Bridging 200 years and 3000 miles from Ballyhoura to Ontario

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Deep knowledge and measuring time in Ballyhoura. Tracing the Peter Robinson Settler’s origins.

What does deep knowledge mean? Local communities have deep knowledge of their heritage. Deep knowledge comes from listening when you're sitting around the table after a funeral and somebody is talking about what granny said, or what granny’s aunt said. That's deep knowledge. Local communities have deep knowledge of where families lived and were buried. Of trade and craft, of fate and fortune through time.

The other part of the title is measuring time. How do we measure time in Ireland? Nowadays we measure by looking at our phones but in the past we measured time by counting generations. We measured change by referring to our granddad's time, or our great grandmother's time. And that's what we're looking at here. Can we go back to that older way of looking at generations? Our primary purpose in doing that is we want to go back 200 years. We want to go back eight generations, to the 1820s in this area, and work out who was living here, where we were living and where we were burying. And our primary drive for that is to investigate the origins of people of the Peter Robinson Assisted Emigration. 

In 1823, and 1825, a whole load of ‘us’ were shipped away across to Canada, the first group went to the Ottawa Valley, then the 1825ers went to Ontario, the Peterborough area in Ontario, and we're still there. What we're at is trying to bridge the gap that's between those of us in Ireland and those of ‘us’ in Ontario. And we're trying to show that people at a community level have a lot in common with one another, regardless of where we are situated.

In essence we wish to bridge the gap of 200 years and 3,000 miles between Ballyhoura and Ontario.

As part of the project we're hoping to tell the stories of the people who lived in these parishes going back to 200 years. Stories of the War of Independence, First World War, after the Great Famine, life here during the Great Famine, life here before the Great Famine, and we want to capture those kind of stories. We aim to work with local historians who've been doing this kind of research for the last 30 - 50 years. We want to get out there so we can share with our partners elsewhere in the country and across the water in Canada as well. 

Two thousand people were shipped across to Canada back in 1823 and 1825, originating pretty much from Newmarket in Duhallow, all the way down to Lismore in County Waterford. The anniversary of these Assisted Emigrations are coming up in 2023 -2025. And both communities here in Ireland and across in Canada want to commemorate this anniversary.

There were multiple other assisted emigrations during the 19th century. Over 300,000 people left Ireland as part of assisted emigrations (Moran 2013). At 2000 people the Peter Robinson Settlers are a small part of this process but if we can tell their story well, we can publicise the other schemes as well. And if we can make the links across the water with the Peter Robinson families, maybe others of the 300,000 will connect with us too. 

And make no mistake, such Assisted Emigrations were not confined to Ireland but were a common European experience.

When we look at our own family histories in Ireland I suspect a lot of us can go quickly  back to the 1870s. My own mother talks about her grandfather who was born in 1875 and she recalls stories of his inheriting the family farm. So if we have those links back to the1870s can we push it back further?

We also aim to understand the Ireland of the 1820s and 1830s, which, it would appear from listening to historians, was a very dynamic period. There was a lot of feuding going on ie. family feuds with faction fights; there was a lot of agrarian unrest, people were fed up with the way their land was being controlled, that they couldn't own land; and with the taxes that they were being imposed on them. 

And then, as well, there was a famine every generation or so. We remember An Gorta Mór from the late 1840s but there was a famine nearly 20 years before that, nor was that the last famine we had in Ireland. 

Our purpose in this project is to combine stories from both sides of the Atlantic ocean, tracing the 2000 people who went out on 11 ships, two ships in the 23 and the other 9 in 1825. Can we also identify the churches, boreens, bridges and homes that would be recognisable to the Peter Robinson Settlers? 

Dr. Paul MacCotter, who's a medieval historian and genealogist has researched Peter Robinson Settlers and he's found that 25% of the Peter Robinson families can be found in Irish church records. In a previous analysis Dr MacCotter determined 10% of the Peter Robinson families are traceable to townland level.

Get Involved

Ballyhoura Development have traced approx 600 different people over in North America, between Canada and the USA, who are direct descendants of those 2000 people. And they're all over Canada and the States. As part of this project we are hoping to connect with those 600 people and we're going to ask them to share their stories. And we're going to plan a series of activities over the coming five years that will hopefully bring us back together. To this end we are looking for participants in Ireland and Canada to email us and connect us with local media sources who can help us reach a broader audience and connect with more Peter Robinson descendants. We’re looking for well researched family histories with locations of homes and graves recorded so that we can trace the families who went, as well as those who stayed behind. Email to find out more.


This project is organised by Ballyhoura Development CLG and is funded by the Leader rural development fund.


Moran, G. 2013

For more on deep knowledge, remembrance and forgetting read anything by Prof G Beiner

For the work of Dr Paul MacCotter


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