Like many Irish children, I grew up reading Marita Conlon-McKenna books. Wildflower Girl was a favourite, a story I read over and over, marking the pages with chocolate thumbprints and milk stains. Wildflower Girl tells the traditional story of a young female famine survivor (Peggy) who leaves her family in Ireland, to travel by boat to the promised land of opportunities and fresh starts. Poor Peggy bids goodbye to her neighbours and community at an American wake. She is an innocent chaste girleen who works hard as a maid in a big house before marrying a good man. A perfectly happy ending, riding West into the sunset.
Well, The Bad Bridget Project blasts that idealised version of immigrant history right out of the water. I first came across The Bad Bridget Project during one of my many pandemic walks last winter. With nothing to do but walk for hours, podcasts including The Bad Bridget podcast helped fill the hours with laughter, tears and stories of immigrant women before me.
By analyzing archival records Dr. Leanne McCormick (Ulster University) and Dr. Elaine Farrell (Queen’s University Belfast) were able to dig deeper into what we thought we knew about the history of Irish immigration. The Bad Bridget Project shows us that they didn’t all end up happily ever after like Peggy, our Wildflower Girl, some were Bridgets; Bad Bridgets.
The podcast series tells a much rawer and more realistic story of the surprisingly large number of Irish women to immigrate to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, which didn’t have a happy ending. The girls who didn't get jobs as maids, who instead made their way by other means. More cynical and dangerous means. The prostitutes and pickpockets. The murders and mistresses. Con artists, thieves and delinquents. The other side of the coin, and characters every one of them.
Narrated by actress Siobhán McSweeney, each episode of the five-part podcast focuses on a theme such as murders, the demon drink, and poverty. The podcast was just the start of many wonderful things to come. Beginning spring 2022, an exhibition exploring the themes of the Bad Bridget Project will be in situ at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh and a book is also on the horizon.
We are delighted to share that Dr. Elaine Farrell and Dr. Leanne McCormick will be presenting a talk on this project as part of the 2022 Brigid's Festival Vancouver. Taking place at 12:00pm Pacific Time (8:00pm Irish time, 3:00pm for our Ontario friends) on Monday, January 31, 2022 via Zoom.
Registration will be free and opens soon!
More information on The Bad Bridget Project can be found on the Queens University website here: https://www.qub.ac.uk/Research/podcasts/bad-bridget/ and the Bad Bridget website here: https://badbridget.wordpress.com/.
The podcast is available on Apple podcasts or Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/3no7maP7QJzM0buVOzRL3k?si=61062be543a3469d