A Remarkable Famine Emigrant: Catherine Long and the Union Cause

Irish Americans in the civil war covers the stories of numerous Irish Famine emigrants who later found themselves caught up in the American Civil War. Many of these stories deal with the consequences for those who suffered during the conflict, as thousands were forced to deal with a second great trauma in their lives. However, seismic disruptive events such as the Famine and Civil War also highlight the remarkable resilience and determination of many in the face of adversity. Such is the story of Catherine Long, an emigrant from Kerry who made courageous decisions to alter her family’s fortunes in the midst of Famine ravaged Ireland. 

The dramatic scenery around Dunquin as it appeared in late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the area from which the Garveys and Longs emigrated (National Library of Ireland)

Catherine Garvey was born in Dunquin, Co. Kerry around the year 1810. She married local farmer John Long, and although their lot was better than that of many others it was nonetheless a tough existence. The trials of 19th century life saw the couple lose a number of children at a young age, before the onset of the Famine put the lives of their three surviving children at risk. Despite the fact that they had some land and livestock, the scale of the catastrophe quickly eroded the family’s reserves. Catherine witnessed people dying of hunger around the streets and churches near her home, and decided that she had to get her family to America, where her brothers Matthew and Bartholomew already lived. However, her husband John was reluctant to start anew in a new country, as ‘his ignorance of the language and the people over the sea had a terror for him.’ It seems probable given this statement that John had poor English; Dunquin remains a stronghold of the Irish language to this day. (1)

Despite her husband’s concerns, Catherine had set her mind on getting her family out of Ireland. She decided to strike out on her own and do everything necessary to make that happen. Taking what must have been the heartbreaking decision to leave her husband and children behind, she boarded a vessel bound for Canada. She left without telling her children where she was going, perhaps seeking to spare them an emotional farewell. Clearly Catherine hoped it would not be long before she could send for them. Her journey was not-incident free; fever broke out on the densely crowded ship, reportedly killing forty or fifty of the emigrants aboard. Catherine also fell ill, only recovering as the boat closed in on Quebec. From here she made her way to the United States- it may well be that she is the Catherine Mc Long recorded as arriving in Boston on 12th June 1846. Eventually she joined her brothers in West Brattleboro, Vermont, and set to work trying to earn the money that would allow her to be reunited with her family. (2)

Emigrants in Caherciveen, Co. Kerry on their way to the United States in 1866 (Library of Congress)

Catherine initially worked in Roswell Goodenough’s hotel before taking employment with the family of Deacon Hayes, the uncle of future President Rutherford B. Hayes. Within four years she had raised enough money for her husband and children to join her. They arrived just in time to be recorded in the 1850 census for Brattleboro, which lists Laborer John (42) and Catherine (40) along with children James (12), Job (10) and Mary (8). John found work on the railroad and soon another son, Patrick, was born. More children followed as, together again, the family began to build a life for themselves in their new home. (3)

By the time of the American Civil War John was invalided and no longer able to work- he would pass away in 1865. The onset of the conflict meant that large numbers of Catherine’s family and extended family would serve the Union- a fact that would be highlighted in later years. Her eldest son James, by 1861 a cotton-dealer in Missouri, lost much of his property during the war and served in the 46th Missouri Infantry. Second son Job had tried initially to enlist in Vermont but had been rejected due to his short stature. Instead he joined the ranks of the 11th Massachusetts who began their service at the First Battle of Bull Run. The youngest boy, Patrick, joined the Union Navy, where he contracted tuberculosis. He moved to Texas soon after the war for health reasons, where he died in an accident. Catherine’s brother Bartholomew Garvey lived in Virginia in 1861 and was reported as having been imprisoned in Richmond’s Castle Thunder for his Union sympathies. His three sons also fought for the North. The emigration of the Garveys and Longs from Ireland in the 1840s resulted in a significant contribution to Union arms during the Civil War. Members of the family experienced having horses shot from under them in action and the struggle for survival in the horrors of Andersonville POW camp. It was these connections that first sparked interest in Catherine’s story during the 1890s, when it was noted that she had three sons, two brothers and seven nephews who had served the Union cause. (4)

A Private in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, the regiment in which Jobs Long served (Library of Congress)

After the war and her husband’s death, Catherine divided her time between Brattleboro and the home of her daughters in New York. In 1893 her remarkable story was covered by the Boston Globe. The reporter was impressed with the Irishwoman:

Notwithstanding her advanced age and the hardships of her eventful life she is hale and hearty, retaining her old industrious habits, her sturdy common sense, and the rich brogue of her native country. She takes long walks, cares for her own room and clothing, and does much to help in the home of her daughters. When not otherwise employed she is a tireless knitter. She is deeply interested in all local matters, especially of political interest. She is very proud of the war record and experiences of her kindred. With one exception her children are living, and fourteen grown children love to listen to her tales of the old country and of the new. (5)

Catherine Long died at the age of 87 in her daughter’s home on Elliot Street, Brattleboro in 1897. The Vermont Phoenix afforded her an extensive obituary, keen to highlight the experiences of a woman witha remarkably interesting history.’ Her decisions and determination to do right by her family during the tough years of the Irish Famine set the Longs on markedly different path, taking them from rural Co. Kerry to the ranks of the Union cause and beyond. (6)

An elderly Kerry woman on the way to her son's funeral c. 1905. It was in the hope of a better life that Catherine Long took her family to the United States in the 1840s. (Library of Congress)

(1) New York Irish World 9th September 1893, Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897; (2) Ibid., Boston Passenger and Immigration Lists; (3) New York Irish World 9th September 1893, Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897, 1850 Federal Census; (4) Ibid.; (5) New York Irish World 9th September 1893; (6) Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897;


1850 US Federal Census

Boston 1821-1850 Passenger and Immigration Lists

New York Irish World 9th September 1893. Taught Her Sons Patriotism. The Life Story of a Grand Old Irish Woman. Her Three Sons, Two Brothers and Seven Nephews Fought for the Stars and Stripes.

Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897. Mrs. Catherine Long. 

AUTHOR:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.


Split in Volunteers deepens

Split in Volunteers deepens
John Redmond addresses a body of Volunteers in Wexford on October 4th. The obelisk on the right is the momument to John E. Redmond MP, the granduncle of the present Irish leader.Photo: Irish Life, 9 Oct 1914. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland.

Split in Volunteers deepens

Battle for control of the Irish Volunteers between Redmond and MacNeill

The split in the Irish Volunteer movement has deepened with branches across the country declaring their support for rival leadership groups.

The majority of the branches are moving to align themselves with the leadership of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, with a smaller number loyal to the leadership of Prof. Eoin MacNeill.

Prof. MacNeill and his supporters within the Volunteer movement have announced that they will hold a national convention in Dublin on 25 October.

Prof. Eoin MacNeill (left) and The O’Rahilly (right), members of the original Provisional Committee of the Volunteers. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MacManus Collection)

Referring to the moves by Eoin MacNeill and others to re-assert control over the Volunteers after his plea for the Volunteers to join the British army, Mr. Redmond said in Kilkenny yesterday that they were were ‘cranks and mischief-makers, lurking in dark corners, to endeavour to stab us and trip us up in our work’.

He continued by describing them as: ‘A little body of men who, if you look back on the last 20 or 30 years, have done absolutely nothing to gain our free Constitution, whose names you can’t find in the nationalist movement for the last twenty years.’

Mr. Redmond repeated his plea for Irishmen to join the British army: ‘To say that we will only defend Ireland by remaining at home at ease is, I say plainly here, a contemptible policy. We should bear our share, our fair share, of the obligations of the position we have won.’

LJ Kettle (left) has been appointed Joint Secretary of the re-organised council of the Volunteers under Mr Redmond and Col Maurice Moore (right), late of the Connaught Rangers, is their new Chief Inspector. (Images: Irish Life, 9 Oct 1914. The full collection of Irish Life is available from the National Library of Ireland)

Redmond said that he was glad to be able to say that Irishmen had thus far more than fulfilled their duties: ‘Thousands, and tens of thousands of reservists, drawn mostly from the ranks of the National Volunteers, had been summoned to the colours, and had gone willingly to the front – in many cases escorted by their fellow countrymen with bands and banners in procession to the railway stations.’

Mr. Redmond then referred to rumours that the British government intends to introduce conscription for Ireland which have swept Dublin, with the old Militia Ballot Act said to be the proposed means by which men will be drafted into the army.

He said that newspaper stories that the British government intends to enforce the Militia Ballot Act in Ireland are ‘absolute lies’ and ‘ridiculous falsehoods’.

Redmond’s claims have been rejected by the Irish Independent, however, which is standing over its story. Amongst the evidence to support its claim that the government was seriously considering enforcing the Act, the paper points to the fact that the necessary forms and proclamations have been printed to allow for it to be enforced.

The rumours surrounding the introduction of conscription have been causing alarm around Ireland. This confidential RIC report for Cavan, October 1914, states: ‘About 150 young men left for America during last month in consequence of the announcement in the Irish Daily Independent newspaper that the government were going to put the Militia Ballot Act in force.’ Click to read full document. (Image: National Archives UK, CO 904/95)

The Independent asks: ‘Does Mr. Redmond suggest that the printers took this work upon themselves as a piece of pastime?’

In his contribution to the debate, Prof. Eoin MacNeill said any attempt to enforce the Militia Ballot Act would be unconstitutional and unlawful.

He said that reviving the act ‘would be a piece of lawless military despotism. The Act belongs to a bygone age of landlord ascendancy, when the governing classes thought they could do as they pleased with common people’.

Kassia: A Bold and Beautiful Byzantine Poet

It’s Women’s History Month and to celebrate we are running a series of posts about medieval women. Today’s focus is an enigmatic poet who lived in 9th-century Constantinople. Kassia (b. 805/810, d. 843×867) was courageous, highly educated and beautiful. She was so beautiful, in fact, that the Emperor of Constantinople – Emperor Theophilus (d. 842AD) – wanted her as his wife. Not taken with the idea of becoming Empress, Kassia rejected his advances and chose instead to become an abbess and poet.

Kassia came from a noble family and was well-educated. In a letter to her, Theodore the Studite (d. 826) – one of the most important theologians of the 9th century – wrote that he was ‘astonished’ by her erudition, especially in one so young. He went on, ‘the fair form of your discourse has far more beauty than a mere specious prettiness’.

Thoedore. PNG

Theodore the Studite (right) from the Theodore Pslater, Eastern Mediterranean, 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 27v

Yet it was her prettiness that caught the eye of the Emperor in the year 830 CE. In this year, according to a number of Byzantine chroniclers, Kassia appeared in a ‘Bride Show’. These were events in which commissioners were sent throughout the empire to find possible wives for the Emperor and would bring them back to Constantinople to be displayed (some historians dispute whether they actually happened). According to the chroniclers, at one such show, Theophilus saw Kassia and, struck by her beauty, remarked ‘Ach, what a flood of base things come through woman’. Kassia, surefooted, replied, ‘but also from woman better things spring’. Her response – both witty and candid – espouses the Christian idea that through the Virgin Mary, Jesus brought redemption to mankind.

After rejecting the hand of the Emperor, Kassia became a nun at a convent in Xerolophos, Constantinople’s seventh hill. There she became a prolific poet and composer. Of the hundreds of hymn composers from the Eastern Church, only four women can be positively identified and only one of these – Kassia — had her works incorporated into official service books for use in church worship. She also wrote secular works. The British Library holds a collection of her epigrams. In it she displays her sharp mind and sharp wit. She speaks disparagingly of thoughtlessness, writing, ‘There is absolutely no cure for stupidity.’ She went on, ‘knowledge in a stupid person is a bell on a pig’s snout’.


Kassia’s Epigrams from Works of Demetrius Cydones and others, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th Century, Add MS 10072, f.94r 

Kassia was also courageous. 9th-century Constantinople was rocked by fierce debate over the legitimacy of religious images, but just as she was unafraid to reject the advances of the Emperor, so too Kassia stood up to defend the veneration of the icons. In one of her verses she writes, ‘I hate silence when it is time to speak’. And her courage was not only demonstrated in her writing, but in her actions too. In another of his letters to her, Theodore thanks Kassia for helping one of his disciples who has been imprisoned by the authorities for his defence of icon-worship.


An image of the destruction of icons from the Theodore Psalter, Eastern Mediterranean, 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 88r 

Kassia’s best known and most popular work is a hymn for Holy Wednesday, in which she gives voice to a nameless woman from the gospels. The woman appears in an episode in the gospels, whereby Christ, dining in the house of a wealthy man, is anointed by a woman (Matthew 26: 6-13; Mark 14: 3-9), whom Luke describes as having led a sinful life (Luke 7: 36-50).


The anointing of Christ’s feet from Xanthopulus and Ephraem the Syrian, Eastern Mediterranean, 4th quarter of the 14th Century, Egerton MS 3157, f. 45v

A fine copy of Kassia’s poem survives in a 16th-century manuscript held by the British Library, where Kassia imagines the woman’s lament.

Hymn holy wednesday

Kassia’s Hymn for Holy Wednesday, from a collection of Hymns and Canons, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th century, Add MS 39618, f. 8r

The text reads as follows:

“Woe is me, for the love of adultery surrounded me with darkness:

A lightless night of sin.

Accept the springs of my tears,

As you who disperse the waters of the sea From the clouds.

Bow down to the sighs of my heart,

As you bent the heavens, by your inapprehensible incarnation.

I kiss your purest feet and wipe them with my own tresses.

I kiss your feet whose tread Eve heard in Paradise

Where, frightened, she hid herself in fear.

Who can count the multitude of my sin and the depths of your judgment?

Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Redeemer of my soul

Do not turn away from your handmaiden, as your mercy is boundless.”

(Translation modified and adapted from Anne M. Silvas, cited below.)

You can hear what Kassia’s poem probably sounded like here. Happy Women’s History Month!

~ Mary Wellesley & Peter Toth


Further Reading:

Anna M. Silvas, ‘Kassia the Nun c.810-865: an Appreciation’, in Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience 800-1200, ed. Lynda Garland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 17-39.

– See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2016/03/kassia.html#sthash.0XSgiNh6.dpuf

Galloway Viking treasure pot’s contents revealed after more than 1,000 years

24 March 2016
From the sectionSouth Scotland
Pot lid liftedImage copyrightHistoric Environment Scotland
Image captionThe images lift the lid on what was kept in the Viking treasure pot

Conservators have released images of the contents of a pot of Viking treasure more than 1,000 years after it was buried in a field in Galloway.

Items inside include six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches, a gold ingot and Byzantium silk.

The pictures give the public a chance to see the items for the first time as they are not currently on display.

It follows a painstaking project to remove and conserve the items which date from the 9th to 10th century AD.

The hoard was discovered by metal detectorist Derek McLennan in Dumfries and Galloway in 2014.

BroochImage copyrightSantiago Arribas Pena
Image captionA silver brooch from Ireland was among the items taken out of the pot

The images show a cache of objects contained in a Carolingian pot which was part of the wider hoard.

Items in the pot included:

  • six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches
  • a silver brooch from Ireland
  • Byzantium silk from around modern-day Istanbul
  • a gold ingot
  • gold and crystal objects carefully wrapped in cloth bundles

The conservation project is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland, working in partnership with the Treasure Trove Unit, and the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR).

Richard Welander, of Historic Environment Scotland, said: “Before removing the objects we took the rather unusual measure of having the pot CT scanned, in order that we could get a rough idea of what was in there and best plan the delicate extraction process.

Large beadImage copyrightSantiago Arribas Pena
Image captionThis large glass bead was also discovered among the Viking treasure

“That exercise offered us a tantalising glimpse but didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

“These stunning objects provide us with an unparalleled insight to what was going on in the minds of the Vikings in Galloway all those years ago.

“They tell us about the sensibilities of the time, reveal displays of regal rivalries, and some of the objects even betray an underlying sense of humour, which the Vikings aren’t always renowned for!”

Stuart Campbell of the Treasure Trove Unit, said there was further research to be done on the items.

“The complexity of the material in the hoard raises more questions than it answers, and like all the best archaeology, this find doesn’t give any easy answers,” he said.

PennantImage copyrightSantiago Arribas Pena
Image captionA pendant was also part of the hoard unearthed in Galloway in 2014

“Questions about the motivations and cultural identity of the individuals who buried it will occupy scholars and researchers for years to come.”

The vessel contents are now with the Treasure Trove Unit, who are responsible for assessing the value of the hoard on behalf of the QLTR.

The hoard will then be offered for allocation to Scottish museums, with the finder eligible for the market value of the find – a cost that will be met by the successful museum.

Dumfries and Galloway Council is working up a bid to give it a permanent home in Kirkcudbright.

However, it has been estimated it might need up to £1m in order to do so.

The hoard’s discovery is also set to feature in the latest episode of Digging for Britain hosted by Dr Alice Roberts.

The programme is broadcast on BBC Four at 21:00 on Thursday 24 March.

Richard Welender and Dr Alice Roberts
Image captionThe Galloway hoard is to feature on Digging for Britain

What the Irish Ate Before Potatoes

What the Irish Ate Before Potatoes photo

This coming Sunday marks the celebration of the life of St. Patrick, the bishop who brought Christianity to Ireland some time in the early 400s. And if you eat at all on St. Paddy’s day (Guinness doesn’t count), you’re likely to encounter a certain little tuber that’s practically synonymous with the Emerald Isle. Without the potato, there would be no colcannon, no Irish stew, no shepherd’s pie, and certainly no McDonald’s fries to dip in your Shamrock Shake at the shameful end of the night. But the potato, like the Catholic Church, is an import to Eire—potatoes are actually Peruvian, from thousands of years back, and didn’t make their way to Irish soil until the late 1600s.

Which raises the question: What was Irish food like for the 1500 years between Patrick and potatoes?

The short answer is: milky. Every account of what Irish people ate, from the pre-Christian Celts up through the 16th-century anti-British freedom fighters, revolves around dairy. The island’s green pastures gave rise to a culture that was fiercely proud of its cows (one of the main genres of Ancient Irish epics is entirely about violent cattle rustling), and a cuisine that revolved around banbidh, or “white foods.”

There was drinking milk, and buttermilk, and fresh curds, and old curds, and something called “real curds,” and whey mixed with water to make a refreshing sour drink. In 1690, one British visitor to Ireland noted that the natives ate and drank milk “above twenty several sorts of ways and what is strangest for the most part love it best when sourest.” He was referring tobainne clabair, which translates as “thick milk,” and was probably somewhere between just straight-up old milk and sour cream. And in the 12th century, a satirical monk (this is Ireland, after all), wrote a fake “vision” in which he traveled to the paradise of the Land of Food, where he saw a delicious drink made up of “very thick milk, of milk not too thick, of milk of long thickness, of milk of medium thickness, of yellow bubbling milk, the swallowing of which needs chewing.” And many British tacticians, sending home notes on how best to suppress local rebellions, noted that the majority of the population lived all summer on their cows’ milk, so the best way to starve out the enemy would just be to kill all the cows.

But above all, beloved by Hibernians from Belfast to Bantry, was butter. In a scholarly article from 1960, A.T. Lucas wrote that “recent international statistics show that the consumption of butter per head of the population is higher in Ireland than almost anywhere else in the world and the writer believes that the history of butter in the country can be summed by saying that, were comparable figures available, the position would be found to be the same in any year from at least as early as the beginning of the historic period down to 1700.”

And the Irish didn’t like their butter just one way: from the 12th century on, there are records of butter flavored with onion and garlic, and local traditions of burying butter in bogs. Originally, it’s thought that bog butter began as a good storage system, but after a time, buried bog butter came to be valued for its uniquely boggy flavor.

Grains, either as bread or porridge, were the other mainstay of the pre-potato Irish diet, and the most common was the humble oat, usually made into oatcakes and griddled (ovens hadn’t really taken off yet). And as was often the case in the more northern parts of Europe, the climate made growing wheat relatively difficult, so it was reserved for the fancier parts of society, and consequently thought of as a real treat. One of the many early Irish saints—Molua—had the superpower of sowing non-wheat grains and having wheat spring up, a sign of his holiness. As with milk, the Irish managed to squeeze a cornucopia of different products out of one main ingredient, and according to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, a “refreshing drink called sowens” was made from slightly fermented wheat husks, and a “jelly called flummery” was made by boiling the sowens. As traditional as it seems, the Irish Soda Bread that you might be trundling out this weekend wasn’t invented until 19th century, since baking soda wasn’t invented until the 1850s.

Besides the focus on oats and dairy (and more dairy), the Irish diet wasn’t too different from how we think of it today. They did eat meat, of course, though the reliance on milk meant that beef was a rarity, and most people probably just fried up some bacon during good times, or ate fish they caught themselves. For veggies, the Irish relied on cabbages, onions, garlic, and parsnips, with some wild herbs and greens spicing up the plate, and on the fruit front, everyone loved wild berries, like blackberries and rowanberries, but only apples were actually grown on purpose. And, if you lived near the coast, edible seaweed like dulse and sloke made for tasty salads and side dishes.

The potato itself, in many ways, brought an end to the Irish way of eating that had persisted for the few thousand years prior. It came at a time of intensifying violence, political oppression, and economic exploitation by the British, and it combined with enforced poverty to destroy the food culture of the island. Potatoes were easy to grow and could feed more mouths for the labor input than wheat or dairy ever could, but that simplicity, combined with growing forces of international trade and corporate food production, led to a population boom and unhealthy reliance on a single, starchy crop. And we all know how that story ended.

So if you want to celebrate the true spirit of St. Paddy, who had never heard of the cursed potato in his sainted life, bust out the oat cakes, milk jugs, and giant vats of curds this Sunday. And please, don’t dye them green.