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.