The Forgotten Irish Book: Cover and Contents

As many of you know, I have spent the majority of my writing time since the 2013 publication of The Irish in the American Civil War concentrating on one major source for the Irish experience of 19th century America, namely the widows and dependent pension files of Union soldiers and sailors. It soon became my intention to develop this material into a book, though I struggled for a long time to develop a structure and layout I was happy with (always the most difficult part of any book project). Having finally overcome “Difficult Second Album Syndrome,” I submitted the manuscript to my publishers a few months ago. This week I received both the final page proofs and the finalised cover art for The Forgotten Irish, which I thought I would share with readers, many of whom have been instrumental in both assisting with my research and in encouraging my endeavours. It is also an opportune time to outline the contents of the book, which is due for release in Ireland around November 2016, and hopefully will become available in the United States not too long after that. 

The premise behind the book is to demonstrate how we can use the widows and dependent pension files, in conjunction with other sources such as census, military and emigration records, to build a partial picture of the lives of individual Irish emigrant families. Though the material was created as a consequence of the American Civil War, the focus of many of the chapters is not on the conflict, but other aspects of the lives of those left behind. It is my contention that the files offer us the best opportunity to examine in close detail the experiences of Irish emigrants across the second half of the 19th century (and indeed into the 20th). In many instances, these emigrants describe their lives to us in their own words. Another important element of the book was to demonstrate that the American Civil War had a major impact on people in Ireland; to that end, many of the chapters ‘follow’ families back and forth across the Atlantic, and indeed a number of the pension recipients covered both lived and died in Ireland. To provide readers with some more information, I have included the description on the book cover (the ‘blurb’) below, together with the section and chapter headings, to give a flavour of its contents.


Irish Emigrant Experiences in America

On the eve of the American Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States. The majority had emigrated to the major industrialised cities of the North; New York alone was home to more than 200,000 Irish, one in four of the total population. As a result, thousands of Irish emigrants fought for the Union between 1861 and 1865. The research for this book has its origins in the widows and dependent pension records of that conflict, which often included not only letters and private correspondence between family members, but unparalleled accounts of their lives in both Ireland and America. The treasure trove of material made available comes, however, at a cost. In every instance, the file only exists due to the death of a soldier or sailor. From that as its starting point, coloured by sadness, the author has crafted the stories of thirty-five Irish families whose lives were emblematic of the nature of the Irish nineteenth-century emigrant experience. 





The death of a spouse or child as a result of military service has a profound impact on all those left behind. For some Irish emigrant families, the loss was an event that irretrievably altered their futures, casting a long and dominant shadow over them in the years to come. For others, it represented another hardship in what was already a struggle for survival. ‘Wives and Parents’ examines the stories of both. 

The Garvins: Limerick and New York

The Murphys: Monaghan and Illinois

The Donohoes: Galway and Massachusetts

The Coyles: Donegal and Pennsylvania

The Kennedys: Offaly and Ohio

The Ridgways: Dublin and Washington DC

The Duricks: Tipperary and Vermont

The Galvins and Horans: Roscommon, Kerry and Massachusetts



The widows and dependent files offer us much more than details on the American Civil War. In their pages can be found the social history of families across decades. In ‘Community and Society’ we see how chain migration could influence people from the same parish across multiple generations, or tempt groups of skilled local workers to relocate across the Atlantic. We follow the lives of families from their origins in Ireland– where some suffered personal loss in the Great Famine– to new but not necessarily better futures in the United States.

The O’Donnells: Donegal and Pennsylvania

The Keegans: Wicklow and Pennsylvania

The Delaneys: Laois and Pennsylvania

The Bowlers: Cork and New York

The Madigans: Kerry and New York

The Conways: Offaly and New York

The Dalys: Kildare and New York

The Nugents: Dublin and Illinois

The Murrays: Dublin, Down and New York

The Martins: Derry and New York



There are few more powerful echoes of the past than the letters left behind by those who experienced it. The widows and dependents pension files of Irish-Americans contain thousands of them. When combined with the wider story of a family’s experience, this correspondence can offer an additional emotional layer to our understanding of their story. 

The Kellys: Galway and Massachusetts

The Finans: Sligo and New York

The Welchs: Ireland and Maine

The McIntyres: Ireland and Pennsylvania

The Sharkeys: Ireland and New York

The Tiernans: Roscommon and New York

The Carrs: Derry, New York and Illinois

The Devlins: Tyrone and Indiana

The Mangans: Dublin and Illinois



The central event that ties all the widows and dependents files together– and led to their creation– is the death of a soldier. ‘A Death in Letters” focuses on this event as it was experienced by eight different families. 

The Cochrans: Londonderry and Pennsylvania

The Finnertys: Galway, Merseyside and Illinois

The Hands: Louth and Pennsylvania

The McNamaras: Ireland and New York

The Cairns: Dublin and New Hampshire

The Carrolls: Ireland and New York

The Welshs: Ireland and Pennsylvania

The Scanlans: Ireland and New York


Epilogue– The Forgotten Irish


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Categories: Forgotten Irish

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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17 Comments on “The Forgotten Irish Book: Cover and Contents”

  1. Maura Kiely
    July 21, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    Congratulations, Damien. Another outstanding addition to Irish-American research. I look forward to having it on the shelves of my library – and that of my friends!

    • February 18, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

      Thanks Maura! Let me know how you get on with it!

  2. July 21, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

  3. July 22, 2016 at 2:19 am #


  4. carolmcl
    July 22, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    The posts here on just these same people (widows and orphans, and what happened to survivors) have been so interesting! I’ve passed on many of them to friends & relations. I hope to buy this book.

  5. July 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Excellent news!

  6. Patrick Young
    July 22, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    I will definitely but it. Best of luck.

  7. Mike Fitzpatrick
    July 24, 2016 at 12:41 am #

    Will definitely have your book on my wish list!!

  8. Fachtna O Donovan
    July 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    Congratulations Damian. This is truly pioneering and long overdue work, so best wishes and good health to you.

  9. July 26, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    Super! I look forward to your publication. I thoroughly enjoyed your first!

  10. Jim Murphy
    August 4, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    cannot wait to read the book, James Murphy, Baltimore, Maryland.

    found a Union soldier with similar name to mine from Mass buried at Antietam.

    On Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 1:29 PM, Irish in the American Civil War wrote:

    > Damian Shiels posted: “As many of you know, I have spent the majority of > my writing time since the 2013 publication of The Irish in the American > Civil War concentrating on one major source for the Irish experience of > 19th century America, namely the widows and dependent pension” >

  11. Larry OBrien
    August 17, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    What became of Col O’Brien’s widow Anna after her pension was denied?

    • August 24, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

      Hi Larry,

      I am not sure, it is something that I would love to find out though!

  12. VirginiaB
    November 1, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    It will be great to have so many of these stories I have followed on your blog in one place. But Amazon in the US is saying it won’t be available til May 1 of next year. Can that be right?

    • February 18, 2017 at 10:19 am #

      Hi Virginia,

      It is unfortunately, though you can order it from over here, it will cost a bit more in shipping.


  1. Accentuate the Positive 2016 | Family history across the seas - January 14, 2017

    […] A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was Damian Shiels’ The Forgotten Irish in the Civil War. This is a superb book and I highly recommend it to anyone with ancestors who fought in the US Civil […]

  2. Forgotten Irish Booklaunch, Hodges Figgis, 26th January | Irish in the American Civil War - January 22, 2017

    […] after the Civil War that caused the files to be created. To get a flavour of what it contains, see this post. The launch is open to all, so I hope some of you will be available to attend with me. For those […]

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