Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Category: Famine Irish in Dublin

Irish Famine Summer School in Irish National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park House, June 20-24, 2018

4195 IHT Famine School Flier St 1 copy

To book your place:

Irish Journeys: Famine Legacies and Reconnecting Communities.

The 2018 Irish Famine Summer School and International Conference:

 Irish National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park House, the Irish Heritage Trust, and Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University

The 2018 Irish Famine Summer School will take place at Strokestown Park House from 20th-24th June. The theme is Irish Journeys: Famine Legacies and Reconnecting Communities.

Strokestown Park House and the Irish National Famine Museum provide a hub for visitors and scholars to experience a uniquely preserved historic house and explore the lives of rich and poor in their original setting.

The 2018 Irish Famine Summer School will consider the Great Irish Famine and its legacies of dispersing communities between Ireland, Great Britain, North America, and Australia. Particular emphasis will be placed on the theme of Irish journeys at home and abroad, including the experiences of Irish emigrants and their descendants in building communities and becoming integrated into their host societies. The topics of homecoming, revisiting Ireland, and reconnecting communities between Irish and diasporic locations will also be central themes.

The annual Famine conference is an international, interdisciplinary event that brings together local, national and international Famine experts. We ask for papers that approach the subject ‘Irish Journeys’ from the broadest possible artistic, cultural, historical, and socio-economic perspectives.  We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers and envisage dedicated panels on (but not limited to) the following themes:

  • Irish Journeys at home and abroad
  • The Irish Famine Migration to North America, Great Britain, and Australia
  • Migration, Integration, and community building in Ireland and the diaspora
  • Artistic, cultural, historic, and socioeconomic legacies of eviction and migration
  • Reconnecting Irish communities between Ireland and diasporic locations
  • Homecoming: revisiting Ireland

Keynote Speakers:

Professor Christine Kinealy (Quinnipiac University)

Professor Mark McGowan (University of Toronto)

Professor Mike Cronin (Boston College)

Professor Ian Kuijt (University of Notre Dame)

Professor Maureen Murphy (Hofstra University)

Enquiries and proposals of no more than 250 words, accompanied by a brief biographical note on the author, should be sent to Dr Jason King: and/or Professor Christine Kinealy ( by 1 February 2018. Decisions on proposals as decided by the organising committee will be communicated by the end of February.


“Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” Exhibit Launched at Maynooth University

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (1).JPG


Image: Letter introducing the Bishop of Montreal from the collections of the Russell Library 
When: Wednesday, November 8, 2017 – 16:00 to Thursday, January 25, 2018 – 17:00
Where: Russell Library

Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger
Exhibition at the Russell Library

An exhibition exploring the little known story of the Grey Nuns and other religious orders in Montreal, who provided care and shelter to Irish immigrants in Canada during the Great Hunger, will launch in the Russell Library on Wednesday, 8 November at 16.00. Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger was curated by Professor Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, and Dr. Jason King.

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (40)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (84)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (12)

One of the first priests to enter the fever sheds with the Grey Nuns was Father Patrick Morgan, who was ordained at Maynooth College in May 1842. Morgan was also one of the first clergy to perish from the typhus epidemic, dying on the 8 July, 1847.

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (7)

Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger exhibition features original material from the historical collections of Maynooth University and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth including the matriculation entry for Father Patrick Morgan and a letter of introduction for Montreal’s Bishop, Ignace Bourget (1799-1885), who visited Maynooth in 1847 to recruit Irish missionary priests.

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (16)

The exhibition will run in the Russell Library until 25 January, 2018 and is free to view during the Library opening times of Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 17:00.

Photos by Alan Monaghan

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (97)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (43)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (52)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (15)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (18)Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (34)

Maynooth launch aRussell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (5).JPG

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (11)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (6)

Russell Library Grey Nuns Exhibition Launch. Photos by Alan Monahan (10).JPG


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Dublin Famine Monument

Trudea Dublin Monument 1

Justin Trudeau visited Rowan Gillespie’s Famine sculptures on Dublin’s Custom House Quay.  The monument is twinned with Ireland Park in Toronto which also has Gillespie Famine sculptures. Ireland Park Foundation CEO Robert Kearns and Rowan Gillespie accompanied the Prime Minister.

Trudeau Famine Monument 4


Trudeau Famine Monument 3

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Prime Minister Trudeau

Trudeau Famine Monument 8

Sculptor Rowan Gillespie with Prime Minister Trudeau

Gillespie and Trudeau

Trudeau Famine Monument 6

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Ireland Park Foundation CEO Robert Kearns with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

King and Vickers

Ambassador Kevin Vickers and Dr Jason King

The Rowan Gillespie Famine sculptures on Dublin’s Custom House Quay also mark the beginning and end of the National Famine Way:

Having waked from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, Famine Way Walkers 2018 re-enact the final steps journey of 1490 migrant tenants from Strokestown as they made their way towards the replica famine ship, the Jeanie Johnston. This is a playlist of three short but separate videos.

National Famine Walk: ‘Remember your soul and your liberty’


From Irish Times (25 May 2017):

National Famine Walk: ‘Remember your soul and your liberty’

Famine scholars are about to follow in the footsteps of the 1,490 tenants forcibly exiled to Canada from Denis Mahon’s Strokestown estate

One of Rowan Gillespie’s Famine statues in Dublin. Photograph: Kate Geraghty

One of Rowan Gillespie’s Famine statues in Dublin. Photograph: Kate Geraghty


Michael Collins and Jason King

The National Famine Walk will take place over six days from May 27th to June 1st as an international group of Famine scholars follow in the footsteps of the 1,490 tenants from Denis Mahon’s Strokestown Park House estate, who were escorted by a bailiff to Dublin to ensure they boarded ship and left Ireland in 1847.

(Shared here with kind permission of RTÉ News)


The tenants’ fate after they left Dublin is a harrowing one. They travelled on open deck packet steamers to Liverpool, where they waited in the cellars of quayside buildings at Liverpool docks to board ships to Canada. The four ships they boarded – Erin’s Queen, Naomi, The Virginius and The John Munn – were badly fitted out and poorly provisioned. Almost half of those who embarked died aboard ship or in the “fever sheds” at the Grosse Île quarantine station when they arrived in Quebec. Of course, this was not known to them as they walked along the Royal Canal to Dublin, away from hunger and hoping for a better life.

The National Famine Walk begins at one of the numerous points of origin for what has been an ongoing research initiative to document the passage of more than 100,000 tenants forcibly exiled to Canada in 1847. The transatlantic voyage and passage along the Saint Lawrence river from Quebec to Toronto resulted in the second greatest loss of life in the Victorian era, second only to the Crimean War. Of those who left, more than 20,000 perished at sea or along the Saint Lawrence River, marking Canada with the infamous distinction of having the largest Irish mass graves outside of Ireland.


The 1847 evictions, transfer and passage to Canada encapsulate a twice-told tale.

First, it’s a story of British government and Irish landlord neglect. Mahon evicted 3,006 tenants and paid just under £4,000 for the passage of almost 1,000 of those he assisted to emigrate. For his unfailing cruelty, on November 2nd, 1847, Mahon was shot to death as he travelled home to Strokestown House from a Board of Guardians meeting. Murder was not a deterrent for the landlords. Evictions continued until some 11,000 persons of the 12,000 tenants were removed from Mahon’s estate.

Denis Mahon

In exporting evicted tenants, passage to Canada proved the cheaper alternative to America, given that the American authorities, anticipating the influx of a starving flotsam of Irish, amended their maritime Passenger Acts. Imposing stricter regulations, the acts barred disease-ridden ships from arriving into American ports. In 1847, the most destitute Irish emigrants were sent to the British North American colonies in New Brunswick and Canada East and West (Quebec and Ontario) on retrofitted lumber vessels as human ballast. These coffin ships averaged over 300 persons per vessel, three times that allowed under the American Passenger Acts. Mortality rates approached 40 per cent.

The story of emigration to Canada is, secondly, a contrasting one of succour and sacrifice, as a predominantly Catholic, French Canadian province of Quebec braced for and ministered to a dispossessed, disease-ravaged people in one of the greatest unrecognised human refugee crises of the 19th century.

The immigrant numbers are extraordinary. Most of them arrived at Grosse Île in Quebec, which is now a National Historic Site with a glass wall memorial for the 5,000 Irish interred in mass graves on the island. Grosse Île is twinned with the Irish National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House, where Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a similar glass wall memorial to its missing 1,490 emigrants in 2014.

Enda Kenny StrokestownKevin Vickers at Strokestown 1490 memorial

Many of those 1,490 emigrants died on Grosse Île. It was there that James Quinn, a 45-year-old Irish emigrant from Lissonuffy, on the Strokestown Park estate, whispered his dying words to his two young sons, Patrick (12) and Thomas (6): “Remember your soul and your liberty”.

The orphaned Quinn brothers were adopted by a French-Canadian family who gave them a good education. They both entered the seminary and became priests with joint French and Irish congregations. In 1877, Patrick Quinn founded the still flourishing St. Patrick Society in Richmond, Quebec, where there is a theatre named after him. His younger brother, Thomas Quinn, became a champion for his French-Canadian parishioners.

image-thomas-quinnPatrick Quinn

At the First Congress of the French Language in Quebec City, on June 25th, 1912, Thomas Quinn thanked the French-Canadian people for their generosity. In a speech entitled “Une Voix d’Irlande” (A Voice of Ireland), he declared in French:

“It was in 1847. A famine, even worse than the one which had preceded it, threatened the Irish people with total extinction. The most astonishing part of the awful spectacle was, not to see the people die, but to see them live through such great distress. Like walking skeletons they went, in tears, seeking hospitality from more favoured lands. Stirred with compassion, French-Canadian priests, braving the epidemic, contended for the glory of rushing to their relief. I still remember one of these admirable clergymen who led us to the bedside of my dying father. As he saw us, my father with his failing voice repeated the old Irish adage, ‘Remember your soul and your liberty’.”

Like the Quinn brothers, Daniel and Catherine Tighe also sailed to Grosse Île where they were orphaned, adopted by a French-Canadian family, and allowed to keep their Irish surname. In 2000, Jim Callery, founder of the Irish National Famine Museum, visited Daniel’s son Léo Tye in rural Quebec and heard the story that inspired the search for the missing 1,490 Strokestown emigrants. He also unveiled a Celtic Cross Famine memorial in Quebec City that he had donated on behalf of the Famine Museum. In July 2013, Léo’s son Richard Tye made a return visit from Quebec to Strokestown, and was reunited with the Irish branch of the family. His Irish cousin Philip Tighe will be on the National Famine Walk.

Strokestown park house 1

The suffering of Famine emigrants was not confined to Grosse Île. With the arrival of 75,000 typhus-afflicted refugees, the city of Montreal, then a city of 50,000, hastily erected fever sheds to contain disease. The Annals of the Grey Nuns, a recently translated cache of diaries, details the convergence of municipal and religious groups involved in saving Irish lives, often at great personal cost. Notable casualties included the Protestant mayor of Montreal and myriad priests and nuns who worked the fever sheds of Pointe Sainte Charles.

John Easton Mills

In the wake of the emigrant passing through Montreal, over 3,000 Irish orphan children left in the care of religious orders were eventually adopted, like the Quinn and Tighe siblings, into French-Canadian families.

The journey onward into Ontario has its own history. Less a story of commonality and religious succour, the death toll is lower, given how most afflicted died at Grosse Île and Montreal. Also, a subtle sectionalism led to journalistic self-censorship in accurately chronicling the passage and burial of those who died along riverside towns throughout Ontario.

Such was the forgotten history of Canadian involvement with the fated year of 1847, simply because the crisis and sacrifice had happened so far away, within a single season. For the most part, accounts of the worst suffering were recorded in French, so the episode closed in the forgotten reaches of Quebec. That is, until recently.

In 2016, Irish author and ultra-runner Michael Collins ran a marathon-a-day for a month from Grosse Île to Toronto; he was inspired by his reading of the Grey Nuns’ annals. En route, along the Saint Lawrence, he met historical societies researching their town’s archives and recorded anecdotal stories passed down by descendants, which he documented on his Irish Diaspora Run 2016 Facebook page. More than 100,000 people visited the page during the run, and he has reactivated it for the National Famine Walk.


The project continues. At Grosse Île quarantine station, a memorial serves as a cautionary reminder of what can befall a dispossessed people, and at the terminus of the route in Toronto, Ireland Park has become a place of pilgrimage, memorialising the passage of 1847. Situated along Toronto’s docklands, a series of Rowan Gillespie Famine sculptures reach back across the ocean to Gillespie’s Famine sculptures on Dublin’s Custom House Quay Docklands. Without descriptive plaques detailing the history of 1847, the sculptures simultaneously encompass and transcend Irish history, evoking the universality of the immigrant experience, both past and present. In the furtherance of peace, Ireland Park Foundation has reconfigured a national tragedy, not as a source of differentiation, but of shared experience. In 2017, the foundation will unveil Dr George Robert Grasett Park, celebrating the efforts of the Canadian medical profession which so tirelessly worked to save both those who arrived and Toronto’s own citizens from disease.

Michael Collins Toronto 13

What remains yet to be memorialised is Montreal’s response to 1847. Specifically, The Black Rock memorial, a stone hastily erected by workmen who uncovered over 6,000 bodies during the 1859 construction of the Victoria Bridge, lies in the median of a major arterial in downtown Montreal and is in jeopardy of being summarily removed as the city plans a major overhaul of the area. The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation is locked in a tenuous battle with city, provincial and federal authorities to preserve and allocate what is currently an abandoned parking lot as the future site of a memorial grounds honoring both the 1847 emigrants and those who came to their aid.

Montreal Famine Walk 7

Michael Collins Black Stone 1

The National Famine Walk complements these projects to ensure that Famine emigrants like Strokestown’s missing 1,490 are commemorated on both sides of the Atlantic. In following in their footsteps, the walkers are not only honouring their legacy. They are embarking on a journey to trace the descendants of the 1,490 emigrants in Canada and the United States, especially from Irish Famine orphans adopted in Quebec. They are also laying the foundation for a permanent walking trail along the Royal Canal between Strokestown and Dublin, the National Famine Way. With its advent, hitherto inaccessible paths are providing opportunities to walk in the footsteps of the dispossessed.

Prof. Christine Kinealy (and founding director of the Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University) talks to ADAPT about the cultural impact of the great famine and how it influenced Ireland in years to come.


Author Cathal Poirteir tells about the particular character from the 1,490 who left Strokestown, one John O’Connor. His story is a tragic one as he died during the famine, but not from hunger!


The Famine walkers’ journey from May 27th to June 1st can be followed in real time at

Famine Way Walkers Re-enact the arrival of the 1,490 at Spencer Dock, Dublin.

Having waked from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, Famine Way Walkers 2018 re-enact the final steps journey of 1490 migrant tenants from Strokestown as they made their way towards the replica famine ship, the Jeanie Johnston. This is a playlist of three short but separate videos.

The National Famine Way is being developed by Strokestown Park House, the Irish National Famine Museum, and the Irish Heritage Trust in partnership with Waterways Ireland, the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, Ireland Park Foundation, the University of Toronto, Royal Canal Amenity Group, Roscommon and Longford County Councils, and Strokestown Community Town Team.

 National Famine Walk.png

Christine Kinealy: The Famine Queen at Carton House

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit Carton House 1849 watch tenants dancing

Tenants in Costume Perform for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Carton House

On the fifth day of the walk, the walkers toured the Carton House estate of Lord Leinster near Maynooth, where the “Famine Queen” Victoria and Prince Albert visited in 1849.

Christine Kinealy portrait

Professor Christine Kinealy, founding Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, writes about Queen Victoria’s visit to Carton House.

Queen Victoria remains a controversial figure for her role during the Great Famine. The widespread belief that she made no financial contribution to assist her starving subjects in Ireland meant that she is widely remembered as ‘the Famine Queen’.   The reality is more complex as Victoria did intervene in a number of ways to assist Ireland between 1846 and 1852, mostly though, at the prompting of the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell.

In 1845, when the potato blight first appeared in Ireland, Queen Victoria was aged only 26, married with four young children. She had never visited Ireland and showed little interest in doing so, which was in strong contrast with her love for Scotland. The second failure of the potato crop in 1846 meant that Ireland became a major concern of the British government and its nominal head, the monarch. This was evident in the Queen’s Speech marking the opening of parliament in January 1847, when she stated that ‘the loss of the usual food of the people has been the cause of severe sufferings, of disease, and of greatly increased mortality among the poorer classes’. In the same month, she issued a ‘Queen’s Letter’ calling on Anglican churches throughout the United Kingdom to donate to Ireland, and to observe a day of special religious services to pray for forgiveness.  The latter action reinforced the idea that the potato blight was a punishment from God.  This providentialist interpretation of the potato failure was prevalent amongst a number of politicians and relief officials, notably Charles Trevelyan of the Treasury. Privately, however, the Queen believed such actions to be irrational and had only called for a day of fast at the request of her Prime Minister.

On a more practical level, at the beginning of 1847 Victoria donated £2,000 to the newly formed British Relief Association, with a promise of more if necessary. Other members of the Royal family also donated to the Association.  Additionally, the appeal by the Queen to the Anglican churches had been successful, raising almost £172,000.  A small portion of this money was used to help the poor in Scotland who had also lost their potato crop.  In October 1847, when it was evident that a third year of famine was inevitable, a second Queen’s Letter was issued, but it raised only £30,000, indicative of the onset of compassion fatigue in regard to helping Ireland.

In 1848, the potato crop was again struck by blight, although it was most severe in the west. At the beginning of the following year, the British government made a small grant to Ireland on the understanding that it would be the final one, regardless of the suffering still evident in the country. In June, as disease and death were showing no signs of abating, the Queen and a number of her ministers made small donations, but the amount raised was pathetically inadequate given the extent of the distress. Around the same time, it was announced that Victoria was going to undertake her first visit to Ireland.

The Queen’s visit in early August 1849, was carefully choreographed. She, accompanied by her husband, Prince Albert, and their children, only visited the east of the country, and they travelled from Cork to Dublin, and Dublin to Belfast, by yacht. For the most part, her public reception was warm, but it also proved divisive, with the Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale refusing to put his name to a welcome address from the Catholic Church hierarchy.  The Queen, however, seemed genuinely pleased with how she was welcomed, writing to the uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, ‘Everything here has gone beautifully since we arrived in Ireland, and our entrance to Dublin was really a magnificent thing … Our visit to Cork was very successful … the enthusiasm is immense.’

Victoria’s only inland visit came when she was in Dublin, staying in the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, the home of the Lord Lieutenant. On Saturday 11 August, she visited Carton House and Estate, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Leinster.  Wearing a dress trimmed with Limerick Lace, she travelled there in an open barouche, along the banks of the Liffey.  People, included large numbers of the ‘Irish peasantry’ lined the route.  When she reached Maynooth, the students of the seminary lined the streets, dressed in their college regalia and cheered as she passed.  Thousands of other people had come to the town by train, carriage or on foot.

The Queen entered the estate through Kellystown Gate. Shortly afterwards the royal party and about 40 guests, including the President of Maynooth College, the Rev. Renehan, sat down to ‘partake of a magnificent dejeuner’. While they ate about 160 people were given refreshments ‘of the most varied and costly kind’ in tents erected in the grounds of the estate. At the Queen’s request, a large number of locals including ‘numbers of peasantry’ had been invited to observe her walking about estate. Following the walk, the guests were shown ‘a real Irish jig, which was danced to the music of an Irish piper by a number of the Duke’s tenants and their wives and daughters’.  The bagpiper was Sheridan from Kilcock. The press reported that the Queen ‘laughed most heartily at the performers and the royal party seemed to be highly pleased with them’. After visiting a thatched cottage on the estate, the Royal party left for Dublin. Contrary to popular lore, she did not spend the night in Carton House.

Victoria arrived back in the Phoenix Park shortly after 5.00pm, only staying for about thirty minutes. When she left, she travelled to the railway station in Westland Row, taking the train to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) where the royal yacht was docked.  Again, the route was packed with people, and the bay was filled with vessels, with everybody appearing delighted to catch a glimpse of the Queen. Any disgruntlement that existed was eclipsed by the cordiality of the majority of the people.  John Mitchel, who at that stage was thousands of miles away, on a prison ship and therefore unable to witness the occasion in person, nonetheless wrote about the royal visit and attributed the warmth of the welcome to the natural kind-heartedness of the Irish people, together with the Lord Lieutenant’s careful precautions to render any dissent invisible.

The Queen’s visit to Carton House in 1849, and the feasting and festivity that accompanied it, gave no indication that, simultaneously, a famine was still raging in parts of the country. Regardless of her interactions with Ireland during these years, Queen Victoria reigned over  a government that increasingly turned its back on Ireland, which resulted in the most lethal and devastating event in Irish history that continues to have repercussions today. In that sense, she truly was the Famine Queen.

Christine Kinealy


Queen Victoria.pngQueen Victoria, pilloried in folk memory as the ‘Famine Queen’ who only donated £5 in famine relief, in fact donated £2,000 to the British Relief Association in January 1847, making her the largest single donor (multitext project).

Like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the famine walkers visited the Carton House estate’s Tyrconnell Tower, which was refurbished in the nineteenth century, in folk memory as a famine relief project.




Deplorable Accident on the Royal Canal

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On the final day of the walk, the walkers passed the spot at Clonsilla bridge where sixteen people lost their lives at the onset of the Famine when the Dublin to Longford passenger boat capsized on 25 November, 1845. This deplorable accident and inquest are described in the Cork Examiner and Pilot below.

Cork Examiner Headline

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The Pilot headline

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Michael Collins and the Irish Famine Novel

From Irish Times (March 31, 2017)

Below the Rust Belt trilogy, a Famine undercurrent

Historian Jason King finds Michael Collins has spawned new forms of creative energy in finding his own way back to the story of the Famine

The Story of 1490 orphan James Flood

Enda Kenny Strokestown

On May 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a glass wall memorial to the 1490 emigrants during the National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown.

James Flood Irish Famine Memorial Wall Strokestown.png

Colin McMahon has traced the 1490 orphan James Flood’s movements between Strokestown, Liverpool, Grosse Île and Montreal in an article entitled “Recrimination and Reconciliation: Great Famine Memory in Liverpool and Montreal at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Atlantic Studies: Global Currents 11.3 (2014): 344-64.

Colin McMahon.pngColin McMahon

In McMahon’s own words (347-348):

The Famine influx has long been an emotionally charged and politically potent memory for Irish groups in Liverpool and Montreal, not only because of the devastation wrought in their port cities in 1847, but also for its evocation of the calamitous condition of Ireland that led to the harried exit of the Famine Irish from their homeland. We can catch a glimpse of the horrors of this phase of Famine migration by tracing the route of one Roscommon family, the Floods, who, having lost their land and livelihood, fled Ireland in the spring of 1847. Mary and James Flood Sr. and their nine children were among the first contingent of 465 tenants that were evicted from the Strokestown estate and participated in a landlord-assisted emigration scheme that took them on a harrowing three-month journey through the Irish midlands, over the Irish Sea to Liverpool, and across the north Atlantic to Montreal. Their landlord, Major Denis Mahon, calculated that the expense of overseeing the large-scale clearance and transatlantic shipment of his smallholders who had neither food to eat nor money to pay rent would amount to less than half the cost of maintaining them in the workhouse for a single year.

The first stage of their journey out of Ireland began with a 150-kilometre trek from Strokestown to Dublin. After four days of trudging cross-country and sleeping rough, the Floods and their neighbours arrived on the outskirts of the Irish capital. From there, they were escorted by the estate’s bailiff to Eden Quay on the River Liffey, where Major Mahon’s land agent awaited to oversee their passage to Liverpool. The inexpensive cross-channel voyage took less than a day, but the rough currents of the Irish Sea would have made it a distressing experience for this already malnourished group of migrants who were packed together on deck and in the holds of a steam-driven ferry.

Disembarkation at Liverpool’s Clarence Dock offered little respite. The Flood family and the other Strokestown migrants represented a mere trickle in the deluge of over one million Irish into Liverpool during the Famine years, most of them in search of a cheap berth on a vessel bound for North America. Entering Europe’s busiest port, with “thousands of hungry and half naked wretches…wandering about, not knowing how to obtain a sufficiency of the commonest food nor shelter,” the destitute Irish were easy prey for sharpers and harpies, “the most unscrupulous set of scoundrels” notorious for bilking hapless newcomers to the city of the little they possessed. Even a brief stopover in this “City of Plague” exposed many Famine Irish to typhus, a disease that had reached epidemic proportions in the city by May 1847. Despite quarantine facilities at the Brownlow workhouse, on the waterfront, and aboard three government supplied quarantine ships docked on the River Mersey, the louse-borne bacterial infection stalked Irish migrants upon boarding vessels that had been hastily converted for the emigrant trade between Liverpool and British North America.

The Floods survived their week long stay in a north-end lodging house in Liverpool awaiting embarkation, but would suffer terribly on their voyage to Quebec, arranged for them by their landlord. Opting for the cheapest fare his land agent could find, Major Mahon sent his former tenants across the Atlantic on a vessel that would soon gain infamy as a ‘coffin ship’. During the two month passage the Flood family and their former neighbours struggled to survive on paltry provisions while lodged in the bowels of the Virginius—a dank, insanitary, suffocating space below the foredeck that was a breeding ground for dysentery and typhus. In conditions likened by The Times to “The Black Hole of Calcutta,” typhus spread rapidly among the Strokestown emigrants. Daily, corpses were hauled up from the holds, covered in old sails or meal-sacks stitched together, weighted down, and then “buried in the deep without the rites of the Church.” Three of the Flood children (Bridget, Edward, and Mary Jr.) who succumbed to typhus en route were dropped overboard. By the time the Virginius laid anchor in the St. Lawrence River next to the Grosse-Île quarantine station on July 28th, one third of its passengers had met the same fate.

Those who survived the voyage faced further adversity on disembarkation in Quebec. Dr. George Douglas, medical superintendent of Grosse-Île, described the Strokestown emigrants as “ghastly yellow looking spectres, unshaven and hollow cheeked, and, without exception, the worst looking passengers I have ever seen; not more than six or eight were really healthy and able to exert themselves.” Five-year-old James Flood Jr. was among the few who emerged from the hold of the Virginius in relatively good health, but the fate of the remaining members of his family is unclear. At some point between their inspection at Grosse-Île and James’ arrival at Montreal’s waterfront several days later, the boy was separated from his family, possibly during the chaotic sorting process at the quarantine station or at some stage in the 50 kilometre voyage upriver aboard one of the crowded steamers, which carried 70,000 Irish migrants along with a typhus epidemic to Montreal, turning the city “into a virtual Quarantine Station.” It is equally plausible that members of the Flood family were afflicted with typhus upon their arrival in Montreal and were among the 13,189 Irish emigrants who were hospitalized in the twenty-two fever sheds of Pointe Saint-Charles in the southwest of the city, and possibly among the roughly 6,000 who died there and were “buried like dogs in the Hospital pit.” Whatever the circumstances that led to him losing his family, we know that James found himself alone in Montreal, a city under siege by disease. Like many of Montreal’s Famine orphans, James found refuge in the Catholic Church, in his case with the Grey Nuns in the Hôpital Général des Soeurs-Grises. He remained in Montreal’s waterfront neighbourhood very near the dock on which he was deposited in 1847, working as a labourer until 1875, at which point his name disappears from the public record.

To read Colin McMahon’s full article, follow the link (pay wall):

Colin McMahon’s article has also been reproduced in full in Marguérite Corporaal and Jason King, Irish Global Migration and Memory: Transatlantic Perspectives of Ireland’s Famine Exodus (Routledge, 2016).

Irish Global Migration and Memory Cover



“Saving the Famine Irish” Grey Nuns Exhibit Opens at EPIC Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin

Epic Grey Nuns launch 6.jpg

Dr Jason King (Irish Heritage Trust) and Professor Christine Kinealy (Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University), curators of the “Saving the Famine Irish” exhibition at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.

EPIC will be hosting a temporary exhibition charting the experiences Irish Famine refugees in Canada. “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” tells the story of the religious orders in Montreal whose members gave selflessly to Irish immigrants during the summer of 1847 – their time of greatest need. The exhibition runs in Unit 5-6 of CHQ from 30/03/2017 until 22/04/2017.

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From left: Caroilin Callery (Irish National Famine Museum), Christine Kinealy (Quinnipiac University), Jason King (Irish Heritage Trust), Fiona Ross (Epic), Robert Kearns (Ireland Park Foundation).

Many thousands of people fled from Ireland during the Great Hunger and immigrated to Canada. Famine immigrants to Montreal were not only among the poorest of the poor, but many of them arrived already sick with typhus fever. Despite this, a number of people in the English and French Canadian communities provided the ailing and the dying with shelter and support. In the forefront of this compassionate movement were the Sisters of Charity, also known as the Grey Nuns. The exhibition is co-presented by EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University. It is currently on display to mark the 170th anniversary of ‘Black 47’, the high point of the Great Irish Famine.

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Jason King, Christine Kinealy, Michael Blanch, Fiona Ross.






EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2017 for Founder of the Irish National Famine Museum, Jim Callery

Mr. Jim Callery*, founder of the Irish National Famine Museum & Archive and owner of Strokestown Park, Co. Roscommon, is among this year’s winners in the category dedicated service to heritage and the only winner from Ireland. Independent expert juries examined a total of 202 applications, submitted by organisations and individuals from 39 countries across Europe, and chose the winners.

The winners of the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards 2017 will be celebrated during a high-profile event co-hosted by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Plácido Domingo commencing in the late afternoon on 15 May at St. Michael’s Church in Turku. The European Heritage Awards Ceremony will assemble some 1,200 people, including heritage professionals, volunteers and supporters from all over Europe as well as top-level representatives from EU institutions, the host country and other Member States.

In 1959, the year in which Mr. Jim Callery established his motor garage at the gates of Strokestown Park in County Roscommon, he never envisaged that he would come to own and restore the estate on which his ancestors had once been tenants. At its height, the private country estate of Strokestown Park with its extensive Palladian residence was the second largest in Ireland with over 27,000 acres of land being rented out and worked by Irish tenant farmers.

By the time Mr. Callery came to buy the estate in 1979 however, it had shrunk to just 300 acres with the house, ancillary buildings and gardens in a state of complete and advancing decay. The entirety of the contents of the house were later purchased resulting in over 300 years of the family’s history being preserved in the house along with thousands of estate documents which provide an extraordinary perspective on Irish history.

Nearly 40 years on, Mr. Callery has spent millions of his own money, along with help from European Union funds, to restore the house, the gardens, to create a museum to the Irish Famine and an archive of the estate documents which number over 55,000 items.

The restoration and establishment of the world renowned Irish National Famine Museum & Archive by Mr. Callery has been the largest act of private philanthropy for cultural heritage in the history of modern Ireland. The Strokestown estate is now a flourishing hive of activity which provides education, employment and enjoyment for the surrounding region. The Jury greatly appreciated this personal dedication, stating:

“Through his small business, Mr. Callery has saved a vital historic country estate for Ireland and has created an important museum and archive dealing with this pivotal moment in the country’s history. He has ensured an expert restoration of the house, opened it to the Irish public and preserved the legacy of this important memorial”.