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
From Irish Times:
My Mum’s people were Kingstons from Bantry Bay. .. Paul Kingston left Bantry Bay in 1826. And my Dad’s people, people down in Wicklow, presented me with a beautiful book with my complete family history saying that my great, great grandfather was James Vickers would have left Arklow [in 1847]. Minister Charlie Flanagan would take exception to that because he is pretty sure that I come from County Laois, and there is in fact a James Vickers who did leave Laois in 1827. Whether I am going to call myself a Wicklow man or a Laois man I am not too sure.
Where I am from in Miramichi, New Brunswick, it is all Irish. The names are all Irish: Shanahan, Flanagan, O’Neill, Butler, Murphy, O’Shea… [In Ireland] it feels like I have come home. It really feels like home.
In my home town there is a Celtic Cross on Middle Island. In 1847 three ships arrived from Ireland, and there are 240 people buried on the island, Middle Island, and we grew up with that… During the Famine in 1847 was the worst year. The three ships involved , the Bolivar, the Richard White and the Loostaulk, their crews were overcome with typhus and cholera, and they had to make for the nearest port. So they arrived at our home town. But the river pilots refused to get on board the boats, because there were so many corpses on the decks. When they finally were allowed to come up and dock at Middle Island, in the first week there were over a hundred people who further passed away. It is two hundred and some odd people altogether who are buried there, in Middle Island, where we have this large Celtic Cross.
In Canada we are now on track to receive 25000 refugees by the end of February, and we may get up to fifty thousand by the end of the year. Between the forties, fifties, and early sixties in Canada we had three hundred and fifty thousand Irish people arrive on our shores. There is an island in the St. Lawrence, Grosse Isle, with over five thousand Irish people buried on it who were overcome with cholera and typhus. So it is a big part of our history. Some people do not realize that seventeen percent of our population in Canada, like me, claim direct descendancy from Ireland. That would be roughly seven million people, a third again of the population from Ireland. That is part of who we are.
Ambassador Kevin Vickers has also discussed the Famine Irish in Canada and his Irish ancestry during recent visits to Wicklow:
Pictured at the Canadian Connection event at Coollattin House are Alison Kehoe, Victor Young, Kevin Vickers (Canadian Ambassador to Ireland) and Dermot Kenny. Pic: Christy Farrell.http://visitwicklow.ie/wicklow-tourism-meets-canadian-ambassador-kevin-vickers/
The Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency, Kevin Vickers, was “very honoured and exceptionally humbled to have the profound pleasure to be back in my ancestral homeland,” when he enthusiastically addressed guests in the Library of Coollattin House, near Shillelagh, for the launch of the Coollattin Canadian Connection.
The event was organised by Old Coollattin Country Ltd and is aimed at promoting a number cultural, social and tourism links between Wicklow and Wexford with Canada, stemming from the large number of local emigrants who took the ships from New Ross across the Atlantic between 1847 and 1853.
“When people say ‘Welcome home, Kevin’ it always brings tears to my eyes,” said Mr Vickers, who added that his great-great grandfather, James Vickers, left here (Wicklow) in 1847. “It is a profound experience to come back home.”
On Saturday 26 September the National Famine Commemoration took place in Newry, County Down. As part of the Famine Commemoration, an international conference on the the theme of “John Mitchel: The Legacy of the Great Irish Famine” was organized by Anthony Russell, Tommy Fegan, and Paddy Fitzgerald. This is the first time the event will be held in Northern Ireland and follows on from a successful hosting in Strokestown, county Roscommon in May 2014.
Full details of the conference programme below:
Wednesday 23 Sept 7.00pm Official Opening of the Conference 7.00pm A Hedge School Event Ulster and the Legacy of the Great Famine Chair: Tommy Graham (History Ireland) Panellists: Professor Mary Daly, Professor Christine Kinealy, Professor Peter Gray and Dr Ruan O’Donnell
Thursday 24 Sept
10.00am Anthony Russell, Mitchel’s Town and The Famine in Two Ulsters
10:45am Professor William Smyth – Reflecting on the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine
11:15am Dr James Quinn – John Mitchel, the Irish Peasant and the American Slave
2.00pm Pechakuchas – 7 Presenters, 7 Slides, 7 Topics in 7 Minutes 1. Slavery, A Biblical Perspective – Nigel Agnew 2. Seven Famines – Dr Paddy Fitzgerald 3. Belfast Famine– Eamon Phoenix 4. Newry Workhouse – Hugh McShane 5. Famine Commemoration– Michael Blanch 6. A Famine Family – Lynn McAreavey 7. Strokestown – John O’Driscoll
Friday 25 September
10.00am Christine Kinealy, The wee-men of Belfast. Female Philanthropy and the Great Famine
10.45 am Dr Laurence Geary, The Great Famine and Medicine 11:15am
Cathal Porteir, What folklore can tell us about the Great Famine that the documents cannot
11.45 am Dr Jason King, Irish Famine migration to Montreal, Toronto and New Brunswick
2:00pm Dr Ciarán Reilly – ‘Famine has made sad savages among its poor’: the world of the Ulster cottier in the 1840s.
2.30pm Dr John Nelson – Like Father, Unlike Son: The Rev. John Mitchel
3.00pm Cormac O’Grada – Eating People is wrong:Thoughts on Famine
3:30pm Reflections on the Conference – Professor Christine Kinealy
Saturday 26 September
10am ‘The Famine Plot – A discussion on the Great Famine and Culpability’ Chair: Robert Kearns – Ireland Park Toronto; Panellists: Tim Pat Coogan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Professor Liam Kennedy, Brian Patterson.
Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, delivered an address about the Canadian Famine Irish at the opening ceremony of Miramichi Canada’s Irish Festival on July 17th, 2015.
In an interview with CBC Radio (Moncton, July 20th), Ambassador Vickers recalled:
“There is a great deal of history here. That is one of the things I spoke about at the Irish Festival. In 1847 a ship arrived here in Miramichi, the Loostauk. 417 passengers left Ireland to come to Quebec, but they were overcome with sickness on the seas and had to make port for Miramichi. There were 117 who died during the crossing, and another hundred died here at Middle Island, Miramichi, upon the boat’s arrival. That history I know is not known in Ireland, and surprisingly, when I gave that talk about the Loostauk and the numbers of people that died here in Miramichi and Middle Island upon its arrival, many of our townspeople were not aware of that history. So there is a great opportunity to enhance one another’s knowledge of how Irish the Miramichi is, and for Ireland to realize the generosity of Canadians when they arrived here in these famine ships.”
Here is an excerpt from the draft of Ambassador Kevin Vickers’s address, prepared with consultation from Dr. Jason King:
When I launched the Digital Irish Famine Archive last month, I noted that it commemorates and pays tribute to the Grey Nuns of Montreal and people of French and English Canada, like Bishop Michael Power in Toronto and Dr. John Vondy in Chatham, now Miramichi, New Brunswick, who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants during the Famine exodus of 1847. Let us turn now to the story of that most remarkable man, our own ancestor, who laid down his life in treating the Famine Irish right here on this very island, Dr. John Vondy. When the Loosthauk arrived just off of these shores and disturbed the “usual quiet” of the “little town” on the 3rd of June, 1847, it was to the credit of our ancestors that “the appeal to their humanity was spontaneously responded to”. But after provisions had been delivered to the ship, its fever-stricken passengers needed to be quarantined, and so they were brought here, to Middle Island. According to the Miramichi Gleaner, they were
landed on this island, where temporary fever sheds had been erected for their reception… The number of deaths, as far as we have been able to ascertain since she put into this port, up to yesterday evening, was forty – a shocking mortality – and several bodies were interred on Saturday, Sunday, and yesterday evening on the Island… The disease is typhus fever.
Dr. John Vondy.
Despite the obvious risk, it was twenty six year old Dr. John Vondy who volunteered to take charge and almost single-handedly care for the Irish emigrants. Once again, I ask you to look around and try to imagine those horrific conditions he voluntarily subjected himself to. Look past the walking trails, picnic sites, horseshoe pits, volleyball nets, the canteen, and the interpretive centre, and picture the utter desolation of this place. It was on this island that forty Irish people died almost immediately after their arrival, and 96 in total, in June of 1847. It was on this island that they languished from typhus fever with only Dr. John Vondy and a couple of other people to care for them. It was on this island that Dr.Vondy freely came to care for up to 350 fever-stricken Irish emigrants, from the Loosthauk, the Richard White, and the Bollivar, knowing full well the extreme risk that he took in doing so. According to one eyewitness, he “was exceedingly kind to the sick, feeding and moving them into comfortable positions [until he] took the disease himself”. And it was on this island that Dr. Vondy fell ill, on the 22nd of June 1847, where he lay dying for a week, nursed by his sister, until he finally perished on the 29th of June. According to the Miramichi Gleaner:
He fell, a sacrifice to that alarming disease with which the passengers of the ill-fated ship Looshtauk were visited, and expired on Friday morning last, about 3 o’clock. His remains were placed in a double coffin, made perfectly air tight, and conveyed from Middle Island to Coulson’s slip, and from thence to St. Paul’s Churchyard, followed by an immense concourse of people.
We have seldom witnessed an occurrence that cast so deep a gloom over the community. As soon as his death was announced, all the shops were closed and business partially suspended throughout the day. The sum of £60 was subscribed in the churchyard, for the purpose of erecting a suitable testimonial to commemorate the sad event, and testify the respect felt for the memory of the deceased.
Middle Island Memorial.
It was on this island that Dr. John Vondy gave his life caring for the Famine Irish. He was no ordinary man. Let us acknowledge that while he tended to the sick, Dr. Vondy was not well supported, and toiled almost by himself without adequate facilities, shelter, or even food to alleviate their suffering. Still, he did all that was within his power to care for the sick. Imagine the fear that he must have felt when he too fell ill, until his sister came to nurse him in his final days and hours. Like Bishop Michael Power in Toronto, and the Grey Nuns of Montreal, Dr. John Vondy exhibited selfless devotion in tending to the typhus-stricken Irish emigrants right here in 1847.
This island is a special place. It has witnessed some of the darkest moments in our history, when we recall all of those Irish emigrants who perished here, or beforehand at sea. But it has also witnessed some of the finest moments in our history, when we recall the heroic deeds of Dr. John Vondy. His story, like that of Bishop Michael Power and the Grey Nuns, is one of laying down his life to protect the most vulnerable. It is a story that belongs to the most cherished part of our history. It is a story of Ireland and a story of Canada, of Middle Island and the Miramichi, which binds our peoples together. It is also a story that attests to the bonds that were formed on this island, between the most vulnerable Irish who came to New Brunswick, and the people of Miramichi who cared for them.
Today we are increasingly confronted with images of desperate people crossing seas in ramshackle ships that resemble the Loosthauk. We can only hope that they will encounter caregivers like Dr. John Vondy when they come ashore. In an age of increasingly desperate acts of migration, his compassion provides a lesson for us all.
From right to left: Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers; Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Professor Christine Kinealy; Curator of Digital Irish Famine Archive (NUIG), Dr. Jason King.
Statement for launch of Digital Irish Famine Archive from Ambassador Kevin Vickers:
It gives me great pleasure to launch the Digital Irish Famine Archive and “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit. Both the digital archive and the exhibit commemorate and pay tribute to the Grey Nuns of Montreal and people of French and English Canada, like Bishop Michael Power in Toronto and Dr. John Vondy in Chatham, now Miramichi, New Brunswick, who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants during the Famine exodus of 1847. It is especially fitting that we launch the digital archive on this day, after Montreal’s Irish community has just made its annual pilgrimage to the Black Stone monument, which marks the site of the city’s fever sheds and mass graves for six thousand Irish dead, and before the Irish Famine Summer School begins at the Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon. The stories contained within the digital archive attest to the selfless devotion of the Grey Nuns in tending to typhus-stricken emigrants and providing homes for Irish orphans. In an age of increasingly desperate acts of migration, their compassion provides a lesson for us all.
The Digital Irish Famine Archive can be found at (http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/).