Everyone is talking about emigration just now because of the thousands of people fleeing from violence in the Middle East and Africa. The Irish know what emigration is: millions have left this country from the time of the Famine, and thousands died on their way to other countries, just like the poor people we see every day on television.
In 1937 the mother of a friend of ours from Achill Island in County Mayo was working in Scotland at the potato harvest. She was staying at a farm outside Kirkintilloch, eight miles from Glasgow. On the morning of the 17th of September, she left the farm along with her working party to work on another farm. That night ten young Achill men were killed in a bothy on the first farm when the building went on fire.
That was not the first tragedy to strike seasonal emigrants from Achill. On the 14th of June 1894, thirty- eight people from the island were drowned on their way back from Scotland.
In 2007 the Gaelic League in Glasgow organised an exhibition to mark the 1937 tragedy. Later the exhibition moved to Arranmore, where there was another disaster on the 9th of November 1935, when 19 people returning to the island were drowned. Thirteen of them were coming back from potato picking in Scotland. Six of them were from the same family.
Emigration is not a complete tragedy. Millions of people do well in the countries they go to and they contribute to the development of those countries. But emigrants who go abroad without any pressure are not the same as refugees. We have a duty as human beings to put an end to what causes the refugee problem, not only here but throughout the world. The greatest cause? War, of course.