Thursday 13 December 2018

Mandy Moore reduced to tears over Irish ancestor who died in workhouse during Famine on Who Do You Think You Are

Mandy Moore on TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?
Mandy Moore on TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Mandy Moore became emotional when she discovered the fate of her four times great grandmother in an Irish workhouse on the season premiere of the US version of Who Do You Think You Are.

The This is Us star believed her family had originated in England before emigrating to the US, but in the course of the TLC show she discovered that her great, great, great, great grandmother Mary Flynn died at the age of 40 in an Irish workhouse.

Mandy (34) travelled to Cashel in Tipperary where historian and author Turtle Bunbury revealed the sad news about Mary's life and death at a local workhouse, which is now a hospital.

He took Mandy to visit Donaghmore Workhouse, which is located nearby and is now a museum, and revealed that Mary and her daughters Mary and Ellen spent time living in terrible conditions as the Famine ravaged the country.

Mandy Moore on Who Do You Think You Are?
Mandy Moore on Who Do You Think You Are?

"They were hell on earth.  This was the last resort," he said of the workhouses, revealing that families were split up according to their sex, and not allowed to have contact with each other, and that people died from typhoid and cholera epidemics.

Prior to the Famine, few people lived at the workhouses. The one at Cashel was built to house 7000 people but by 1848 and 1849 there may have been up to 4,000 people "crammed" into the workhouse and surrounding buildings.

"They were death traps," said Turtle.

Mandy said, "To know that my four times great grandmother passed away in a place like this and the horrific conditions you described, is really... it's just very tragic."

Mandy was told that Mary would not have had a wake or funeral or a marker on her grave and that people would have been buried in the garden or along the workhouse walls.

This revelation caused the star to become emotional, "That's heavy to think about, you know.  I didn't even know her name until just a few days ago and to think that no one has thought about or remembered her until now for all these years... it's a lot."

Mandy visited the hospital at Cashel to lay flowers where the workhouse would have stood.

"I'm honoured and humbled that I could be a representative of the family to just tell her that she's not forgotten," she said. "I can feel her. I can feel the energy of everybody that's here, but definitely I can feel her."

In the course of the show, Mandy also discovered that Mary's daughter Ellen had married Edwin F Barney from Wolverhampton in 1855 in New South Wales in Australia.  Mandy worried that Edwin had been a criminal as she was aware that Australia had been a penal colony for the UK at that time.

However, records revealed that Ellen fled the Famine and the workshouse when she was just 15, travelling for four months on the Lady Peel ship with her older sister Mary, to work as a domestic labourer in Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme.  The actor also found out that Mary had died before Ellen set sail. 

"It sounds like her life was so perilous in Ireland that this was by far a better option than staying home," she said. "It makes so much more sense now."

Mandy visited the immigration hall where Ellen would have arrived after her journey and spent three months before finding employment with a government official.   Ellen eventually moved to England and had five children but she was a widow by the age of just 47.  She died near London in 1909 aged 75.

Mandy described her as a "survivor" and added, "I wouldn't be here, I would not exist, had it not been for the way in which Ellen led her life."

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