Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle 109 years ago, Annie Moore arrives

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Edward T. O’Donnell

One hundred nine years ago this week, on Jan. 1, 1892, Annie Moore stepped off a ship at Ellis Island and into the history books. Early that cold winter morning she’d stood among several hundred immigrants aboard a ferry docked at Ellis Island. When the gangplank was lowered, she was the first to head down it. To her surprise, she was greeted by a host of city, state, and federal officials who presented her with a certificate and a $10 gold piece. All this occurred not because Annie Moore was the first off the ferry that day (nor, as she had thought for a split second, because it was her 15th birthday), but because she was the first immigrant to set foot on Ellis Island, the brand new federal immigration processing center.

Annie Moore’s story was typical of many Irish immigrants. She was born in 1877 in Cork, the second child and only daughter of Matthew and Mary Moore. Seeking a brighter future for their family, her parents had decided to immigrate to the U.S. Like many immigrants, they didn’t know what to expect in America (or, quite likely, if they’d want to stay), so they left Annie and her two younger brothers, Thomas and Joseph, in the care of an aunt. After two years of hard work establishing themselves, they sent for their children. The three boarded the ship Nevada in Queenstown and spent 12 days at sea before arriving in New York harbor.

According to an account of this first landing at Ellis Island in the New World, Annie came very close to being edged out by a burly German immigrant. But at the last moment, noted the reporter, "a spark of Celtic gallantry changed the scene." A fellow immigrant named Mike Tierney pulled the unsuspecting German back, shouting, "Ladies first!" Annie then walked off with her brothers in tow. Apparently Tierney’s Celtic gallantry lasted for some time, because the second and third arrivals at Ellis Island that day were also from Ireland — Ellie King of Lismore and the Rev. John Hayley, an Episcopal priest from Belfast.

Annie and her brothers were met by their parents on Ellis Island and taken to their home in New York. Like many immigrants, they soon headed west, moving to Indiana and later Texas. Annie eventually married Patrick O’Connell, a descendant of Ireland’s great patriot Daniel O’Connell. They settled in Waco, Texas, and had eight children, five of whom survived. Patrick O’Connell died during the great influenza epidemic of 1919. Annie died tragically four years later, at age 46, when she was accidentally struck by a train.

Today the story of Annie Moore is commemorated in a bronze statue at Ellis Island by sculptor Jeanne Rynhart. President Mary Robinson of Ireland attended the special dedication ceremony in 1993. The sculpture depicts Moore stepping off the gangplank, holding a small suitcase in one hand and looking expectantly at the scene before her. A sister statue (also by Rynhart) at Cobh, Ireland, includes Moore’s two brothers.

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In one sense it’s a bit odd that the first immigrant to land at Ellis Island was Irish. By the time Ellis Island opened in 1892, the high tide of Irish immigration to America had subsided (though significant numbers continued to come). The great majority of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island from 1892 until its closure in 1954 were Italians and Eastern European Jews. Only about one in 25 of the 12 million total came from Ireland. The edifice that best represented Irish immigration to America was Castle Garden (1855-1890), a converted fort situated at the tip of Manhattan. Operational during the era of peak immigration from Ireland, it saw as many as two million Irish pass through its doors.

So what’s really important about Annie Moore is not so much that she was born in Ireland, but that she came to America. Someone had to be the first immigrant to land at Ellis Island and as fate would have it she was the one. It might just as easily been someone named Rebecca Schimkowitz or Maria Parmasano. In somewhat the same spirit of commemorating an Unknown Soldier as a symbol of patriotic sacrifice, the story and statues of Annie Moore are intended to remind people of this and future generations of the courageous journey made by countless millions of nameless, faceless immigrants who set out to make a new life for themselves in a strange and distant place called America.


Dec. 27, 1904: Leading figures in Ireland’s literary revival open the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Dec. 28, 1918: Parliamentary election results for 1918 are confirmed with Sinn Fein winning 73 of Ireland’s 105 seats. Refusing to take their seats, they will instead meet in January to form the First Dail Eireann.

Dec. 29, 1876: The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language is established.

Jan. 1, 1966: Mike Quill, president of the Transport Workers Union, announces a strike by New York City’s bus and subway workers, paralyzing the city.


Dec. 28, 1856: President Woodrow Wilson born in Staunton, Va.

Dec. 29, 1936: Actress Mary Tyler Moore born in Brooklyn.

Dec. 30, 1873: Governor of New York and 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith born in New York.

Readers may reach Edward T. O’Donnell at odonnell@PastWise.com.

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