Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Month: March, 2014

Le Typhus, Theophile Hamel, 1848

Theophile Hamel’s votive painting Le Typhus is the only authentic, contemporary image of a fever shed and the suffering of the Famine Irish in Canada. As recounted in the annals of the Grey Nuns, it was commissioned by Montreal’s Bishop Ignace Bourget as an iconic image “representing the typhus seeking to enter the city but stopped at the gate by [the virgin Mary’s] strong protection” (68):

Click to access TheTyphusof1847.pdf

It is installed in the ceiling at the entrance to Notre-Dame-De-Bonsecours Church in Montreal.

The content of the painting has been described in detail by Montreal’s most renowned Irish novelist Mary Anne Sadlier. In her own words:

We have in Montreal a large picture of the interior of the fever-sheds showing with painful reality the rows of plague-stricken patients with the clergy and religious in attendance on them. In the far background, the good Bishop [Bourget] himself is seen in purple cassock ministering to the sick.

[Three orders of nuns also cared for and tended to the Famine Irish.]

First came the Grey Nuns who gave themselves heart and soul to the fearful labors of the vast lazar-house…. Then the Sisters of Providence… took their places beside the coffin-like wooden beds of the fever patients in the sheds…, When these two large communities were found to be inadequate to take care of the ever- increasing multitude of the sick, a thing came to pass which struck the whole city with admiration. The cloistered Hospitallers of St. Joseph [or Hôtel Dieu nuns], whom the citizens of Montreal had never seen except behind the gratings of their chapel or parlor, or in their own hospital wards, petitioned the Bishop to dispense them their vows of long seclusion, that they might go to the aid of their dear sister communities in the pestilential atmosphere of the fever sheds.
The permission was freely given, and the strange sight was seen day by day in the streets of our ancient city, of the close carriage that conveyed the Sisters of the Hôtel Dieu from their quiet old-time convent to the lazar-house…. People pointed it out to each other with solemn wonder, as the writer well remembers, and spoke with bated breath of the awful visitation that had brought the cloistered nuns from their convent into the outer world, in obedience to the call of charity

Le Typus, Theophile Hamel, 1848

Le Typhus, Theophile Hamel, 1848

Le Typhus, Theophile Hamel, 1848

John Francis Maguire’s The Irish in America (1868) and the death of Montreal’s Irish Community Founder, Father Richards.


In 1866 John Francis Maguire, the founder and editor of the Cork Examiner, traveled to Quebec City and Montreal during a tour of North America which he recorded in his book The Irish in America (1868).  After meeting with members of the Irish communities in both cities, he wrote one of the most detailed and evocative accounts of the impact of the Famine Irish in Canada based on eye-witness testimonials.  He described the death of Father Richards as follows:

Among the priests who fell a sacrifice to their duty in the fever-sheds of Montreal was Father Richards, a venerable man, long past the time of active service. A convert from Methodism in early life, he had specially devoted his services to the Irish, then but a very small proportion of the population; and now, when the cry of distress from the same race was heard, the good old man could not be restrained from ministering to their wants. Not only did he mainly provide for the safety of the hundreds of orphan children, whom the death of their parents had left to the mercy of the charitable, but, in spite of his great age, he laboured in the sheds with a zeal which could not be excelled.

‘Father Richards wants fresh straw for the beds,’ said the messenger to the mayor.

‘Certainly, he shall have it: I wish it was gold, for his sake,’ replied the mayor.

A few days after both Protestant mayor and Catholic priest ‘ had gone where straw and gold are of equal value,’ wrote the Sister already mentioned. Both had died martyrs of charity.

Only a few days before Father Richards was seized with his fatal illness he preached on Sunday in St. Patrick’s, and none who heard him on that occasion could forget the venerable appearance and impressive words of that noble servant of God. Addressing a hushed and sorrow-stricken audience, as the tears rolled down his aged cheeks, he thus spoke of the sufferings and the faith of the Irish:–

‘Oh, my beloved brethren, grieve not, I beseech you, for the sufferings and death of so many of your race, perchance your kindred, who have fallen, and are still to fall, victims to this fearful pestilence. Their patience, their faith, have edified all whose privilege it was to witness it. Their faith, their resignation to the will of God under such unprecedented misery, is something so extraordinary that, to realise it, it requires to be seen. Oh, my brethren, grieve not for them; they did but pass from earth to the glory of heaven. True, they were cast in heaps into the earth, their place of sepulture marked by no name or epitaph; but I tell you, my clearly beloved brethren, that from their ashes the faith will spring up along the St. Lawrence, for they died martyrs, as they lived confessors, to the faith.’

The whole city, Protestant and Catholic, mourned the death of this fine old man, one of the most illustrious, victims of the scourge in Montreal.

Montreal's St. Patrick's Church, consecrated on St. Patrick's Day, 1847

Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Church was consecrated on St. Patrick’s Day in 1847, six weeks before the massive influx of Irish Famine emigrants during the summer of that year. The church that is most closely associated with the Famine Irish, however, is not St. Patrick’s but rather Notre-Dame-De-Bon-Secours (colloquially known as the Sailors’ Church). Thirty years earlier, in 1817, Father John Jackson Richards, or Jean Richard, first gathered Montreal’s Irish Catholics for English language worship in Bonsecours Church. As the founder of Montreal’s Irish Catholic community, Father Richards worked tirelessly to care for Irish Famine orphans alongside the Grey Nuns in the city’s fever sheds during the summer of 1847. He perished on July 23rd. The death of Father John Jackson Richards is recounted in the annals of the Grey Nuns (pp. 43-44):

Click to access TheTyphusof1847.pdf

Award winning Docudrama “Death or Canada” to be screened at Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford, County Louth on 19 August 2014

“Death or Canada”
A Gemini and IFTA Nominated, two-part Canadian-
Irish docudrama.
Mark G. McGowan, Professor of History,
The University of Toronto

Created by Ballinran Productions / Tile Films
Written by Craig Thompson
Directed by Ruán Magan
Country of origin Canada, Ireland
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 2
Cinematography Colm Whelan

Grosse Île participating at the Gathering in Ireland and Irish Famine Orphan Commemoration

Grosse Île participating at the Gathering in Ireland and Irish Famine Orphan Commemoration

Grosse Île participating at the Gathering in Ireland

JoAnick.jpgThe Gathering is a year-long celebration of all things Irish on the Emerald Isle, with participants coming from all over the world for special festivals and concerts. Breakaway’s Rachelle Solomon met with Jo-Anick Proulx, Site Manager for Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, before he left for Ireland. He talked about representing Parks Canada and the heritage site at events in Strokestown.  

Famine in Ulster theme of Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School 2014 in Carlingford, County Louth

Famine in Ulster theme of Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School 2014 in Carlingford, County Louth

Summer School In Carlingford

The Famine in Ulster

August 17th – 20th

Four Seasons Hotel, Carlingford, Co. Louth


Schedule of Events

Sunday 17th, August

19.30   Pre-Registration, Welcome – Carlingford Heritage

              Exhibition: The Great Famine in South East Ulster.              
              The exhibition will run in Carlingford Heritage Centre from 
              August 17th to August 20th from 09.30 to 17.00. It records
              the changing landscape and society of South East Ulster 
              and North Leinster from 1845 -1850.

20.30    Gathering of the Clan – music session in Taaffe’s Castle 

Monday 18th, August, Four Seasons Hotel
09.00     Registration
10.00     Chair; Jim Wells, MLA
               Welcome; Denis Cummins, President, Dundalk Institute of 
               Special Guest, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Loyola Hearn
10.30     Keynote Speaker; Prof. David Wilson  – 
               D’Arcy McGee and the Great Famine in Ulster
11.00     Coffee Break
12.00     Open Forum
13.00     End Session 1 & Lunch
14.00     Chair; Michael Blanch, Committee for the Commemoration 
               of the Irish 
               Famine Victims Speaker; Anthony Russell – 
               The Great Famine in two Ulsters
15.00     Jason King, Montréal – Father Dowd, The Grey Nuns and the 
               Montréal Famine Sheds
16.00     Open Forum
17.00     End Session 2
19.30     Summer School Evening Meal
(Funds will be raised on the night in support of Trócaire’s anti-poverty and hunger programmes)

After Dinner event: “Farewell to Carlingford”
A Farewell Tribute to the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Loyola Hearn. Friends and colleagues from Canada and Ireland celebrate the Ambassador’s four years in strengthening Canadian-Irish relations.

Tuesday 19th, August, Four Seasons Hotel

09.30    Chair; Robert Kearns, Ireland Park, Toronto
              Speaker 1; Brian McDonald, Clogher Historical Society. 
              The deafening silence: Monaghan’s tragedy 1845-1851
              Speaker 2; Paddy Fitzgerald, Mellon Centre, Omagh – 
              Ulster Migration, Hunger and Denomination, 1550 – 1850

11.00    Coffee Break
11.30    Speaker 3; Dr. David Getty; Head of Humanities, 
              Dundalk Institute of Technology – 
              Poor Houses, Poor Law and Policy (Focus on Ulster)
12.00    Open Forum
13.00    End Session 3 & Lunch
14.30    “Death or Canada”
              A Gemini and IFTA Nominated, two-part Canadian- 
              Irish docudrama. 
              Mark G. McGowan, Professor of History, 
              The University of Toronto
17.00    End Session 4
19.00    “The Trials and Trial of Trevelyan”
              A court room drama, by Larry McArdle. 
              Carlingford Courthouse Charles 
              Trevelyan, Permanent Under-Secretary to the British Treasury, 
              is charged with genocide against the Irish Nation, in respect 
              of his handling of the Great Irish Famine of 1848.
              Special Guest; Pete St. John
              First 60 registered participants only.
21.00    Canadian/Irish Folk night
              Hosted by Ambassador Loyola Hearn

Wednesday 20th, August, Four Seasons Hotel

09.30   Chair; Dr. Patricia Moriarty, 
             Head of School of Business & Humanities, 
             Dundalk Institute of Technology
             Speaker 1; Professor Mary Daly, UCD, Dublin. The  
             Great Famine: What, if anything, was different about Ulster?
             Speaker 2; Piaras McEinri – Emigration and Diaspora in AIF
11.00   Coffee Break
             The D’Arcy McGee Politicians Forum
             “The Legacy of the Famine”
             Party Representatives give a 10 minute address on the 
             theme, and then participate in an Open Forum with 
             School Attendees:

 Danny Kennedy MLA, Deputy Leader, Ulster Unionist Party
 Barry McElduff, Sinn Féin MLA, West Tyrone
 Dominic Bradely, SDLP MLA, Newry and Mourne
 Gregory Campbell, DUP MLA, Derry

12.00   Open Forum
13.00   Summer School reflections and conclusion – 
             Professor David Wilson