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.
In ‘The Irish in America’, quoted in the archive, John Francis Maguire wrote of Robert Walsh: “For two weeks the boy never uttered a word, never smiled, never appeared conscious of the presence of those around him, or of the attention lavished on him by his generous protectors, who had almost come to believe that they had adopted a little mute, or that he had momentarily lost the power of speech through fright or starvation.”
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.”
Kevin Vickers, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland
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.”
President Michael D. Higgins
The archive can be seen at http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/