Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht touring New Brunswick for Famine Commemoration
Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is visiting New Brunswick this week as part of this year’s International Famine Commemoration.
Heather Humphreys is making stops in Saint John, Miramichi and Moncton to pay tribute to the people of Canada who helped Irish immigrants flee the great potato famine of the 1840s.
Approximately one million people died between 1845-1852, and a million more left Ireland forever.
“It’s very important that we remember and look back, because there’s so much famine across the world and I think by having these commemorations, it raises the awareness of famine issues in the modern world,” Humphreys said Friday on Information Morning Saint John.
“One of the legacies left behind by the famine in Ireland is the deep compassion which is felt by Irish people to those who suffer from hunger today.”
Of the more than 100,000 Irish who sailed to Canada in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition.
In Saint John, up to 2,500 people were quarantined on Partridge Island with small pox and typhus fever during the peak of the Irish immigration.
The island was an entry point for newcomers to Canada.
Up to 2,500 people were quarantined on Partridge Island with small pox and typhus fever during the peak of the Irish immigration. (CBC)
Approximately 600 of them are buried in a mass grave on the island. Other Irish immigrants eventually settled in New Brunswick, Upper Canada and the United States.
“I’m here to say thank you to the Canadian people for the compassion their predecessors showed … because the devastating legacy of the famine is evident across the eastern region of Canada, where up to 20,000 Irish famine victims lie buried,” Humphreys said.
“But thankfully, many more thousands survived the journey and went on to build lives here … Almost a quarter of the population in this region are of Irish ancestry. So it’s important we link in with the Irish Canadians, and we meet them and those are strong links we want to maintain.”
Humphreys will lay a wreath at noon at St. Patrick’s Square in uptown Saint John on Friday.
She will then travel to Miramichi on Saturday, where she will visit Middle Island at 10 a.m., and meet with Bill Fraser, Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture.
Middle Island, Miramichi, Famine Memorial
Humphreys will also visit the Irish Families Monument at 2 p.m. in Moncton and then move on to Prince Edward Island on Sunday.
She previously made a stop in Halifax.
“It’s a solemn occasion to remember, and when you think of the journeys they went on, it’s quite harrowing … it’s important that we remember what they went through,” Humphreys said.
“It’s in remembering these things that it reminds us of the compassion felt by the Irish people, but it also creates an awareness as to the obvious difficulties that result in famine and the terrible things that happen.”
The first National Famine Commemoration Committee was established in July 2008, following a government decision to commemorate the Great Famine with an annual memorial day.
Since 2009, the program included an annual International Famine Commemoration at a location abroad.
On July 18th, Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, also spoke about the Famine Irish in New Brunswick when he opened the 32nd Miramichi Canada’s Irish Festival in his home town.
The full text of Minister Heather Humphey’s address can be found here:
Maryam Filaih from Dublin at a welcome refugee rally on O’Connell Street Credit: David Conachy
The escalation of the European migration crisis has led to frequent comparisons in media coverage, political opinion, and public debate between the Irish Famine Migration of 1847 and the perils refugees face today. The Rowan Gillespie Famine monuments in Dublin and in Ireland Park, Toronto, have become focal points for demonstrations of solidarity with refugees through the prism of Famine Irish memory.
Image of three asylum seekers imposed on a photograph of the famine memorial on Custom House Quay in Dublin.
A section of the crowd gathered at the Famine Memorial on Custom House Quay in solidarity with people seeking refuge in Europe. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
“Let Then In”, Michael Enright. (CBC The Sunday Edition, September 13, 2015).
Ireland Park, Toronto, Ontario (Credit: Kearns Mancini)
On a sun-blasted morning last week, I biked down to the lake’s edge and sat for a long time in a small, almost hidden parkette called Ireland Park. Out on Lake Ontario, small boats, kayaks, yachts, ferries competed for space on the broad calm waters. No dinghies over-jammed with children and mothers and old men. At the Toronto Island Airport, planes took off and landed, their passengers not stateless, not homeless, no doubt all suitably credentialed.
Five bronze sculptures of figures in rags stand in a corner of the park. Their eyes are raised to the great spires and comforting money towers of the downtown. One of the figures lies dead or dying on the ground. The female figure clutches her pregnant belly. The figures are beyond gaunt; they are skeletal. The park was designed by Toronto Architect Jonathan Kearns, himself an Irish immigrant. It memorializes the coming to Toronto in 1847 of Irish refugees escaping from the horrific devastation caused country-wide by the potato famine.
At the time, Toronto had a population of around 20,000. In one year, some 38,000 Irish refugees landed in the city. Hundreds died of typhus in the so-called coffin sheds not far from this building. And still more came, over the next decades. At the other end of the park are 14 very tall towers made of black Kilkenny limestone. On this morning the limestone was warm to the touch. Carved into the interstices between the towers, are the names of some of those who came: Rose Cassady, Luke McCue, James Murphy, Mary O’Brien, Martin Carlow, Biddy Clary, Mary Ryan.
Canada has a long and storied history of taking in those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Irish, Vietnamese, Hungarians, Tamils, Bengalis Guatemalans, Turks, even thousands of political refugees from the United States. It’s what we do. It’s not a bad record but not without some failures, some historical blemishes. We failed huge numbers of Jewish refugees in the days prior to World War Two, by shutting our doors to them. Our policy was none is too many. We turned away a boatload of Sikhs in the early 1900s and we excluded Chinese except as stoop labourers. Nevertheless, in number and behaviour, the refugees we have admitted have never been anything other than assets to this country.
The vision of thousands of refugees coming to Canada may upset many people, but that’s all right. Change and the challenge of change take awhile to reach a comfort level. There will be that small minority of xenophobes who can’t abide the notion of strangers in their midst. That’s all right too. Yes there are haters in this country as there are in any other place, in any other time. Does it do any good assigning blame for what we haven’t done? Perhaps. Perhaps the election next month will be a punishment yard.
The important thing is to do something generous and effective, and to do it now. Why not a pledge to bring in 50,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees by Christmas, as retired general Rick Hillier has suggested? And another 50,000 by next Canada Day? Not impossible.
A few hours after I left the park, I watched a family in midtown laughing and shouting and taking pictures of each other. They were Chinese, grandmother, grandfather, young couple, two young children a boy and a girl, maybe the age of Aylan Kurdi. They were chattering away to each other in Chinese, having a grand time. They were probably not refugees, perhaps immigrants. Or maybe they were even born here. It didn’t matter. Written on the left arm of the grandfather’s sweat shirt was one word: “Canada.”
(Edward Keenan, Toronto Star, September 3, 2015)
BERNARD WEIL / TORONTO STAR
Woman On Ground, one of several sculptures at Ireland Park in Toronto, is dedicated to remind people of the devastation of hunger. In 1847, more than 38,000 Irish Famine refugees landed on the shores of Toronto, causing a major strain of resources.
From Donovan King:
A visit to Grosse-Ile, a quarantine station in the Saint Lawrence River that witnessed tragedy in 1847 when thousands of Irish fleeing the Famine perished on its shores. According to the guides fireflies are often spotted above the Famine Cemetery, but never the other two burial grounds on the island.
Montreal AOH President Victor Boyle and Donovan King
Donovan King Translation: “Children of the Gael died in the thousands on this island having fled from the laws of the foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God’s loyal blessing upon them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.”
Note that the version in Irish is different; it says: “Children of the Gael died in the thousands on this island having fled from the laws of the foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God’s loyal blessing upon them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.”
From Paul, Deering, Sligo Champion: (07/03/2015)
A family’s 21-mile walk to get to Sligo Port to leave for Canada during famine times on a ship that eventually sank will be commemorated next month.
On 4th April, Rose Marie Stanley with her husband Terry will lead a Famine Trail Commemoration Walk from Cross, Keash to Sligo Port. Rose Marie is a fifth generation descendent of Patrick and Sarah Kaveney, who with their six children did this same walk on the 4th April 1847, when as famine victims they left Ireland in the hope of a better life in Canada.
Mullaghmore and Cliffoney Historical Society in conjunction with descendents of different branches of the Kaveney family and other walking groups are undertaking this walk in memory of Patrick and Sarah and their six children, and all those who sailed with them to Canada on the ill fated Carricks in April 1847. The walk is 21 miles long and will start at the old Kaveney homestead in Cross at 9am and will proceed through Ballymote, Colloney, Ballysodare, and on to Sligo Port where they will arrive about 4pm. A short ceremony will take place at the pontoon beside the Custom and Ballast Quays, from where the Carricks set sail on its final journey.
Patrick and Sarah Kaveney were tenants of Lord Palmerston and became the first batch of his Assisted Emigrants to leave Sligo in 1847 for Quebec. Patrick and Sarah left on the 5th April 1847. At Sligo Port they were joined by 28 other families, a total of 173 emigrants, all former Palmerston tenants.
Some 17 of the families came from the Ballymote estate, 5 more came from Ennismurray, and 6 came from Ahamlish. Just over three weeks after leaving Sligo these emigrants entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and were in sight of the Canadian coast when the Carricks was caught in a snow storm and crashed into the notorious Cap des Rosiers. Only 48 passengers survived. Patrick and Sarah with their son Martin survived; their five daughters were drowned.
They set up home in Jersey Cove and had four more children In 1855 Patrick died in a snow storm as he attended St. Patrick Day celebrations.
Rechristened Kavanagh in Canada, Patrick and Sarah set about establishing their new lives and local families helped them out until they could fend for themselves. They set up their new home in Jersey Cove, the Gaspe, had four more children and in 1855 Patrick died in a snow storm as he attended St. Patrick Day celebrations. Now 168 years after arriving in the Gaspe, family branches have spread out across Canada, but they still retain the family base in Jersey Cove. Most family branches are French speakers although some remain English speakers. Down the generations the family retained knowledge of, and came in search of, their Sligo roots. But only in recent years were they able to re-establish those roots and reconnect with long lost relatives who will join Rose Marie and Terry on the upcoming walk.
A monument, erected by the parish of St. Patrick’s Montreal, stands in the Gaspe in memory of those who drowned with the sinking of the Carricks. In May 2011 long lost remains were found in what appears to have been a mass grave near where the tragedy occurred. Investigations are underway to determine if these remains are those of Carricks victims.
Father Patrick Dowd Memorial, Listulk, Dunleer. Unveiled June 21st , 2015.
Eyewitness accounts of the effect of the Irish famine on migration to Canada in 1847-1848 will be available to read online through a curation by NUI Galway.
The Grey Nuns, who cared for Irish famine emigrants in Montreal’s fever sheds, kept annals and correspondence which have been translated from the original French and digitised.
The Digital Irish Famine Archive, which was launched by the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, contains three sets of annals from the Grey Nuns: “Ancien Journal (Old Journal), Volume I” and “Le Typhus d’1847, Ancien Journal (The Typhus of 1847, Old Journal), Volume II”, both translated from French to English, and the nuns’ first-hand experiences of the Irish migration in “Récit de l’épidemie” (Tale of the epidemic), which is transcribed in French from the original.
The archive also reveals testimonies from Irish orphans were adopted by French-Canadian families, such as Daniel and Catherine Tighe from Roscommon, and Robert Walsh from Kilkenny.
The archive is curated by Dr Jason King, a postdoctoral researcher who specialises in interculturalism and migration, in partnership with NUI Galway’s Moore Institute; the University of Limerick; the Irish National Famine Museum; Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut; the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation; the Ireland Park Foundation; the iNua Partnership; and the Irish Research Council.
Ambassador Kevin Vickers said: “It gives me great pleasure to launch the Digital Irish Famine Archive. The archive 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, who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants during the Famine exodus of 1847.
“It is especially fitting that we launch the digital archive 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 6,000 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.”
President Michael D. Higgins, who is patron of the archive, said: “During that bleak and terrible period of our history, an estimated 100,000 Irish people fled to Canada. It is impossible to imagine the pain, fear, despair and suffering of these emigrants, many of whom lost beloved family members on their journey.
“As a country we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Grey Nuns, who cared for so many Irish widows and orphans who were left destitute, impoverished and alone in a strange country.”
“This virtual archive is a very important project, which allows us to finally acknowledge the generosity and enormous humanity of those wonderful sisters whose great kindness and compassion, during one of the worst tragedies in our country’s history, must never be forgotten.”
The archive can be seen at http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/
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/).
From Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University:
Among our more than 50 guests at our “Women and the Great Hunger in Ireland” conference are Sister Marlene Butler GNSH, left, of Yardley, Penn., and Sister Anne… Marie Beirne GNSH, of Queens, N.Y. The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart visited our year-long “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit in the Arnold Bernhard Library. “It’s absolutely wonderful,” Sister Butler said. “We try to create a more compassionate world — and it’s really inspiring to see what the Grey Nuns accomplished in Montreal.” Sister Beirne said the exhibit demonstrates how much we can all help each other. “Just hearing the stories is so emotional.” She is continuing the work of her predecessors by volunteering her time at Marguerite’s Pantry in New York. “It’s living a life of compassion,” she said. “That’s what they called us to do.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1G0s2Ab
During their visit Dr. Jason King delivered a keynote address entitled “Sacred and Sacrilegious Women’s Testimonials: The Grey Nuns and Maria Monk, Famine Irish Migrants, and the Montreal Fever Sheds in 1847-1848″.
He suggested that the sacred images and religious iconography of French-Canadian and Irish female religious caring for Montreal’s Famine emigrants in the “Saving the Famine Irish” exhibit were directly influenced and shaped by the sinister impressions of Maria Monk a decade earlier, which they sought to repudiate and replace. In the decade before the Irish Famine influx into Montreal in 1847, the very same orders of priests and nuns who cared for Irish emigrants and rescued Famine orphans had become figures of infamy following the publication of The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, the Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed (1836). Her purported autobiographical account of her experiences within and escape from the Hôtel Dieu convent was a staple of American nativism and a best-seller, with over three hundred thousand copies purchased by 1860 – second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the antebellum United States. In her Awful Disclosures, Maria Monk claimed to have been incarcerated in Montreal’s Hôtel Dieu convent in which she alleged that acts of sexual abuse and infanticide routinely occurred, although her allegations were comprehensively discredited in the years that followed.
It is profoundly ironic that the very same priests and nuns who were vilified by Maria Monk in 1836 for plotting to murder helpless Irish infants became iconic figures and venerated in popular memory a decade later for their salvation of Famine orphans. In fact, this tension between sacred and sacrilegious, or iconic and idolatrous images of women and children was embodied in the figures of the uncloistered nun with the Irish infant, which provided a focal point for the popular memory of Maria Monk as well as the fever sheds. Ultimately, it was only by forgetting the sacrilegious figure of Maria Monk that the sacred memory of the clergy and female religious who cared for Irish emigrants in Montreal’s fever sheds could be preserved and transmitted.