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A Destitute Famine Victim Sends a Desperate Letter from Ireland

Like many victims of the Great Famine, Mary Rush and her husband Michael had only one place to turn for assistance: parents or other relatives who had already emigrated. On September 6, 1846, the illiterate Mary dictated this desperate letter, possibly written for her by a local priest or schoolmaster, pleading with her parents in Quebec to send money for the trip across the Atlantic. Mary's parents, Thomas and Bridget Barrett, living in the poor Irish-Canadian community of St. Columban, appealed to their parish priest for help, who in turn asked the British Canadian authorities for assistance. However, Canada's Governor-General Lord Elgin, like his superiors in London, rejected such proposals for government-assisted relief. Although Michael Rush may have been among a group of Irish immigrants who arrived in New York the following year, there is no emigration record for Mary Rush, and her ultimate fate remains unknown.

Dear Father and Mother,

Pen cannot dictate the poverty of this country at present. The potato crop is quite done away all over Ireland. There is nothing expected here, only an immediate famine. If you knew what danger we and our fellow countrymen are suffering, if you were ever so much distressed, you would take us out of this poverty isle. We can only say, the scourge of God fell down on Ireland, in taking away the potatoes, they being the only support of the people. So, dear father and mother, if you don’t endeavor to take us out of it, it will be the first news you will hear by some friend of me and my little family to be lost by hunger, and there are thousands dread they will share the same fate. So, I conclude with my blessings to you both and remain,

Your affectionate son and daughter,

Michael and Mary Rush

For God’s sake take us out of poverty, and don’t let us die with the hunger.

Source | Kerby Miller and Paul Wagner, Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Emigration to America (Washington, D.C.: Elliott & Clark Publishing, 1994) 28-29.
Creator | Mary Rush
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Mary Rush, “A Destitute Famine Victim Sends a Desperate Letter from Ireland,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 29, 2023,

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