Beaver & Arranmore Islands Connect

Image of ruined house on Arranmore Island
Image courtesy of Seamus Bonner

Arranmore Island has a significant diaspora with many of its sons and daughter going all over the world to start anew. Interestingly, there is one particular place to which the people of Arranmore have a strong link and that is Beaver Island, on Lake Michigan, USA.  After the Great Famine many families from Arranmore emigrated to the New World and by the late 1800s an estimated 280 families on Michigan's Beaver Island could trace their roots back to Donegal’s largest western island.   

Eminent Professor of Archaeology, Deb Rotman who is based at Notre Dame University in Indiana, heads up an undergraduate study programme at the university which has undertaken a valuable study of the links between the two islands in an effort to understand their mutual connections.  In 2011 Professor Rotman and her students travelled to Arranmore, four years after a first dig on Beaver Island revealed the link with its Irish counterpart.  She considers that the experience of rural emigrants, moving  to a rural community is a valid and somewhat neglected area that deserves study and consideration. 

Professor Rotman points out that when the Donegal emigrants arrived on Beaver Island in the second half of the 19th century, their new home had both advantages and disadvantages in the physical terrain.  However they adapted and assimilated into island life, building up a thriving Donegal community.  By the latter end of the century they had built additional homes creating a clachan, on one of the main arteries outside the village of St. James.  By 1901 the number of homesteads on that road had doubled with the arrival of the Irish.  Professor Rotman notes that this development was similar to that of Arranmore and was just one way integrated and altered their new environment.  Professor Rotman is seeking to understand the ethnogenesis of the Irish-American identity on the Michigan Island and particularly how the Arranmore community engaged with objects, food ways and residential spaces on the journey to becoming Irish American. 

To learn more about the research on Beaver Island visit the blog, link below.