Newfoundland: the only Irish colony with an Irish name

The Irish diaspora are to be found in most of the great cities of the New World and, of course, in every major town and city in Britain.  But only one colony is old enough and Irish enough ever to have been named originally in Irish: Newfoundland.

It’s known in Irish as Talamh an isc, land of the fish, and it was fish that brought the Irish there as long ago as the early sixteenth century.  As ever, Wikipedia has the story buttoned down – here – and the fate of one such emigrant, Theresa Madden, is central to my novel Put Right.

Theresa was like many Newfoundland immigrants in that she was not destitute Irish, like those driven out by the great famine, but an economic migrant with prospects and ambition.  It was just her bad luck to fall under the spell of the charming but ruthless Barrington Bell.

One of the more pleasing results of Irish emigration to Newfoundland

The links between Ireland and Newfoundland are still extraordinarily strong, in spite of the end of the cod banks, and there are whole communities whose accents remain essentially Irish, in spite of the influence of Canadian and American television.

It’s a fascinating story and it first came to my attention about fifteen years ago when I was off work unwell and turned on the TV part-way through an old documentary which, from the side-burns and jackets on display, suggested the early eighties.  The story was clearly about some sort of industrial dispute and the accents were captivating: clearly Irish, but with a tinge of something else that I couldn’t quite figure.  Coming from a family of linguists my curiosity was more than piqued and I hung in there, fascinated as the story unfolded about the tensions around the buy-out of the Grand Banks fishing fleet by the Canadian government.  Out came the Encylopaeida Brittanica – this was pre-internet days, remember – and all was revealed.

I’ve been to all of the ports down the south east coast of Ireland from whence the Newfoundlanders almost exclusively emigrated and they are a beautiful and relatively prosperous corner of the country. But the money was better in Newfoundland, so off they went, Theresa Madden amongst them. 

At least, in her case, a grave injustice was eventually put right…

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