The Famine Irish in Saint John, New Brunswick: A Visit by Kayak to Partridge Island National Historic Site
Above: Irish Catholic Burial Ground
Above: Irish Catholic Burial Ground
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:
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: faminestudies@Irishheritagetrust.ie and/or Professor Christine Kinealy (Christine.Kinealy@quinnipiac.edu) 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
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.
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.
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.
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
Montreal Gazette (August 12, 2017)
What if thousands of people lay dying on Montreal’s waterfront?
What if some of the city’s best doctors, nurses, members of the clergy and the mayor were caring for the sick newcomers at the risk of their own lives?
What if the dead were being buried in hastily dug trenches next to the makeshift hospital, piled three coffins deep?
What if the death toll rose to the equivalent of 12 per cent of the city’s population?
You’d think a city couldn’t forget a thing like that.
The events of Black 47 are very real to Montreal-born, Dublin-based historian Jason King. On visits to his hometown, King, academic coordinator for the Irish Heritage Trust, which operates the Irish National Famine Museum, always makes a point of visiting the site in Pointe-St-Charles where as many as 6,000 people died of typhus in 1847.
You pass under a railway bridge, past a Costco store, derelict warehouses and empty parking lots bordered by concrete blocks. It’s easy to miss the monument to the typhus victims — a rough boulder in the median between traffic lanes on Bridge St., near the Victoria Bridge. On it are inscribed the words:
“To Preserve from Desecration the Remains of 6000 Immigrants Who died of Ship Fever A.D. 1847-48
This Stone is erected by the Workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts Employed in the Construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859.”
King contemplates the stone in silence, broken only by passing vehicles, the sighing wind and screeching of seagulls.
“You do feel a real sense of connectedness when you come to the actual place,” he says.
“Usually, when I come I’m by myself. There’s really nobody here. There’s passing traffic, but that kind of becomes white noise after a minute or two. The rock and the strange, empty parking lot. It’s a very moving site, a very strange site,” King says.
Dozens of cities, including Toronto, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, have sites commemorating the one million Irish who fled their homeland during the Great Famine of 1846-51 — of whom an estimated one in five died en route of disease and starvation.
Each year, some 20,000 tourists journey to Grosse-Île, the former quarantine station near Quebec City where more than 5,000 famine migrants died in 1847.
But Montreal, whose Black Rock is the world’s oldest famine memorial, has no appropriate place of remembrance — just this dangerous spot in the middle of a busy commuter route.
Yet it was in Montreal that the tragedy struck hardest, and that the community most heroically rose to the challenge of helping the sick and dying, King says.
“Montreal was in a sense the epicentre of the 1847 famine migration,” he says.
“It was the largest city in British North America. It was the only major city to have famine refugees in massive numbers come into the city itself.”
For the past five years, members of the local Irish community have been working to create a memorial park honouring those who fled the famine, only to die on Montreal’s waterfront.
Their plan calls for moving the Black Rock to the future park on the east side of Bridge St. at rue des Irlandais, an area now occupied by a parking lot and Lafarge cement site.
But in May, organizers of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation learned the land earmarked for the park had been sold to Hydro-Québec, to build an electrical substation to supply the future Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM) train. Mayor Denis Coderre, who had initially pledged support for the park, now insists the substation must go ahead but has promised to find a compromise.
Coderre and other city officials refused to be interviewed for this article.
The city is also keeping mum on its plans for the rest of the area between Bridge St., the Bonaventure Expressway and Mill St. — formerly the working-class neighbourhood of Goose Village, which the city demolished in 1964. The Coderre administration is reportedly eyeing the site for a future baseball stadium, to bring back Major League Baseball to Montreal.
“The Goose Village sector is targeted in the Stratégie Centre-Ville (a downtown development plan) which will be unveiled in the near future,” is all city spokesperson Jules Chamberland would say in an email exchange.
The REM project calls for a light-rail station underneath the Lachine Canal’s Peel Basin, with a north entrance in Griffintown and a south entrance about a 10-minute walk from the Goose Village site.
But to King, any project that brushes aside the site’s tragic history would be a violation of the last resting place of the thousands who died.
“You can’t imagine this happening anywhere else, that you’d have a mass grave in complete abandonment,” he says.
Sylvain Gaudet, a researcher with the Société d’histoire de Pointe-Saint-Charles, has pored over newspapers, maps and property records to document the burial grounds where the typhus victims were laid to rest. Initially, the sick were housed in sheds near the Peel Basin; later, sheds were built for them on the Goose Village site. Archaeological research is needed to determine what traces remain of the thousands buried at the two sites, Gaudet said.
Anne-Marie Balac, an archaeologist who worked for Quebec’s Ministry of Culture for 27 years and is now a consultant, said “it’s unthinkable” to allow any project to be built without a thorough investigation of what lies under the ground.
“We know it has a very high archaeological potential because it’s a cemetery,” she said.
Several bodies have been unearthed over the years, including during roadwork and building of the Costco, leaving no doubt that the site is a former cemetery, Balac said.
In 1942, excavations near the entrance to the Victoria Bridge turned up the coffins of 12 typhus victims in a trench-like grave. They were reinterred near the Black Rock.
“It’s urgent to act before going too far,” Balac said.
* * *
In the spring of 1847, Montrealers braced for an influx from famine-stricken Ireland, where the potato crop had failed in both of the previous two years.
“We learn from British papers and private letters published in those of the United States, that the preparations for emigration from Britain, and especially from Ireland, are unprecedentedly great,” the Montreal Witness newspaper reported on March 8.
Fearing a deluge of undesirables, the United States tightened regulations for passenger ships, pushing up travel costs.
This meant the poorest immigrants would be forced to travel via Quebec City and Montreal, the Witness correctly predicted.
Soon “our shores are likely to be thronged with emigrants, chiefly of a class who will have little or nothing left when they arrive,” the paper warned, urging that “no time ought to be lost” in making preparations.
But nothing could have prepared Montrealers for what they saw when sick and starving immigrants began stepping off steamboats from Quebec City.
“Good God! What a spectacle. Hundreds of people, most of them lying naked on planks haphazardly, men, women and children, sick, moribund and cadavers; all of this confusion hit the eyes at once,” the Annals of the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) reported on June 7.
The overcrowded “coffin ships” that brought the migrants to the New World — often Canadian timber vessels making the return trip with a human cargo — were the perfect breeding ground for typhus, spread by body lice infected with the Rickettsia prowazekii bacterium. (The cause would not be discovered until 1916.)
Numerous sources, including records kept by religious communities and newspaper reports, paint a vivid account of the famine migration to Montreal.
After going out to investigate, she returned to the Mother House to describe the horrific condition of the immigrants and ask for volunteers.
She did not need to do so more than once, since our dear Sisters came in large numbers.
(Annals of the Grey Nuns)
June 13: As thousands pour into the city, the typhus sheds near the Lachine Canal are quickly overwhelmed. Patients are crowded three to a bed, with corpses lying alongside the living. Bodies pile up outside, awaiting burial.
The Grey Nuns record heartrending scenes, like a man who arrives from Grosse-Île searching for his wife, who had been sent on to Montreal before him. He finally spots her corpse on a pile of bodies and takes it in his arms, calling her name and kissing her, unable to believe that she is really dead.
Once he is convinced that she no longer exists, he abandons himself to his pain; the air is filled with his cries and sobs. … Scenes of this nature occur several times a day.
(Annals of the Grey Nuns)
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.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Prime Minister Trudeau
Sculptor Rowan Gillespie with Prime Minister Trudeau
Ireland Park Foundation CEO Robert Kearns with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
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.
From Irish Times (25 May 2017):
One of Rowan Gillespie’s Famine statues in Dublin. Photograph: Kate Geraghty
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.nationalfamineway.ie.
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.
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.
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.
Queen 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.
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.
On day five of the walk, the walkers met with Dr Ciarán Reilly who gave them a tour of the Carton House estate near Maynooth. Dr Reilly is the leading expert on the Strokestown Park Archive and one of the most distinguished scholars in the field. His book Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine (Four Courts, 2014) combines incisive analysis of the records in the archive with high quality reproductions of some of its most important documents.
Ciaran Reilly’s book Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine is:
‘The most in-depth study of the effects of the Famine on a landed estate and its community … With the help of this book, we are brought deep inside the actuality of life during the Famine era. Some of our preconceived ideas of what actually transpired during that appalling era are challenged. Highlighted too is the important role played by the Irish National Famine Museum at Strokestown’, from the foreword by Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland.
The Strokestown Park House archive is one of the largest Irish estate collections in existence, with more than 50,000 documents comprising rentals, leases, accounts, correspondence, maps, drawings, architectural plans and photographs. Of particular importance are the papers that relate to the Great Irish Famine. This book aims to introduce the reader to the archive and to provide a fascinating and detailed insight into the many and varied experiences of the Famine for those who inhabited the estate in the 1840s.
In Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine, Reilly traces many of the 1490. In his own words:
While the Strokestown Park archive provides a fascinating insight into people who emigrated during and immediately after the Famine, their fate afterwards is more difficult to track. For the vast majority we are offered only fleeting glimpses of their lives after leaving Ireland. An example is John Coleman, one of ninety-nine emigrants who left the townland of Curhouna during the assisted emigration programme of 1847. Having survived the crossing, Coleman made his way to New Orleans where by 1851 he was listed as being a patient in the city hospital. One of 1,100 men and women, including over 20 Roscommon natives, who sought medical treatment in the hospital in 1851 alone, the ultimate fate of Coleman is unknown. Likewise, Margaret Flynn, aged 24, and her son John, aged one, who were described as “destitute”; having survived the voyage on board the Virginius in July 1847, they made their way inland to St John, New Brunswick, where they found shelter in the city’s almshouses in 1851 (139-142).
More information about Margaret Flynn and her son John can be found here:
Ciarán Reilly has also co-authored Women and the Great Hunger with the Famine walkers Christine Kinealy and Jason King (Cork and Quinnipiac University Press).
Ciarán Reilly has also published The Famine Irish: Emigration and the Great Hunger (History Press, 2016), which includes Jason King’s chapter about the 1490 entitled “Une Voix d’Irlande: Integration, Migration, and Travelling Nationalism Between Famine Ireland and Quebec in the Long Nineteenth Century”, 193-208.
The story of the 1490 is one that has been reconstructed from the treasure trove of documents found in the Strokestown Park Archive.
An extract from the Cloonahee Petition, 1846, Strokestown Park Archive.
The leading scholars in the field attest to its significance:
The archive is one of the largest collections of famine documents in the world ……….most of these documents have not seen the light of day since they were generated almost 170 years ago’
Dr Ciaran Reilly, Maynooth University, Ireland
‘The Strokestown Park Archive represents a jewel in famine studies, and one that has great significance beyond Roscommon and the island of Ireland’.
Professor Christine Kinealy,
Director, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT
“The archive at Strokestown Park House is a treasure trove for social historians intent upon reconstructing life on an Irish estate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Equally important is the rich deposit of records from the Irish Famine period, which when viewed in the context of other collections available to the public in Ireland, ranks as one of vital importance to historians of the Great Hunger. Moreover, manuscripts generated by the Pakenham-Mahon family provide valuable links to other landed families in Ireland and to larger Imperial and diasporic networks. Thus the archive is not just of local or Irish interest, but provides potential research projects for scholars across the globe.”
Dr Mark G. McGowan
The collection containing over 55,000 documents is of international significance in relation to the Famine period and also a complete record of economic, social, and estate history over a 300 year period.
A dedicated environmentally controlled archive room has been created above the stables and a study centre within the stable wing is being created.
Documents from the Strokestown Park House Archive are also being digitized and made publicly available on the Great Famine Voices website: