During my day job I have the luxury of listening to my radio station of choosing. This in itself might not sound like a big deal, but in past lives I’ve found myself stuck in jobs where the radio dial seems not to move from Crap FM, despite dedicating many hours to trying to use ‘the force’ to shift it. Those who have had as many clerical temping jobs as I have in the past will know it is impossible to physically move the radio dial for fear of upsetting the office hierarchy, not to mention that special ambiance. Office politics!
These days I have the luxury of being the master of the dial and train my ears on the excellent Dublin station Newstalk. Peppering the great daily debates on news and current affairs (this past few days I’ve been listening intently to the goings on at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Laois) are the obligatory adverts. One very noticeable advert crops up with alarming regularity for a series of legal information days relating to that cyclical Irish problem/solution (depending on your standpoint), emigration. As emigration has been somewhat of a growth industry over the past several years since the death of the Tiger,(See UCC report http://www.ucc.ie/en/news/fullstory-371828-en.html) it seems only natural that those of a legal bent will want to offer their exclusive services to those seeking a decent wage elsewhere.
I need to stress here that I am not casting aspersions on today’s firms offering their services to people leaving one home to seek another, I’m more casting aspersions on the profession itself; The profession of capitalising on another’s desperation. As we shall see the history of migration agents offering their services to people leaving these shores is as long as emigration itself.
The following advert comes from the Nation newspaper, March 1845 and offers quite suitable accommodation for families who were prepared to spend that extra pound for the comfort of their own room, ample food and water.
Of course this kind of passage was only open to a select few, and was just on the cusp of the Great Famine of the 1840s. During that period the need for a speedy exit was a lot more urgent, leading to unscrupulous agents to take advantage. The following article appeared in the Freeman’s Journal in 1839, and sounded a note of warning to Irish emigrants of the dangers of fraudulent agents plying their trade. Although this was pre-famine, it shows the practice was already well established.
A ‘shameful’ tale of mass fraud was reported by The Freeman’s Journal, when twenty natives of Galway were defrauded by a supposed emigration agent on a journey from Galway to New South Wales. Due to meet with the ‘master agent’ in Dublin a few days after paying their board in Galway, they discovered that no such agent existed leading the group to be stranded in Dublin. I suppose they can be classed as some of the lucky ones.
Another case (again reported by the Freeman’s Journal) which came before the Recorder’s Court in Dublin in 1839 in which a Mr Henry Abrahams (helpfully labelled ‘a Jew’ in the proceedings, perhaps in the interests of clarity for the paper’s anti-Semitic readership), was indicted for defrauding a Meath man William Reilly and his family of money with a promised passage to America via Liverpool. Several other witnesses came forward also accusing Mr Abrahams of similar underhanded acts of an ‘aggravated and cruel’ nature, for which he was sentenced to twelve months hard labour.
The practice seemed fairly widespread, with many reported incidents highlighted the targeting of the vulnerable and gullible. There were sad reports in various outlets of the Irish press of one young lady following her friends out to a new life being pointed in the direction of New Orleans by an unscrupulous agent, reportedly being told that it was just down the road from the promised land of New York. Obviously not knowing the geography the young woman found herself alone, over a thousand miles away from her original destination.
It is of course, much more fun emigrating today as I’m sure any one of the thousands of young people will tell you!
 Celtic Tiger RIP, roaaaar.