IrishCanadianFamineResearch

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Famine Irish Migrants in Ontario: The Story of Stephen De Vere and Toronto’s Irish Orphans

ireland-fund-talk-image

Ireland Park Foundation/Celtic Studies – Annual Lecture

Ireland Park Foundation/Celtic Studies – Annual Lecture

November 29 at 6:00 pm8:00 pm

Ireland Park Foundation and Celtic Studies at Univeristy of St. Michael’s College, in the University of Toronto, are delighted to host Dr. Jason King. Dr. King is Head of the Irish Famine Archive and Researcher for the National University of Ireland, Galway. He will deliver the annual Ireland Park Foundation Lecture, on the lives of Stephen De Vere and Robert Walsh. 

In 1847, Stephen De Vere risked his life sailing with former tenants from his Irish estate in the steerage of a coffin ship. In Toronto, he wrote such an influential description of the Irish Famine migration that it shocked British Parliamentarians into reforming the Passengers Acts to protect emigrants at sea. Yet the fact that he kept extensive, unpublished diaries of his voyage to Canada in 1847 and 1848 remains largely unknown. This lecture takes the audience on a tour of famine era Toronto and Ontario as seen through the eyes of Stephen De Vere and his unpublished journals.

It also tells the stories of Irish Famine orphans in Toronto, like Robert Walsh, who studied at the University of St. Michael’s College. As an Irish orphan in Canada, Robert Walsh dreamed of returning to his homeland and becoming reunited with his baby sister, who was left behind with relatives in 1847. “My sister, my dear sister, if she exists, when she would learn that she has a brother and sisters in Canada who are thinking of her she would write to them,” he hoped. “We will see then we are not alone in the world, and it is this thought that will give us courage to endure our separation here.” And yet, when Robert Walsh finally returned to Ireland in 1872 he was distraught to discover no trace of her, and died soon thereafter at the age of 33. The lecture recounts the search for his sister and reveals how she was finally found.

After this lecture, there will be a round table discussion between Dr. King, Dr. Mark McGowan and Robert G. Kearns. 

Dr. Jason King has recently become Historical Advisor to the Board of Ireland Park Foundation.

Free admission – no registration required

With the support of the Embassy of Ireland, Ottawa

http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/eyewitness-accounts/famine-orphans/robert-walsh

“Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibit Launch in Montreal Grey Nuns Museum

montreal-fever-sheds-map

Photo Credit : Archives des Soeurs Grises de Montréal

grey-nuns-exhibit-montreal-2

Fergus Keyes and Victor Boyle (Directors of Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation) with exhibit curator Dr. Jason King

grey-nuns-painting-2

grey-nuns-montreal-exhibit-9

grey-nuns-painting-1

grey-nuns-montreal-exhibit-13

grey-nuns-painting-3

black-stone-17

black-stone-8

black-stone-18

Montréal – Montréal

Organizers

Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal « Soeurs Grises » (Website) asscong@sgm.ca

Collaborators

Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Connecticut

Target market

Adults

Languages

Billingual

For more information

514 842-9411 (Ext 309)

Summary

Exhibition about the role of the Grey Nuns during the typhus epidemic in 1847 in Montreal.

Detailed description

Cette exposition temporaire relate l’histoire des Sœurs grises et des autres congrégations religieuses montréalaises qui ont porté secours aux immigrants irlandais lors de l’épidémie de typhus de 1847.

+ + + + +

This temporary exhibition tells the story of the Grey Nuns, and of the other religious orders in Montreal, who helped the Irish Famine Immigrants during the typhus epidemic of 1847.

http://www.journeesdelaculture.qc.ca/activity/18253/saving-the-famine-irish-the-grey-nuns-and-the-great-hunger.html

The exhibit can also be visited in Dublin at the Glasnevin Museum:

http://www.glasnevinmuseum.ie/news/saving-the-famine-irish-the-grey-nuns-and-the-great-hunger.cfm

grey-nuns-exhibit-glasneving-opening-4

Minister Heather Humphreys, President Michael D. Higgins, Professor Christine Kinealy, Dr. Jason King.

Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins Pays Tribute to Grey Nuns of Montreal (French translation)

 

michael-d-higgins-portraitmessage-from-president-higgins-french

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

message-from-president-higgins-englishgrey-nuns-exhibit-glasneving-opening-4

Photo L-R: Minister Heather Humphreys, President Michael D. Higgins,                                                            Professor Christine Kinealy, Dr. Jason King.

 

“Saving the Famine Irish” Grey Nuns Exhibit now open in Dublin and Montreal

grey-nuns-exhibit-glasneving-opening-1

Photo L-R: John Green, Minister Heather Humphreys, President Michael D. Higgins, Professor Christine Kinealy, and Dr Jason King.

grey-nuns-glasnevin-opening-2

grey-nuns-exhibit-glasnevin-opening-3

http://www.glasnevinmuseum.ie/news/saving-the-famine-irish-the-grey-nuns-and-the-great-hunger.cfm

Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger

Exhibiton:

President Michael D. Higgins and Minister for Arts, Heritage, and Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys opened the “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” Exhibit at Glasnevin Museum for the National Famine Commemoration on September 11th 2016. The exhibit is curated by Professor Christine Kinealy, Founding Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, and Dr Jason King. It tells the story of the Grey Nuns who cared for typhus-stricken and dying Irish Famine emigrants in the fever sheds of Montreal during the summer of 1847.

In paying tribute to the Grey Nuns, President Higgins declared:

During that bleak and terrible period of our history, an estimated one hundred thousand Irish people fled to Canada. It is impossible to imagine the pain, fear, despair, and suffering of these emigrants, many of whom lost beloved family members on their journey. As a country, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Grey Nuns, who cared for so many Irish widows and orphans who were left destitute, impoverished and alone in a strange country.

This exhibit is a very important project, which allows us to finally acknowledge the generosity and enormous humanity of those wonderful sisters whose kindness and compassion, during one of the worst moments in our Country’s history, must never be forgotten.

In her address at the National Famine Commemoration, Minister Humphreys stated:

Today we will also remember those such as the Grey Nuns of Montreal who are depicted in a new exhibition here in Glasnevin, and who chose to put themselves in harm’s way to treat and aid Famine vicitms. Such people remain the light of the human spirit confronting the darkness, and should not be forgotten.

The “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit is open to the public FREE of charge from September 11, 2016.

Famine

Photo L-R: Minister Heather Humphreys, Dr Jason King, President Michael D. Higgins, and Professor Christine Kinealy.

Mseum Opening Times:

Monday to Sunday & Bank Holidays
10am-5pm

Meanwhile, Fergus Keyes of the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation has announced:

GREY NUNS EXHIBITION OPENS AT THE GREY NUN’S MOTHERHOUSE IN MONTREAL

We are very pleased to note that the Grey Nuns exhibition called “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” is now open for viewing at the Grey Nun’s Motherhouse at 138 rue Saint Pierre in Old Montreal.

Currently the exhibition can be visited any day between about 10am and 5pm – but an effort is being made to extend, or offer a few evening hours.

Even if you saw this exhibit during the few weeks that we had it at the Centaur Theatre, you might want to visit it again. Just the building itself dating back from the 1600”s is beautiful, and our exhibit is only a very small part of their permanent Grey Nuns museum – which, on its own, is fascinating.

The “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” will be on display until about the end of November – and is running at the same time as one that is on display in Dublin, Ireland – “Grey Nuns Famine Exhibit at Glasnevin Museum in Dublin”. It involves very similar items as will be found at the Dublin one, with the exception that here in Montreal, the display is bilingual; and also includes some terrific paintings about the event by a local artist, Karen Bridgenaw – which were not available when we had it at the Centaur.

If you plan to attend with a small group, you might want to contact the Grey Nuns at (514) 842-9411 – and they may be able to arrange for a guide to give you a proper tour on their museum.

So if you happen to be in Old Montreal, do take this opportunity to visit this beautiful building and great exhibition.

We will update you with any additional information concerning extended hours etc., as it becomes available.

montreal-grey-nuns-exhibit-1

montreal-grey-nuns-exhibit-2

Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins and Minister Heather Humphreys open Grey Nuns Famine Exhibit at Glasnevin Museum in Dublin

president-higgins-opens-grey-nuns-famine-exhibit-in-glasvnevin-museumFrom left: Minister Heather Humphreys, Dr Jason King, President Michael D. Higgins, and Professor Christine Kinealy.

President Michael D. Higgins and Minister for Arts, Heritage, and Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys opened the “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” Exhibit at Glasnevin Museum for the National Famine Commemoration. The exhibit is curated by Professor Christine Kinealy, Founding Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, and Dr Jason King.

In paying tribute to the Grey Nuns of Montreal, President Higgins declared:

During that bleak and terrible period of our history, an estimated one hundred thousand Irish people fled to Canada. It is impossible to imagine the pain, fear, despair, and suffering of these emigrants, many of whom lost beloved family members on their journey. As a country, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Grey Nuns, who cared for so many Irish widows and orphans who were left destitute, impoverished and alone in a strange country.

This [exhibit with its] virtual archive is a very important project, which allows us to finally acknowledge the generosity and enormous humanity of those wonderful sisters whose kindness and compassion, during one of the worst moments in our Country’s history, must never be forgotten.

In her address at the National Famine Commemoration, Minister Humphreys stated:

Today we will also remember those such as the Grey Nuns of Montreal who are depicted in a new exhibition here in Glasnevin, and who chose to put themselves in harm’s way to treat and aid Famine vicitms. Such people remain the light of the human spirit confronting the darkness, and should not be forgotten.

The “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit is open to the public free of charge from September 11, 2016 until the end of the year in the Glasnevin Museum (Glasnevin Cemetery, Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11. Opening hours: Monday to Sunday & Bank Holidays, 10am-5pm).

Tel: +353 (0)1 882 6550+353 (0)1 882 6550 | Email: info@glasnevintrust.ie

The virtual archive can be found at:

http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/

Irish Famine Archive Home Page

 

Ambassador Kevin Vickers announces Montreal Grey Nuns Famine Exhibit is Coming to Dublin and Ireland and Congratulates Michael Collins for Famine Run and new Novel.

Kevin Vickers and Jason King 1

Dr. Jason King presents a signed copy of Michael Collins’s critically acclaimed new novel The Death of All Things Seen to Ambassador Kevin Vickers in Canadian Embassy, Dublin.

Statement by Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers on Michael Collins’ Irish Famine Diaspora Run 2016, novel The Death of All Things Seen, and “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger”’ Exhibit curated by Professor Christine Kinealy and Dr. Jason King:

I would like to congratulate the Booker-nominated novelist and ultra-runner Michael Collins on the completion of his Irish Diaspora Run 2016. This past June and July he ran a marathon a day from Grosse Ilê in Quebec to Ireland Park in Toronto following in the footsteps of tens of thousands of Irish emigrants who fled the Great Famine for Canada in 1847. Next year he will continue this run along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way west coast trail.

I would also like to thank Michael Collins for giving me a signed copy of his new novel, The Death of All Things Seen, which has already been acclaimed as a “driven, virtuoso” work and “a formidable, demanding achievement”.  In both his novel and during the Irish Diaspora Run, Collins has sought to discover and retell some of the most powerful stories of the Famine Irish in Canada. He was particularly inspired by the “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit and Digital Irish Famine Archive (http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/) which he describes as “nothing short of genius”.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit, curated by Dr. Jason King and Professor Christine Kinealy of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, is coming to Dublin for the Irish National Famine Commemoration in September, and then will travel around the country. Next year marks the 170th anniversary of the Irish Famine migration and the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. It is only fitting that we pay tribute to these Canadian caregivers of the Famine Irish who express our values and the enduring ties between our two countries.

Kevin Vickers with Michael Collins Novel 1

Ambassador Kevin Vickers with signed copy of Michael Collins’ critically acclaimed new novel The Death of All Things Seen.

Michael Collins and Jason King

Michael Collins and Jason King at Dublin Famine Memorial.  Michael Collins announces a new Famine Run along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in 2017.

Michael Collins Toronto 13.jpg Michael Collins completes Irish Diaspora Run 2016 at Ireland Park in Toronto.

 

 

 

Michael Collins Announces new Irish Famine Run Along Wild Atlantic Way in 2017

From Michael Collins:

At Irish memorial with the esteemed, Dr. Jason King. We are planning a run through rural Ireland along the wild Atlantic way in winter of 2017.

Michael Collins and Jason King

Michael Collins Reflects on Irish Diaspora Run 2016 Tracing Route of Famine Irish in Canada

From Irish Central:

http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Michael-Collins-runs-600-miles-retracing-path-of-Irish-Canadian-Famine-Immigrants.html?utm_source=Mailjet&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Best+of+IrishCentral+-+2016-Jul-22

Michael Collins runs 600 miles, retracing path of Irish Canadian Famine immigrants

Michael Collins: Lessons of Migrant Accommodation from Famine Irish in Canada

From Irish Times:

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/generation-emigration/what-i-learned-tracing-the-steps-of-irish-famine-migrants-1.2727399

What I learned tracing the steps of Irish Famine migrants

Michael Collins reaches the end of his 885km Irish Diaspora Run in Canada

The Irish Diaspora Run saw Michael Collins run almost 900km between June 10th and July 10th, from Grosse Île to Toronto, tracing the steps taken by thousands of Irish immigrants who fled the Famine in 1847. This is the last of his weekly updates for The Irish Times.

On July 10th, I ended my month-long solo 550-mile (885km) run from the Grosse Île quarantine station to the Famine Memorial at Ireland Park, Toronto. In so doing, I passed through the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, hugging the Saint Lawrence in a solitary pilgrimage, retracing the fated journey of some 100,000 Irish who, when faced with eviction and starvation, boarded what would become the infamous coffin ships of the 1847 passage to Canada.

Of those who left, one-fifth – some 20,000 – died. Thousands found a watery grave in the stormy Atlantic, whilst the aggregate death toll on Canadian soil would rise as piles of corpses were buried in mass graves along the Saint Lawrence. Over 5,000 souls perished at the quarantine station of Grosse Île, while about 75,000 immigrants who survived quarantine eventually advanced on Montréal, with a then population of 50,000. In the fever sheds at Pointe Saint Charles, another 6,000 died and were interred in a mass grave that went unmarked until workers uncovered the site in 1859 during construction of the Victoria Bridge and erected at their own cost The Black Rock to memorialise those who died there.

Michael Collins Black Stone 1

Black Stone 3

After covering over 310km the first week, I stopped at The Black Rock where I was greeted by the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation and Canadian parliamentarian, Marc Miller. Both the foundation and Miller are committed to advancing the Foundation’s proposed memorial park which will include a museum, monument, and GAA pitch.

Michael Collins Black Stone 5

Michael Collins Black Stone 2

Indeed, the heroism of both secular and religious groups who tended to the sick in the hastily erected fever sheds bears testimony to one of the most harrowing stories of The Great Hunger. Undoubtedly, the most vulnerable surviving victims were the orphans of those who had perished. Numbering in the thousands, these unfortunates would eventually swarm the fever sheds from Québec City, through Montréal and Kingston, and down into Toronto.

In the province of Québec alone, over 3,000 Irish orphans were cared for by charitable organisations, including the Grey Nuns. Priests who ministered to the sick and witnessed firsthand the tragedy of so many dispossessed orphans delivered powerful sermons, beseeching their congregations to adopt these orphans. Exemplary of a Catholic rhetoric of compassion and religious injunction to charity, stories survive anecdotally of church doors being bolted until those less inclined to adopt an orphan were eventually persuaded. Such were the times – and the need so great – that the dutiful obeyed.

http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/

Irish Famine Archive Home Page

The subsequent decision by the French-speaking Québécois to allow the orphans to keep their Irish surnames would become an integral part of the Canadian immigration narrative, exemplifying what historian Jason King describes as a narrative “of accommodation rather than assimilation…” which would come to define “the process by which immigrants and cultural minorities become integrated into Canadian society”.

Michael Collins Dublin 4

Michael Collins and Jason King at Rowan Gillespie Famine Monument in Custom House Quay, Dublin.

Throughout my journey in the province of Québec, this notion of accommodation over assimilation best characterises the province’s history. The survival of the French language, French culture, and Catholicism, post the British conquest at the Plains of Abraham in 1759 are prime examples of accommodation over assimilation.

As a general observation, the French Québécois response to the plight of the Irish was borne of a religious commonality, and, though orphans were adopted in unprecedented numbers and allowed to preserve their heritage, most Irish who passed through Montréal were intent on eventually reaching America, via Toronto.

The lasting effect of Irish immigration into Canada is more evident in Ontario. Through the 1820s and 30s, in what was then called Upper Canada, waves of immigrant Irish were transported from Protestant-held estates in Ireland, in a conscious attempt at instituting a sort of act of enclosure aimed at depopulating the Irish countryside to advance large-scale agriculture. In the economic doldrums of the post-Napoleonic Wars era and following the Act of Union, Protestant agents such as the inimitable Peter Robinson were commissioned to transport the Irish to settle and cultivate the Ottawa Valley in what would become a frontline force against the incursion and creeping influence of the French Québécois in Ontario.

So, too, Irish workers were transported to construct the Rideau Canal in Ontario. Built during 1826-1832, the 202 km-long canal was carved out of virgin forest and built using nitroglycerine and primitive hand-held tools. The estimated death toll along the mosquito-infested marshlands between Ottawa and Kingston was over 1,000 Irish. Tragically, most who died did so needlessly. Quinine would have cured them, but the sectarian split between the Irish Catholic workers and their Protestant overseers – Royal Sappers (i.e. British army engineers) – meant Catholics’ wages were kept unduly low.

Rideau Canal monument

This historical legacy of sectarianism in Ontario would again rear during the passage of the immigrant Irish of 1847. In Protestant stronghold towns like Cornwall, Prescott, Brockville, Kingston, and Cobourg, the influence of the Orange Order meant that the passage of immigrant barges through the summer heat of 1847 was not well-documented. The spectre of a mass grave at Cornwall was only recently discovered in archival records. Throughout my journey, I met with and interviewed local historians and commemorative memorial committees that have recently erected Celtic crosses to mark that fateful year.

Michael Collins Cornwall 5

Michael Collins Cornwall 3

Exile

For many, the rediscovery of a historical event some 150 years past has opened deep psychological scars. In an associated Facebook page I set up for the run, over 100,000 visitors, many availing of online genealogical resources, have added to the collective story of the passage and eventual settlement of those immigrants who crossed in 1847. The fated story of families separated through quarantine is a recurring motif. For a decade after the passage of 1847, notices appeared throughout Ontario with relatives inquiring after their loved ones.

Indeed, for many of the diaspora Irish I met along the run, the ancestral passage to Canada and America, especially during the Hunger years, is still perceived as a form of exile connected to draconian British rule. In total, the Great Hunger accounted for the emigration of over a million and the death of another million. Even contemporary descendants far removed from the tragic departure of the Hunger years, when asked to reflect on their ancestors’ arrival to Canada, were more apt to characterise it as an exile rather than an opportunity.

This theme of exile over opportunity accounts for a fierceness of national pride and an attendant encyclopedic knowledge of Irish history in those vested in preserving the legacy of that perceived exile. Over pints in snug Irish bars, I was versed on more occasions about a litany of Irish dates, from the 1691 flight of the Wild Geese to France following the end of the Williamite War, to the influence of the French Enlightenment on Wolfe Tone’s 1798 Rebellion. It was, more often than not, a dirge history of heroic struggle, defeat, and eventual exile.

In these oft spellbinding oratory accounts of our collective history, time seemed arrested, and the historical grievances, yet again enlivened with a dramatic immediacy and flashpoint sectarian hostilities. The question surfaced with each encounter – what to do with such a history?

What I can say of so many I met along the way on the run was that, for them, their Irishness was connected with an existential sense of self. Psychologically, their life in Canada directly relates to a traumatic ancestral leave-taking that many of them believe constitutes genocide. I was corrected repeatedly for using the word famine, and to deny them their right to tell that story as they see it would be to shamefully and consciously suppress their perceived historical reality.

I felt at a quiet remove from this theme of exile, or I thought it constituted an older generational motif, but this recurrent theme would again be poignantly highlighted with my arrival at Ireland Park. My 12-year-old son Eoin wanted to sing to celebrate my arrival. Without prompt, he chose the haunting emigrant ballad, ‘The Parting Glass’ from his repertoire of Irish songs.

Somehow, the notion of exile had registered at a subconscious level within him. What I heard in his voice was an eerie, plaintive ancestral lament for all that was lost or would soon be lost in a parting. It was as though the dead were speaking through him. He had a lilting tonal quality, which he must have heard voiced in the late great Irish singer Tomás Mac Eoin, whose rendition of ‘The Stolen Child’ was a staple song played in our house.

Eoin Collins sings ‘The Parting Glass’ at Ireland Park, Toronto.

Eoin Collins sings ‘The Parting Glass’ at Ireland Park, Toronto.

Leave-taking and loss

After the ceremony, I quietly talked with Eoin. He could not articulate why he chose ‘The Parting Glass’. What I eventually gathered was that, for him, the story of Irish migration was not about arrival, but about leave-taking. He was caught reflexively looking back without having the insight or full measure of Irish history. Loss was the central motif of his Irishness. He talked about the sculptures at Ireland Park, interpreting the outreach of hands as reaching back toward Ireland, when they might have been equally interpreted as a beseeching, forward-looking gesture toward a welcoming Toronto.

Where did this sense of loss emanate from? My son is no scholar of Irish history, and yet the undercurrent of great loss registered, not through a received history of the dates of rebellions and uprisings, but in the plaintive strain of a narrative carried on the warble of a tin whistle or the uilleann pipes.

I realised just then that Irish history is mediated first and foremost through our music, through haunting airs of loss, and that, perhaps uniquely in this, our history is tied to a meta-narrative of loss that is transmitted pre-language. I had channeled this history of leave-taking as wake in my subconscious choice of an Irish soundtrack of ballads that played in our home. The subtle motif of loss was the essential theme conveyed.

In the days since the end of the run, I looked further into the codifying loss and fell upon the aisling or vision poem. A uniquely Irish poetic invention, the aisling personified Ireland as either a maiden of immense beauty, or an old woman lamenting the loss of her children. That the aisling arose in the 17th century powerfully reinforced the Irish experience as a history associated with defeat and subsequent emigration, defined not as opportunity, but as exile and banishment.

Engagement

Indeed, even in the initial planning of the trip, I understood that a fundamental dilemma associated with retracing the path of the immigrants of 1847 would be balancing the commemorative emphasis of honouring the dead, while not reopening historical wounds. In reaching out to Irish diaspora groups via social media, I knew I was engaging in a sort of selective bias, and that, undoubtedly, the audience, in celebrating their ancestral Irishness, would most probably equally view their ancestors leave-taking as exile.

The Facebook site associated with the run – Irish Diaspora Run 2016 – preserves the oft-heated responses of followers to historical articles I posted of what were then contemporary accounts and observations that reached back as far as the Reformation and the sectarian split between Ireland and England. In the course of a month, through posts and dialogue, I believe that those who most fully engaged with the historical evidence arrived at a greater understanding of the historical, sociological, and psychological, paradigm shifts in Economic Theory and Religion that tragically isolated and marginalised Ireland.

In planning the trip in February, I had visited with Toronto-based Irish immigrant, Robert Kearns. With a degree in Archaeology and Greek and Roman civilization, Kearns has the authoritative grace and charm of a post-modern denizen committed to inclusion and multiculturalism. His Irishness encompassed Irish history, but he also offered a way forward beyond sectarianism and an arrested sense of an aggrieved and bloody history.

Michael Collilns Toronto 5

Michael Collins Toronto 8

As a leading figure in the Irish-Canadian business community, in the early 1980s, Kearns served on the volunteer committee of the Ireland Fund of Canada, which actively sought to raise money to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland. Then, in 1997, Kearns turned his focus to the historical tides of the immigrant waves that had arrived in Canada. In establishing the charitable non-profit Ireland Park Foundation, he began lobbying Toronto for a quayside park which would eventually contain replicas of Rowan Gillespie’s famine sculptures on Dublin’s Custom House Quay Docklands. Kearns’ goal was to complete symbolically the voyage of coffin-ship migrants.

Michael Collins Toronto 7

Indeed, Ireland Park had been inspiration for my own Diaspora Run, and it was why I had asked to meet with Kearns. A decade earlier, while on a book tour in Toronto, I had been taken late at night to the park. The indelible image of the sculptures and their remote placement in the small parcel of Ireland Park suggested an accommodation of history within the bustle of urban sprawl. Without descriptive plaques detailing the history of Ireland, the sculptures simultaneously encompass and transcend Irish history. The sculptures speak to the universality of an immigrant experience that defines the settlement of the New World.

Michael Collins Toronto 17

Michael Collins Toronto 20

Michael Collins Toronto 13

In meeting with Robert on a snowy February day, I had felt that, perhaps, in his cosmopolitan vision, he was anticipating and engendering a reconfiguration of a national history, not as a source of differentiation, but as a source of shared experience.

Ireland Park 2

A day after the run, in revisiting the park with my son, the theme of exile was again on my mind. I had unduly influenced or seeded historical animosities within him. I sought to make amends, or reorient him. Prophetically, Kearns’ forward-thinking vision of history was on my mind.

I explained that Ireland Park Foundation, in its logical extension of a broadening of history and commitment to encompassing a universality of shared values, was creating another park – Dr George Robert Grasett Park. To be unveiled in 2017, the park celebrates the Canadian response to the mass migration of Irish migrants in 1847, and specifically its medical profession. In addition to Dr Grasett, significantly the roster of those memorialised includes another male triage officer, Mr Edward McElderry, but also two women, head nurse Susan Bailey and nurse Sarah Duggan. All played an important role in the medical history of the city and furthered the foundation of the modern Canadian healthcare system.

Grasett Tribute in Montreal Transcript

Death of Dr. George Grasett Reported in Montreal Transcript

In thus explaining the new park, I think my son caught the essential and subtle re-orientating genius of a universalist like Kearns, who is advancing the totality of our collective experience, seeking to steel our resolve to rise in defense of justice, promoting tolerance and universal acceptance.

In the strangest of coincidences, hours after revisiting Ireland Park, I got a Facebook message of congratulatory thanks for sharing the Irish plight of 1847 from a First Nations’ clan leader of the Hotinoshonni Confederacy Council of the Iroquois Nation. The clan’s point of connection was tied to their fellow Choctaw, who had suffered their own near-genocide in 1831, when over 21,000 of their people were made trek 500 miles to Oklahoma on what became known as the infamous Trail of Tears. In 1847, the Choctaw, upon hearing of The Great Hunger, raised and sent funds to Ireland. Ironically, the man who had forced them off their lands was Andrew Jackson, the son of Irish immigrants.

Of course, my son was enthralled that the Iroquois Nation had thought to contact me. He wanted to know about the Trail of Tears, and, in the subtle connection of one kindness bestowed on one people so long ago, an emerging history opened to him.

In researching the connection, I came upon a plaque on Dublin’s Mansion House honouring the Choctaw contribution. It reads:

“Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

Mansion House Choctaw Tribute

A recognition and preservation of national histories is important, but equally so is our willingness to use our histories as a point of reconciliation, as we collectively advance a greater universality of understanding and compassion. In so doing, we find accommodation and assimilation, losing nothing, while gaining everything.

In the week since ending the run, I have felt the quieting distancing of all those who followed me for the month. I miss all of you. The run was first envisioned as a solitary act of pilgrimage, but in having the support of The Irish Times and a grant from the Irish Government, along with the reach of social media, some 100,000 of us connected, and we are the better for it.

For those who didn’t join us, the legacy of what was said is still preserved on Facebook at Irish Diaspora Run 2016. My intention is to continue updating the site. I’m currently in discussion to run the length of Ireland and possibly continuing with a Diaspora Run in Australia. In so doing I would visit historical sites associated with Irish migration, while collating a digital repository of historical documents and continuing to invite followers to share their family stories.

If anybody is so inclined, donations are still being accepted for the two non-profits I designated to help – The Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation and Ireland Park Foundation. Both are independent, non-affiliated organisations.

Donations can be made at diasporarun.org. I would ask people to consider sponsoring a symbolic 47 dollars in commemoration of 1847.

Michael Collins Dublin 2

Michael Collins Dublin 1

Michael Collins Dublin 3.jpg

Michael Collins at Rowan Gillespie Famine Monument in Dublin after Irish Diaspora Run 2016.

Until we meet again, thank you for all your support.

This project was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Global Irish Media Fund.

 

Michael Collins Finishes Irish Diaspora Run to Raise Awareness and Funds to Commemorate Famine Irish at Ireland Park in Toronto

Michael Collins Toronto 21

Michael Collins Toronto 22

Michael Collins Toronto 1

Robert G. Kearns, the Chairman of Ireland Park Foundation and founder of Ireland Park, welcomed Michael Collins at the end of his run, along with members of Michael’s family, William Peat, Executive Director of Ireland Park Foundation, Fergus Keyes and Victor Boyle who are directors of the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation, and members of the public.Michael Collilns Toronto 5

Michael Collins Toronto 7

Michael Collins Toronto 4

Michael Collins Toronto 10

Michael Collins Toronto 8

Shortly after his arrival at Ireland Park, Michael Collins addressed the crowd:

Thank you very much for coming out. I could not have done this without the support of my family. It was around January that I decided to do this run. Last year in October I took my daughter to learn French in Quebec and I learnt about the horrors of 1847. In Irish culture and Irish society we have a hard time managing what happened in those terrible years. So when I went to school it was glossed over.

It was really the Quebecois, the Canadian people in general, who brought it to my attention. I called the Irish Times and told them that I really felt we hadn’t done enough in our own country.  But then also when I read about what the Canadians did for the Irish – you often hear about what the Americans do for the Irish, but the Canadians are kind of quieter, they just do things without compliment – so I felt that it was also a run to thank the Canadians what they did over the years for us.

It started June 10th.  It has been a very emotional journey going out to Grosse Isle. I would like to thank the parties that helped organize that for me: Victor, Fergus, James Donovan, Joe Lonergan, and of course Robert Kearns and William Peat. I think every Irish person should go to Grosse Isle. It should be a pilgrimage.

With Robert, Victor, and Fergus, we have worked to gain financial support for the projects they want to initiate and continue to celebrate the Irish and Canadian experience.

Michael Collins Toronto 13

Michael Collins Toronto 15

Michael Collins Toronto 12

Michael Collins Toronto 11.jpg

Michael Collins Toronto 17

Michael Collins also stated:

Many thanks to all who have accompanied me on this journey!

I was joined on foot by my daughter, Tess, as I reached Ireland Park Famine Memorial.

Michael Collins Toronto 23

The Ireland Park Famine Memorial was dedicated by Irish president Mary McAleese in June 2007.

“Ireland Park is the principal memorial to the Irish Famine experience in Toronto. It is a bridge from the past to the future. It is a bridge that will link two nations and two cities. It is the story of a destitute people overcoming unimaginable hardship and suffering. It speaks to the kindness and generosity of Canadians—traits which are as consistent now as in 1847.” — Ireland Park Foundation

Toronto’s Ireland Park Foundation’s mission is to support the Irish presence in Canada and the relationship with Ireland, including Ireland Park Foundation’s integral involvement in the construction of a commemorative park in honour of Dr. George Robert Grasett and others who gave their lives helping Irish Famine migrants in 1847 (http://irelandparkfoundation.com/fami…/ireland-park-tomorrow).

Limerick, Ireland native Michael Collins seeks to highlight the historical circumstances that forced the Irish emigrants of 1847 to board the infamous coffin ships to Canada, whilst also paying tribute to those Canadians who cared for the typhus-stricken Irish, and connecting those who are a part of a greater Irish Emigrant History or who simply take interest in Irish History and Culture. Read more about the ~550 mile Irish Diaspora Run 2016 honoring the events of 1847: www.diasporarun.org

Michael Collins Toronto 18

Michael Collins Toronto 19

Michael Collins Toronto 20

Michael Collins Toronto 24