrick departed for Lowell and left behind his wife Honora, 33 years old and six months pregnant with their eighth child.
It does not appear that Patrick and Honora intended to emigrate at first. In an 1852 survey conducted for the sale of Bere Island in order to pay off the landlord Lord Bantry’s, debts, Patrick O’Regan was reported to have a farm in Greenane of 9 acres 3 roods 14 perches, with a rent of 6 pounds 4 shillings. The following year, 1853, Patrick had doubled his farmland to 18 acres 3 roods 33 perches, with a rent of 9 pounds and 16 shillings. If the family were planning on emigrating and sent Patrick ahead to raise the funds for his family to follow, why was money spent on renting additional farmland, instead of saving for their passage? The family did eventually emigrate, re-uniting with Patrick four years later.
Emigration to Boston, MA
Patrick departed from Liverpool, England and arrived at the port of Boston on November 26, 1852 on a ship named the “Clara Wheeler.” Given the travel pattern of the time, he would have departed Bere Island on a coastal boat called a “hooker” and made his way to the Queenstown, now Cobh. From Queenstown, Patrick would have caught a boat to Liverpool.
When Patrick arrived in Lowell, there were ten mill complexes, powering 10,000 looms, processing cotton from the South into a million yards of cloth a week. Lowell was America’s first planned industrial town, and Irish immigrants were the first to come, displacing Yankee female workers. The Irish settlers in Lowell lived apart from the Yankees in an area referred to as The Acre or The Paddy Camps. Patrick and later Honora and their married children made their homes in The Acre.
It is easy to imagine the cultural shock Patrick must have experienced, coming from an isolated rural fishing and farming island to the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution, Lowell, Massachusetts. Patrick had to give up country life with its connections to the natural and seasonal rhythms of nature, to working long hours indoors, six days a week, responding to bells, and working past nightfall. Additionally, he had to cope with living in the cramped and poor housing of The Acre, without his wife and children. By 1856, the family was reunited and living in The Acre.
As the O’Regan family, we stand today on the shoulders of our ancestors. Because of courageous decisions made in 1852 by Patrick O’Regan and Honora Lowney of Greenane, Bere Island, County Cork, Ireland, we, their descendants are Americans.
Submitted by Carol O’Regan Rascon, Arizona USA
1 Bernie Cahill, was born in Rerrin Village one of a family of six, in 1965 he set up Carbery Milk Products, and would go onto serve as chairman of both Irish Sugar and Aer Lingus. His brother Joe’s recollections of island life can be seen here.