The Leave-Taking

The Leave-Taking photo.

Recently, I came across an eye witness account from 1852 detailing the emotional scene of a group of families bidding farewell to loved ones who were about to emigrate from Ireland to far off lands. It was written by a Dr. John Forbes and his words reminded me of a poem I wrote some years back called The Leave-Taking (pictured above). Forbes, who was Scottish, was appointed court physician to Prince Albert and the royal household on 15 February 1841. In 1852 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law by the University of Oxford and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1853. He wrote books on homeopathy and how nature can cure disease, which went against the grain of his profession at the time. This is his account of a poignant leave-taking:

Taken from : ‘Memorandums made in Ireland in the Autumn of 1852’
John Forbes, M.D., F.R.S.
Vol. I ; London ; Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill ; 1853

Chapter VIII
The Shannon – Athlone – Galway

We found the steamer waiting for us, and the little pier thickly crowded
with people waiting to go on board or to see their friends on board. The
deck was, indeed, so crowded, that it was not an easy matter to get from one
part of it to another: and the crowding and confusion were still further
increased by the whole of the fore part of the vessel being occupied by

It was soon seen that a party of emigrants had come or were coming on board,
and were now taking leave of their friends with every token of the most
passionate distress. With that utter unconsciousness and disregard of being
the observed of all observers, which characterises authentic sorrow, these
warm-hearted and simple-minded people demeaned themselves entirely as if
they had been shrouded in all the privacy of home, clinging to and kissing
and embracing each other with the utmost ardour, calling out aloud in broken
tones, the endeared name of brother, sister, mother, sobbing and crying as
if the very heart would burst, while the unheeded tears ran down from the
red and swollen eyes literally in streams. It was a sight no human being
could see unmoved: and when the final orders were given to clear the ship
and withdraw the gangway, the howl of agony that rose at once from the
parting deck and the abandoned pier, was perfectly overpowering. “O Mary! O
Kitty! O mother dear! O brother! O sister, God bless you! God preserve you!
The Lord in Heaven protect you!” and a thousand other wild and pious
ejaculations, broken and intermixed by agonising cries and choking sobs,
literally filled the air, and almost drowned the roar of the engine and the
wheels that tore the loving hearts that uttered them asunder.

Amid the crowds of people on the pier, swaying to and fro as they shouted
aloud and waved their hats and handkerchiefs. Several women were seen
kneeling on the stones, kneeling and weeping, with their hands raised
fixedly above them, and so continuing as long as they could to be
distinguished from the receding crowd.

The scene was altogether a most painful one to witness, and not soon
forgotten by those who witnessed it. If it told, in language not to be
misunderstood, of the warm and strong affections of a most cordial people,
it brought home the truth to the fancies of all, and to the memories and
hearts of many – that there is no greater pang in store of life’s ills than
Separation. And, indeed, such a separation as this, is often a greater
pang, to one of the sufferers at least, than death itself is; for here, on
both sides, nature still retains her full consciousness of loss and her full
strength to suffer; while Providence has most kindly so ordered it, in the
great separation of all, that the woe on one side at least, is more than
half lost in the weakness.”


About Jean Reinhardt

Author of 'A Pocket Full of Shells' an Amazon International best seller, Jean writes young adult and historical fiction. She has been known to shed a tear over Little House on the Prairie.
This entry was posted in History, Ireland, Poetry, victorian ireland, victorian society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Leave-Taking

  1. Melissa Shaw-Smith says:

    Jean, your poem and the factual account of leave taking are very moving and will no doubt resonate with anyone who has every experienced this, whatever their country of origin. Thank you for sharing them. All the best, Melissa

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BuntyMcC says:

    Very moving; both.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very sad and touching…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. inesephoto says:

    Beautiful poem, Jean! In the 19th century, for many people it meant to never see each other again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jean, your poem really touched my soul and heart. It is truly beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A moving poem, Jean and an interesting post overall. I recently saw the movie Brooklyn, and as an immigrant myself I related to the wrenching feeling of leaving one’s homeland, without knowing when and if you’ll ever come back to see your loved ones and home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It can put you in a terrible quandary if work becomes available back in your homeland and you then have an option as to returning home or staying where you are. The longer you are in a country the better you may settle there and it almost feels like a betrayal of family back home or friends in your new country, depending on the decision you come to. Sometimes having a choice can be nearly as difficult as not having one.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ali Isaac says:

    What a beautiful sad description. We’re lucky, we can be halfway across the world and text, phone, Skype, fb, even fly over to visit. These families were ripped apart and more than likely never saw each other again. Terribly sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Powerful stuff, Jean, from both you and Mr Forbes. Your works refocus the mind away from the bare statistics of our history and on to the human carnage that was wrought through emigration. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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