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June 2019
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2005-06-07 Lislary waves carried `Sarah' on US trip

On the 10th June 1847, the "Sarah-Boyde" set sail from Sligo harbour, bound for the USA. Higgins, Conway, Gilmartin, O'Connor, Jordan and Flatley are just some of the well-known Sligo surnames appearing on the "Sarah-Boyde" passenger list.


This is a list of those who actually made it to the east coast of North America.


What is not recorded is how many were given a watery grave en-route to their new world.
While making a brief appearance at an Irish centre in Chicago last year, we were given the centre's main office as a changing room. On one of the tall imposing bookshelves, I noticed twenty large volumes, containing detailed lists of people who had emigrated from Ireland in the mid to late 19th century.


These volumes stated the name of the ship, where it had departed from, the passenger names, ages, occupations or status. For all the female passengers on board - without exception - the occupation was described, in a sexist fashion, as "none". The men - without exception - were either farmers, mechanics or labourers. Then there were the children / infants, often aged only a couple of months.


I first looked up my own surname, admittedly not the most common Irish surname, and yet I came across about thirty entries under `Nelson', including a John Nelson, a Phoebe Nelson, and a James Nelson.


When I walk the roads, beaches and tracks of our coastal county, I am always aware that ours is a county which would have witnessed extensive emigration. Long-since-deserted, ruined stone cottages, from the Ladies Brae to Gleniff, from Easkey to Lislary, remain as stark reminders and lonely memorials to our nation's emigration history.


On sunny summer days at Lislary, I remember the sight and scent of seaweed drying on ancient stone walls, I marvelled how our beautiful Benbulben could display another unusual, almost unrecognisable side, I watched the sunlight dance on the dark blue waters of Donegal Bay, as I passed by the unique landmark of Mickey Taylor's white-washed, almost-improvised house, with a creamery can for a chimney. 


I know nothing of Mickey's story, how he ended up there, or what his quality of life must have been like, living exposed to the elements in the cold winter months, but Mickey Taylor's wee house above the jagged rocks of the north-Sligo coastline became for me an indelible symbol of Lislary.


Sadly now, even his pre-fab extension lies in ruins. I think it is the at times bleak beauty of Lislary's coastline which has continued to lure me over the years.

As I walk the stony beach at Cloonagh (Trawbane), across to Lislary and Breaghwy (does it really need to be spelt like this? Brachmhaigh`as Gaelige'), I imagine the Inishmurray islanders disembarking on the mainland (Lislary and Cloonagh being some of the nearest landing-points), making their way into Sligo town, or perhaps the Peelers, as they set off to raid the illegal Inishmurray poito­n stills.


But at this juncture, I bow to the superiority of Joe McGowan, and refer you to his insightful and fascinating recent book on Inishmurray and its islanders.


Not long ago, while walking the dogs at Lislary, we called in to Christy and Carmel Harte - friends of my father's - in part to graciously accept their generous gift of fresh crab claws.


I envied Carmel's knowledge of local townland names, as she explained to me where Lislary ended and Breaghwy began, as she pointed out that Mickey Taylor technically lived in "Barr na Farraige" (an apt name for the location).


Names such as Pollrory, Altmore, Cullumore and Pollmolaise (named after Inishmurray's patron saint) tripped off her tongue during the kitchen conversation.


Carmel also pointed out that, despite only three houses being between theirs and the Atlantic, there were 23 telegraph poles - excessive, and view-blocking to say the least.


The Hartes spoke of how Lislary was now attracting more `artistic' types to set up home in the area.


We passed by one or two beautifully-designed homes on our walk, located in some of the most inspirational and creative settings one could ever dream of. Have a walk along the north-Sligo coast at Lislary, watch the wind-surfers as they ride the Donegal Bay waves.


But also spare a thought for those who rode those same waves on the "Sarah-Boyde", and other ships, in search of a new life, leaving behind their beloved Sligo forever.