Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Month: June, 2016

New Book on Irish Global Migration and Memory with Chapters on the Famine Irish in Canada and Montreal

Irish Global Migration and Memory Cover

About the Book

Irish Global Migration and Memory: Transnational Perspectives of Ireland’s Famine Exodus brings together leading scholars in the field who examine the experiences and recollections of Irish emigrants who fled from their famine-stricken homeland in the mid-nineteenth century. The book breaks new ground in its comparative, transnational approach and singular focus on the dynamics of cultural remembrance of one migrant group, the Famine Irish and their descendants, in multiple Atlantic and Pacific settings. Its authors comparatively examine the collective experiences of the Famine Irish in terms of their community and institution building; cultural, ethnic, and racial encounters with members of other groups; and especially their patterns of mass-migration, integration, and remembrance of their traumatic upheaval by their descendants and host societies. The disruptive impact of their mass-arrival had reverberations around the Atlantic world. As an early refugee movement, migrant community, and ethnic minority, Irish Famine emigrants experienced and were recollected to have faced many of the challenges that confronted later immigrant groups in their destinations of settlement. This book is especially topical and will be of interest not only to Irish, migration, and refugee scholars, but also the general public and all who seek to gain insight into one of Europe’s foundational moments of forced migration that prefigures its current refugee crisis.

This book was originally published as a special issue of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents.

Table of Contents

1. Irish global migration and memory: transnational perspectives of Ireland’s Famine exodus 2. Memory and John Mitchel?s appropriation of the slave narrative 3. Recrimination and reconciliation: Great Famine memory in Liverpool and Montreal at the turn of the twentieth century 4. Remembering Canada: the place of Canada in the memorializing of the Great Irish Famine 5. ‘‘Neither do these tenants or their children emigrate’’: famine and transatlantic emigration from Finland in the nineteenth century 6. Famine, home, and transatlantic politics in two late nineteenth-century Irish-American novels 7. Famine memory and the gathering of stones: genealogies of belonging.

Marguérite Corporaal is an Associate Professor of British Literature at Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, and principal investigator of the research program Relocated Remembrance: The Great Famine in Irish (Diaspora) Fiction, 1847–1921. She is also director of the International Network of Irish Famine Studies that is funded by the Dutch Research Council (2014-2017) and based at Radboud University Nijmegen.

Jason King is an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Researcher in the Moore Institute at the National University of Ireland, Galway. His publications include numerous articles in the field of Irish Studies, with a special focus on Irish–Canadian and Irish–American history and culture. In addition, he is the coordinator and lead researcher of the Digital Irish Famine Archive.

Irish Famine Archive Home Page

Michael Collins Pays Tribute to Grey Nuns and Famine Irish in Montreal on Celtic Trail of Tears

From the Irish Times:

Why are 6,000 Irish buried under a Montreal traffic island?

Michael Collins finds an unusual Famine memorial during his 900km run

Michael Collins visits Famine Irish historical sites associated with Grey Nuns and views paintings inspired by their annals

From Fergus Keyes:

Here are some more pictures of Michael Collins in Montreal yesterday. After visiting the Vernissage, Michael met up with Donovan King who in addition to being a Director of our group, also gives tours of Haunted Montreal. So Michael got so see more of Montreal at night….

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 1

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 3.jpgMichael Collins Grey Nuns 2.jpg

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 5.jpg


Michael Collins Grey Nuns 4.jpg

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 6.jpg

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 7

Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Church at night, in which Theophile Hamel’s painting Le Typhus (1847-48) can be viewed:

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 9.jpg

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 10

Michael Collins Grey Nuns 11

theophile-hamel-le-typhus 2Fergus Keyes: Michael Collins attended a Vernissage by a group of lady painters in Point St. Charles who call themselves, the Group of Sven.

Our group, The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation asked these ladies if they could paint their ideas of the Black Rock & the events of 1847.

Then we asked one of the group, Karen Birdgenaw, if she could take some specific stories about the event of Black 47 and translate these stories into paintings (which we plan to include in our Grey Nun’s Exhibition: “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger”):

Grey Nuns Painting 3

Grey Nuns Painting 1

Grey Nuns Painting 2.jpg

The original Grey Nuns’ accounts of the Famine Irish can be found at:

Irish Famine Archive Home Page


New Book on The Famine Irish: Emigration and the Great Hunger with chapters on the Famine Irish in Quebec

Famine Irish Emigration and the Great Hunger

‘Une Voix d’Irlande’: Integration, Migration, and Travelling Nationalism between Famine Ireland and Quebec

Dr. Jason King (Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow, National University of Ireland, Galway)

Languages of Memory: Jeremiah Gallagher and the Grosse Île Famine Monument

Michael Quigley (Editor, Canadian Association for Irish Studies Newsletter, former Action Grosse Île Historian)


2016 National Famine Commemoration to take place in September in Glasnevin, Dublin


Minister Humphreys announces date of National Famine Commemoration 2016

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, Heather Humphreys TD, has today (Wednesday) announced that this year’s National Famine Commemoration will take place on Sunday, 11th September at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The State commemoration at Glasnevin will be enriched by the participation of the local community and local schools. The ceremony will involve National flag and military honours before culminating in a solemn wreath-laying.

Speaking today, Minister Humphreys said:

“This will be the 9th consecutive year in which the National Famine Commemoration has taken place and each commemoration has afforded us an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to the memory of those of our forebears who perished, emigrated and suffered during the Famine, which had such a profound impact on the island of Ireland.

“I am particularly pleased that the ceremony will take place in Glasnevin Cemetery, the resting place of so many of our national heroes, during this most important of centenary years. Glasnevin has been the location for a number of very respectful commemoration ceremonies throughout 2016, and I have no doubt it will serve as a fitting location for this year’s famine commemoration.

“I would like to thank the National Famine Commemoration Committee for their work and Glasnevin Trust for agreeing to stage the commemoration at the iconic Dublin cemetery.  My Department and I look forward to working with the Trust and the local community in the area, as well as with our colleagues in the Office of Public Works, to deliver a fitting commemoration of the Famine at this hallowed site.”

The decision to hold the National Famine Commemoration in Glasnevin was largely inspired by Michael Blanch, who had been campaigning for recognition of its historical significance as a mass burial site of famine victims.  April 18, 2016

By Mary Dennehy

A TALLAGHT family is the driving force behind a campaign for a memorial to the victims of An Gorta Mor in Glasnevin Cemetery, which is the biggest mass grave of Irish Famine victims.

Lobbied for by the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims (CCIFV), the memorial will represent all of the unmarked Famine graves in Glasnevin Cemetery, across Ireland and overseas.

Raheen resident Micheal Blanch, who founded CCIFV with his family, and was instrumental in the development of a National Famine Commemoration Day, told The Echo: “Dublin was the epicentre of the Famine people flocking to the city for work, food, emigration and, sadly, dying when they got here.

“That’s how Glasnevin Cemetery holds the most victims of An Gorta Mor in the world, and it’s important the victims are remembered with a fitting memorial – after more than 170 years of national amnesia.

“The memorial will symbolise all the victims of the Great Hunger who lie in unmarked grass on the island of Ireland, at the bottom of the sea in a watery grave and those overseas in unmarked graves – they will all be remembered in our national cemetery in Glasnevin.”

Speaking to The Echo, Micheal expressed his frustration over the delay in getting approval for the memorial, which he has designed with the support of Tallaght business, Craft Monuments.

As part of the memorial, CCIFV has contacted county and city councils across the island of Ireland inviting them to donate a flagstone with the county’s name inscribed on it – with each local authority paying for their own flagstone.

CCIFV is also willing to pay for the memorial, so is not seeking funding.

“This memorial will cost the Government or Glasnevin very little, so there really is no excuse,” Micheal said.
“However, the memorial will only happen when the Government and Glasnevin are given a little hoosh by bringing it to the public’s attention, bringing it out for discussion.

“It is hard to defend the biggest mass graves of Famine victims in the world and no memorial to them, what sort of society are we to allow this to go on.

“The computer image of the memorial has been shown to many independent people and they have all said it is a fitting memorial, let the people decide.”

A spokesman for Glasnevin Trust told The Echo: “Glasnevin Trust has had correspondence with Michael Blanch in which it has expressed its view that any famine memorial placed in Glasnevin Cemetery must be at the behest of the Irish Government and has advised that any application for such a memorial should have the full approval of the relevant government department together with agreed funding for the monument and its future upkeep.”


Michael Collins Reaches Black Rock Famine Memorial in Montreal

Michael Collins interviewed  on CBC news: (8:50 — 11:00)

Michael Collins Montreal 2

Michael Collins Montreal 12

Michael Collins interviewed on CJAD radio about Famine Run:

Michael Collins Montreal 9.jpg

Michael Collins Montreal 1

Michael Collins Montreal 5.jpg

Michael Collins Montreal 10Michael Collins Montreal 8.jpg

Michael Collins arrives in Montreal

Author runs across Quebec & Ontario to honour Irish heritage

Michael Collins interviewed about Famine Run in Globe and Mail

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 8

From Globe and Mail:

Ultrarunner’ Michael Collins retraces Irish Diaspora’s past in 900-km run

Michael Collins runs in the footsteps of the Canadian Famine Irish from Grosse Isle to Montreal

From the Irish Times:

Irish Diaspora Run: ‘All journeys begin with a single step’

Michael Collins begins his 900km run tracing steps of Irish Famine immigrants in Canada

The Irish Diaspora Run sees Michael Collins running 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 first of his weekly updates for The Irish Times.

The saying goes that all journeys begin with a single step, and at the start of this 900km run the stark simplicity of the saying resonates. I am an ultra-runner, so distance alone should not be daunting, but this Diaspora Run holds a deep personal and historical significance. In the past I ran for my country chasing medals. Now I am running for a greater historical context – to raise awareness of the tragic year of Black ‘47.

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 1

In that year, the convergence of British government policies dispossessed more Irish than in any other year of the Great Hunger. Under the directive of a newly elected prime minister, Lord Russell, the British parliament voted to end famine relief, mandating relief be carried out by absentee landlords. To shirk responsibility, landlords began a universal campaign of eviction, thus removing the obligation to feed their tenants.

Suddenly, the Irish hinterland, especially in the provinces of Munster and Connaught, swarmed with a starving army of skeletons. To make matters worse, in America, under the maritime Passenger Act, typhus stricken vessels and ships not adhering to the stricter sanitary rules were barred from entering America.

Under the growing crisis of the dispossessed, the eventual choice was to ship them to Canada, then under British control. In a cruel and desperate measure, emptied lumber-carrying ships returning to Canada were commissioned and hastily retrofitted to carry human ballasts. No regard was given to sanitary conditions or to feeding those who would make the 40-day transatlantic voyage to the eventual entry port at Grosse Île quarantine station, some 30km north of Quebec City.

I am beginning my run from this sobering quarantine station, or more specifically from a parking lot in sight of the island.

The evening before the run I was given a grand tour of Quebec by James Donovan of the Ancient Order of Hibernia, Joe Lonergan of the Irish Heritage Society of Quebec, Fergus Keyes of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation, and Peggie Hopkins, Fergus’s partner. Reminiscent of Irish weather, it rained cats and dogs as we shuttled from one site to another.

What I took from the tour was a history of Quebec, but perhaps more so, in quietly observing my hosts, an appreciation of the custodial mantle those associated with history bear in preserving our collective past. A beautiful Celtic cross is situated within the old walls of Quebec across from Saint Patrick’s church. We gathered and had photographs taken by it. The funds for the cross were raised through the dogged determination of those accompanying me that day. James Donovan also coordinates the Saint Patrick’s Day parade and the essence of all things Irish emanates from himself and the quietly dignified Joe Lonergan.

Celtic Cross Quebec City.jpg

Quebec City Celtic Cross. Gift from Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon.

The intersection of varying histories continued. We left the Celtic cross for a tour of the Plains of Abraham. On this site in 1759, the British claimed victory over the French in a battle that took a mere 20 minutes. Here again was the darkening influence and encroachment of British imperialism, but this time the advance of British forces on what was then New France.

I claim no extensive knowledge of the history, but what I gathered in questioning my hosts was that despite the imposition of British rule, somehow Quebec maintained its religion and language. From an Irish perspective, I thought this intriguing. I wanted to understand the political realities and rationale for how the conquest and life after continued without bloodshed. The history has obviously been covered, but it is an anomaly I would like to further explore at some point. The short answer given was that neither the French nor the English wanted control of a region so far north, so the victory and conquest by the British was more a psychological victory than an actual conquest.

I remained dutifully attentive to what I was being shown, but simultaneously my mind was on the visit to Grosse Île but so, too, to the ill-conceived plan to actually begin the first marathon after visiting the island. Sometimes misery and ill-planning have their own merits. I felt, in quietly submitting to a day walking and then socially drinking for much of the night before leaving at the crack of dawn to visit Grosse Île, that I was behaving like an amiable soul mindful of what this committee had so carefully planned in my honour.

So, to the isle of Grosse Île. How strange it was to come upon a Celtic cross looming over the Saint Lawrence against the shimmer of the river. It grew in proportion, occupying the highest point on the island. I had anticipated it, but the starkness and grandeur of the cross harkened to an ancient Celtic spirit. This was home, but re-appropriated in a foreign land. I was mindful that, though we are modern Irish, we are descendants of a Christian and pagan Celtic past. Somehow both histories converged in this cross and I felt it better represented the nativism of a Gaelic peasant experience that was then steeped in both traditions.

When we arrived and climbed to the cross, we then followed a narrow path that served as a gateway to the mass interment of over 5,000 Irish who died of typhus and the results of starvation due to a 40-day passage aboard coffin ships between May and October of 1847.

The glass memorial wall of names figures as one of those indelible moments that brought the stark reality of political policy and systematic tyranny into a roll call of the dead. Here were the victims of whatever history will eventually decide to call the policies of the British during the famine.

Each in our party found a family name and so went the reach of our heart across a span of years to those who were our forebears. If there was reproach and anger in my heart at the catalog of injustices perpetrated on those unfortunates, in standing on Grosse Île, the anger left me. After all the historical research done, nothing prepared me for the actual witnessing of the memorial and the acreage of land that held 5,000 Irish. At that moment, I felt a prayer to the departed was the most dignified and necessary of acts.

Our guide told us that there were no crosses set on the graves until the late 20th century. The history was not forgotten, but lost. Grosse Île is not simply an Irish memorial site, but was the quarantine station and point of entry for all emigrants to Canada. The municipal authorities were mandated to simply care for the sick and the dying, not to memorialize them.

Again, in walking with the associated members of the Irish party accompanying me, I realised how the Celtic Cross and graveyard crosses were erected through the dogged persistence of so many Irish who would not allow their history to go undocumented.

I also saw in observing my hosts, that they shared a psychological point of origin, and perhaps this is what differentiates the diaspora from those who stayed at home. They are more sentimental and fierce in remembering the history of how they ended up in Canada. They cannot recall the past, without contextualizing a history that, again, may seem too far removed for a modern Irish person.

What I can vouch for is their sincerity and perseverance in maintaining their history, not out of a collective anger, but in recognition that this history preceded them and defines their remove from Ireland. They are more exiles than immigrants. This is the tragic sadness and legacy of the Irish immigrant experience. Who can blame them, really? Not I.

We ended our tour of the island at the lazaretto fever sheds where so many of those who had survived the initial passage died from typhus. At the height of emigration in 1947, some 40 ships, carrying over 300 people in each, overwhelmed the medical resources at Grosse Île. The British were aware of the advancing disaster and despite the appeal of administrators on the Canadian side to stave the tide of approaching disease which threatened Quebec and Montreal, the ships kept sailing.

Stark and unpainted, the sheds seemed to capture an 18th century primitivism. One asks – how did anybody survive the Atlantic Crossing, or even these lazaretto fever sheds?

We happened to be shadowing a group of Canadian school children throughout the day on the island, either arriving before or after them at various points of historical interest. They were not Irish. The trip was more related to the history of Grosse Île as a quarantine that processed all immigrants for close to a century.

At the end of the trip we converged with the children. The guide was speaking in French and I approached to listen. The children’s attention was given to a single historical artifact that seemed to capture the tragic loss of life. It was the small shoe of a four-year-old child. The child almost certainly perished, and in scavenging to survive, all clothes on a dead person were taken and worn by survivors. Such was the extremity of poverty and necessity.

The guide conveyed that experts had examined the shoe and determined that it had been re-cobbled and worn by at least three generations of children.

It is strange how a single artifact can somehow endow a greater understanding of a life and time. In the riot of noise that accompanied the Canadian school children, there was a sudden and deferential silence and I understood that our history had been channelled and preserved.

Not long after, I laced up my own running shoes and left unceremoniously from a parking lot in sight of the island. I had the gift of new friends to see me off, and so began the run under threat of advancing rain and gathering clouds. It was how I envisioned it. It was an Irish leave-taking with the urgency of miles ahead and the quiet trepidation of what the journey would hold!

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 2

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 3

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 4

Michael Collins Diaspora Run 5

How to join the Irish Diaspora Run

The route begins at Grosse Île quarantine island, on the St Lawrence river, and continues through Quebec City, Montreal and Kingston before reaching Ireland Park, in Toronto.

The project is raising funds for Irish-Canadian organisations seeking to create parks and erect monuments and statues to commemorate 1847.

Others can participate by taking on runs where they live, and logging their distances on, where they can also sponsor Collins.

This project is supported by the Global Irish Media Fund

In the Footsteps of the Canadian Famine Irish

From Irish Times:

Michael Collins: my marathon a day, for a month, to honour Irish emigrants

The Irish author, emigrant and ultrarunner is running in memory of the 100,000 Irish immigrants who fled to Canada in the Great Famine