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Woman helped mom send packages to Irish relatives

Ellen Quigley
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On Memorial Day 1898, Ellen Quigley’s mother landed at Ellis Island. She was 18 years old. Her family had sent her to the U.S. to escape the deep poverty of Ireland and help those who had to stay behind. Ellen’s mother was never able to send much money home, but she sent what she could. Here Ellen remembers her mother’s dedication to her relatives in Ireland.

Quigley: Taking care of the folks in Ireland was her priority, because she did it all of her life. She would keep everything we would grow out of. The things she saved weren’t in the best shape because we didn’t have much, but we had more than they did.

So when she got enough for a big bundle she would go to the post office and get a declaration tag for used clothing and send it over to Ireland. It was very cheap to send a package like that in those days.



And they would be so thrilled. When my mom was putting the package together I just couldn’t see how anybody would want our old stuff, but they did. But my mom would tell me that people in Ireland were very poor, they had nothing.

I have talked to my Irish cousins since then and they have fond memories of those packages from America. They said it was like Christmas for them. But as a kid, I just thought my mom was being silly sending all that old stuff. I had no idea how bad things were in Ireland.



But I would do the business for her. I would wrap the package and fill out the needed paperwork for her and get it ready to send. Then she and I would walk the package to the post office. We didn’t have a car in those days. We had to walk to town, so some of the trips to the post office took quite a while. Packages to Ireland in those days took about a month to get there.

She did that until all of us kids were grown and all the cousins in Ireland were grown, and I was always the one to help her. She depended on me to help her with the correspondence. I wrote the letters for her. I would sit with her and she would tell me what she wanted to say and I would write it down for her.

My mom had fond memories of Ireland. She would always tell us how beautiful it was there. I never really understood how her parents could just send her off. It seemed a little cruel to me to take an 18-year-old who had never been any place and put them on a ship and say goodbye knowing you will probably never see them again.

Gallacher: So your mom was sent to the United States to escape the poverty but to also help her mom and dad who stayed behind?

Quigley: Yes. Everybody was coming in those days.


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