Continuing his focus on Ireland’s long association with the United States of America, EAMONN DUGGAN charts the history of the new immigration centre which opened on Ellis Island in 1892 and the fate of those who followed Annie Moore through its doors.


According to reports at the time, Castle Clinton had become a pit of corruption and theft, where immigrants were confronted by criminals and swindlers, pickpockets and armed robbers before they had a chance to begin their new lives in America.

The Federal Government then decided to assume control of the immigration process in order to ensure the existence of a regulated entry process which was safe and controlled and, in 1890, the government chose Ellis Island as the first ever immigration site of entry.
Congress initially authorised $75,000 for the construction of the station but soon doubled that amount. The main structure was a two-storey building made of wood and the outbuildings included offices, a hospital, a detention centre as well as a laundry building and a utility plant.

The station opened on 1 January, 1892, and its fist immigrant was a young Irish girl called Annie Moore. She arrived aboard the steamship Nevada from Cobh in Co Cork. She had travelled with her two bothers to join their parents, both of whom, had already set up home on Monroe Street in Manhattan.

As she was the first to enter via the new processing system, Moore was presented with a $10 gold piece. She went on to make a life for herself in America where she married and had eleven children, five of whom, survived into adulthood. Annie Moore died in 1924 at the age of fifty years.

On the first day of the new system some 700 immigrants passed though Ellis Island and over the following twelve months around 400,000 people were processed at the station. The initial immigration policy allowed for the admission of most immigrants into the United States, other than those with mental or physical disabilities or a moral, religious, racial or economic reason for exclusion.

At first the majority of immigrants came from Northen and Western Europe mainly Germany and Russia as well as Britain, Finland and Italy. The immigrant station at Ellis Island soon became a new type of government institution and an enduring symbol of the immigrant experience in the United States.
So, what was the process once the immigrant arrived in New York? At first, immigrants had to undergo initial medical inspections conducted by the steamship companies at the European ports of embarkation while further inspections took place on board the ship as it crossed the Atlantic.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own