by jdurney on July 13, 2011

Rosie O’Donnell and the Murtagh family

James Durney

In December 2010 American actor and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell travelled to Kildare to trace her Irish roots. Rosie was filmed with Mario Corrigan, Kildare Collections and Research Services, at Newbridge Library, for the ‘Who do you think you are?’ TV programme. The Irish-American celebrity’s family, the Murtaghs, had come from the Eadestown/Rathmore area and had spent some time in the Naas Workhouse, or Poor Law Union, before emigrating to Canada.

During the famine (1845-48), and for a number of years after, the Poor Law Unions were incapable of accommodating the vast numbers of destitute and starving people seeking relief. The Naas Union was no exception. The Naas Poor Law Union became actively involved in emigration in 1849 and continued their work until at least 1854. Emigrants were sent to Canada and Australia, while young boys were also apprenticed to the Merchant Sea Service or assisted to enter the Royal Navy. In July 1849 the first large group of pauper emigrants were sent to Quebec, Canada, followed by a further 136 in July 1852, and approximately 130 in April-May 1853. Beginning in 1853 there were several assisted emigrations of individual pauper families and smaller groups.

A search of the Poor Law Union Naas (PLUN) Minute Books from October 1848 to January 1855 for mention of Andrew Murtagh and family came up with four references to the Murtaghs.

In the Poor Law Union Naas Minute Book 27 (PLUN/M/27), February 1854-July 1854, the first mention of the Murtagh family was found.

Minutes of Proceedings of the Board of Guardians, at a meeting held on 28 June 1854. Chairman: George Wolfe.

Proposed by Mr. McDonald and seconded by Mr. Wolfe that Andrew Murtagh, his wife and four children belonging to the E.D. of Rathmore be sent immediately to Canada as emigrants at the expense of Rathmore E.D. Poor Rate and that as the season is so far advanced the Poor Law Commissioners will be pleased not to delay their sanction.

No. 22131/53 Minutes of Proceedings of the Board of Guardians, at a meeting held on 4 July 1854.

Enclosing a form in which to state the particulars concerning the Murtaghs whom the Guardians propose to emigrate.

No. 22896 10 July 1854. Minutes of Proceedings of the Board of Guardians, at a meeting held on 12 July 1854. Chairman: W. La Touche.

Sealed order consenting to the sum of £34-14-0 being applied by the Guardians out of any monies in their hands arising from any Rates in the Electoral Division of Rathmore for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the emigration to Quebec of Andrew Murtagh and family.

Poor Law Union Naas Minute Book 27 (PLUN/M/28), July 1854-January 1855:

26 August 1854. Debit clothing Account and Credit Treasure with the several sums above. Establishment Account.

N.42. Miley passage of the Murtagh family and landing money chargeable to Rathmore E.D. £31-10.

The above is the last mention of the Murtagh family, who seem to have left the Naas Union around the middle of August. W. Miley, we believe, is the agent who paid the fare of the Murtagh family to Quebec and had an Establishment Account with Naas Poor Law Union. Terence McDonald was a Poor Law Guardian, from Jigginstown, just outside of Naas town, whose relative, another Terence McDonald, still lives in the vicinity.

A search of the Leinster Express (published in Naas and Maryborough) revealed several reports from the meetings of the Naas Union. In the report of the newspapers 1 July 1854 edition (for the meeting of 28 June), the recorded ‘number of paupers chargeable to each Electoral Division,’ was for Rathmore: 17. In the 5 August edition the figure for Rathmore was again 17, but in the next report (19 August), the number of paupers chargeable to Rathmore was down to 10. Was this figure minus the Murtagh family?

Also in the 1 July issue was a report title ‘Canada’ which dealt with trade, elections and emigration to the colony.

Large numbers of emigrants were arriving at Quebec and Montreal, the majority of them appearing in good circumstances, cleanly in their appearance, and of the class of men who are most likely to become useful settlers.

The Leinster Express also carried a return of emigrants who left Cork for the different colonies in 1854 in contrast to the previous year. From 9 April to 28 May 1854 5,704 left Cork, while for the same period of the previous year 7,365 had emigrated. The tide of emigration was by then on the decrease. In the country, on the whole, things were beginning to improve. In 1854 there were 1280 persons admitted to the Naas Union. The average number of inmates that year was 614, down from the peak year – 1850 – when the figures were 1143. 130 inmates died in 1854, while 263 died in 1850. The long term effects of famine and disease were still evident in high workhouse admissions up to the late 1850s when pauper numbers finally began to decline.

Terence McDonald, the man who proposed that the Murtaghs be given assisted emigration, was elected in March 1840 as a Guardian for Naas Poor Law Union. The Leinster Express 28 March 1840 reported:
A meeting was got up by the Rev. Gerald Doyle, Parish Priest of that town on Sunday, 8th March inst., after Mass at which three persons, Thomas Hayden, of Jigginstown, Terence McDonald, of Jigginstown and Michael Doyle, of Oberstown – Roman Catholics of course – were put in nomination, “as fit and proper persons to represent the Electoral division of Naas”.

The election took place on Wednesday last … The following are the names of the persons elected: Naas Division – Messrs, Peter Lyons, Thomas Headon, and Terence McDonald.

Terence McDonald died on 5 November 1874 and is buried in St. David’s, Naas. In the making of the programme Rosie O’Donnell, also met Terence McDonald’s direct descendent, well-known Naas man, Terry McDonald, of Jigginstown. She also met direct descendents of George Wolfe, who had flown over from Holland. This meeting, while not shown in the episode, was filmed, ironically enough in Murtagh’s pub, Naas!

In December 2010 American actor and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell travelled to Kildare to trace her Irish roots

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