This history of the orphan girls is dedicated to the memory of my granddaughter Aisling O’Connor (centre) who was a narrator at the official opening of the Famine Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon in 2014. Also pictured is Cliodhna Kerr who also narrated the story of the orphan girls and Anthony Begley.


At the height of the Great Irish Famine a group of poor orphan girls left the workhouse in Ballyshannon Co. Donegal Ireland for Sydney in Australia, as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. They were supplied with clothing and footwear and each orphan was given a bible and a sea-chest. These 19 girls were drawn from the communities in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal which served the workhouse in the market town of Ballyshannon. Their subsequent fate in Australia has been kept alive by their descendants who bear testament to their fortitude in surviving and handing on their legacy. In the wider area around Ballyshannon, until recently, these orphan girls have been largely forgotten.
In 2014 a walled memorial with their names, and a brief history of how they came to be shipped to Australia, has been erected in Ballyshannon. The memorial includes a Famine pot which originally was used in the workhouse at Ballyshannon. Each orphan’s name has been inserted on a separate stone on the wall. The memorial site has a flower surround and overlooks the girls’ quarters in the workhouse where these orphans would have been housed.
This website records the world they left behind in Ireland and the challenges that they faced and endured in Australia. Their descendants in Australia today are proud of the courage and resilience of these orphan girls in the face of hardship and dislocation.In September 2014 a descendant of one of the orphans,  Pam Barker and her husband Peter, made a nostalgic journey from Sydney Australia to a ceremony at the Orphan Girls’ Memorial in Ballyshannon. Their visit and the ceremony are recorded in photographs in the section “Famine Orphan Memorial”. In some symbolic way the girls have come back to Ballyshannon.

You are welcome to visit  the Famine Orphan Memorial in Ballyshannon County Donegal on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Anthony Begley