Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Tag: Famine

Pilgrimage to Grosse Ile with the Ancient Order of Hibernians August 2015.

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.

AOH Grosse Ile 18

AOH Grosse Ile 2

AOH Grosse Ile 1

Montreal AOH President Victor Boyle and Donovan King

AOH Grosse Ile 4

AOH Grosse Ile 5

AOH Grosse Ile 7

AOH Grosse Ile 8

AOH Grosse Ile 11

AOH Grosse Ile 10

AOH Grosse Ile 9

AOH Grosse Ile 13 AOH Grosse Ile 17

AOH Grosse Ile 15

AOH Grosse Ile 14

AOH Grosse Ile 16

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.”


2015 Newry Famine Commemoration Programme of Event

The Programme of Events for the 2015 National Famine Commemoration in Newry (September) can be found here:

Click to access annual_famine_commemoration_booklet.pdf

Newry Famine Commemoration Programme Booklet cover

Unveiling of Father Patrick Dowd Memorial

Father Patrick Dowd Memorial

Father Patrick Dowd Memorial, Listulk, Dunleer. Unveiled June 21st , 2015.

Father Dowd Memorial story

Also see:

NUI Galway launches digital Irish famine archive

From UTV Ireland:

NUI Galway launches digital Irish famine archive

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.

theophile-hamel-le-typhus 2

Theophile Hamel’s painting Le Typhus (1848) of Irish emigrants in a fever shed, which features prominently in the digital archive.

 Story by Marése O’Sullivan @Marese_UTV, Dublin

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

Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers pays tribute to Grey Nuns of Montreal and Canadian Famine Irish at launch of Digital Irish Famine Archive

Digital Irish Famine Archive Launch 2

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 (

Grey Nuns at “Women and the Great Hunger in Ireland” Conference, Quinnpiac University, June 5, 2015

Grey Nuns at Quinnipiac

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:

Grey Nuns exhibit setup 2


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.

Grey Nuns launch 3

Hotel Dieu convent

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.

Maria Monk with child

Nuns rescuing orphans in fever sheds of Montreal

Irish America: The Grey Nuns at Quinnipiac

From Irish America:

The Grey Nuns at Quinnipiac


Sarah Churchill, Assistant to Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute examines a photo of a Grey Nuns. Images by Johnathon Henninger.

By Matthew Skwiat, Contributing Editor
June / July 2015

Anew exhibit on the Grey Nuns hosted by Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University opened April 1. A private event launching the exhibit took place on March 31 with the Canadian Consul General, Quebec Delegate to New England, and the Irish Consul General of New York all in attendance.

The long overdue exhibit shines a light on the untold number of English and French Canadians who provided charity and support for the thousands of immigrants who fled Ireland during the Famine. Foremost among them were the Sisters of Charity, who were more commonly referred to as the Grey Nuns. Theirs is a story of compassion and resolve during a time of great suffering and one which has been largely overlooked.

Quinnipiac launch 4

Barbara Jones, left, Consul General of Ireland, Marie-Claude Francoeur, Quebec Delegate to New England,Christine Kinealy, John F. Prato, Consul General of Canada, and Jason King toured the exhibit “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” on display at the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel campus of Quinnipiac University. The exhibit opened to the public April 1, 2015. (Photograph by Johnathon Henninger / for Quinnipiac University)

The exhibition, “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger,” was a joint collaboration between Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute and professor of history, and Jason King, Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at Moore Institute at Galway University, and the Arnold Bernhard Library. Kinealy said of the exhibit, “The story of the Grey Nuns, and of the other religious orders who helped the dying Irish immigrants, is one of kindness, compassion and true charity” adding “this is a remarkable story that deserves to be better known.” ♦


The exhibition runs through March 18, 2016.

The Famine Irish migration from Newry to Canada in 1849: Documentaries about the Hannah


There was a substantial famine migration from Newry to British North America in 1849, symbolized by the ill fated voyage of the Hannah which was shipwrecked on an iceberg, though many of its passengers were miraculously rescued.  The voyage of the Hannah has been reconstructed in two closely related Northern Irish and Canadian documentaries: 1) Ice Emigrants, and 2) Famine and Shipwreck: An Irish Odyssey.

1) Title: Ice Emigrants

Independent Production: Hardy Pictures (Northern Ireland)

Narrated by John Lynch, Ice Emigrants is a co-production with Canada’s Galafilms.  Canadian title: Famine and Shipwreck, an Irish Odyssey.

Time/Date: BBC 1 NI 21st February 2011.

In 1849 a famine-ravaged Armagh community made a choice – to stay and die of starvation – or spend all they had sailing for Canada in search of a better life.

Those who sailed across the Atlantic endured scarcely imaginable hardship – none more terrifying than the iceberg which sank their ship in the Gulf of St Lawrence. A century and a half later, on an extraordinary and emotional journey, a young family from Armagh retrace their ancestors’ steps and piece together a moving and inspiring story of emigration and survival.

Production Company/Key crew:

Director: Andrea McCartney, Brian McKenna

Producer:  Andrea McCartney

The program received accolades on Irish diaspora websites such as  In fact, the documentary was first inspired by a posting on this website.

This documentary specializes in the genre of family history and is quite absorbing in merging a genealogical storyline of a County Armagh family tracing its routes with a historical reconstruction of the tragic journey of the brig Hannah which broke up on the pack ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1849, from where many were miraculously rescued.

2) Title: Famine and Shipwreck, an Irish Odyssey.

Independent Production: Galafilm Productions

Famine and Shipwreck, an Irish Odyssey is a coproduction with Northern Ireland’s Hardy Film’s documentary Ice Emigrants.  It reconstructs the famine voyage of the brig Hannah from the perspective of different descendants of its original passengers than in Ice Emigrants with more emphasis on the Canadian story.  It is an entirely separate production.

Time/Date: Broadcast on CBC March 17 2011.

Famine and Shipwreck, an Irish Odyssey was shot in Ireland, Quebec, Ontario and off the coast of Prince Edward Island, in 2010.  It never would have been possible without the incredible efforts of Paddy Murphy from Ontario, who traced his genealogy back to his Irish roots in South Armagh, Ireland.

Famine and Shipwreck, an Irish Odyssey is [an independent company] Galafilm production, produced in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio-Canada, with the financial participation of the Canadian Media Fund, the Quebec tax credit and the Federal tax credit, and developed with the financial participation of the SODEC.

Production Company/Key crew:

Director: Brian McKenna

Producer: Nathalie Dubois

This documentary was critically acclaimed and extensively promoted on a variety of Irish-Canadian academic and cultural listservs and web sites including that of the Ireland Canada University Foundation (  It is a fast paced documentary that makes effective use of CGI an animation for the purposes of historical reconstruction interspersed with on location scenes in rural Ireland and on ice flows in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It can be viewed (only in Canada) at the following link:

Famine and Shipwreck: An Irish Odyssey

Quinnipiac – the Grey Nuns of Montreal, and Irish Famine Research

Quinnipiac – and Irish Famine Research

A FEATURE by Christine Kinealy


Nestled under the beautiful Sleeping Giant Mountain, and adjoining the more famous town of New Haven, the town of Hamden in Connecticut, home to Quinnipiac University, might seem like an unlikely location to become a centre of Irish Studies within the United States.   However, Quinnipiac University is fast gaining a reputation as a hub for the study and appreciation of one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern European history – the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1852.

The Irish Famine – more usually referred to in North America as the Great Hunger (or An Gorta Mór) – was triggered by repeated failures of the potato crop in Ireland. Potatoes, although not native to Ireland, were by the mid-nineteenth century providing a subsistence diet to approximately 40 per cent of the population. Since 1801, Ireland had been governed from London and the British parliament was responsible for introducing legislation to deal with the crisis. Most of the relief measures, however, proved to be inappropriate and inadequate to meet the needs of the Irish poor. Moreover, insufficient regulation in regard to evictions and emigration further exacerbated the sufferings of the people.

Within the space of only six years, Ireland lost one-quarter of her population. Uniquely though, the country did not recover from this demographic shock, and by 1901 (a census year) the population had dropped to just over four million people. Mass emigration, both during the Famine and in the decades that followed, created large Irish communities overseas, from Sydney to San Francisco. For the descendants of these emigrants, the tragedy of the Famine, and the exile that resulted from it, became part of their founding narrative.

Regardless of the significance of the Famine both for those who remained in Ireland and for those who became part of the diaspora, until recently there were few memorials to commemorate this tragedy and only a small number of scholarly books had been written on this topic. The sesquicentenary commemorations in 1995 awakened both academic and popular interest in the Great Famine.   In the subsequent 20 years, there has been an outpouring of publications and a desire to create permanent memorials in many parts of the world. Furthermore, the interest has not been confined to Irish communities. In 2014, France introduced the Irish Famine as a topic to be studied for the prestigious agrégation exam.

Quinnipiac’s interest in the Famine originated with their President, John Lahey. In 1997, he was Grand Marshal of the New York St Patrick’s Day Parade. To honour the memory of those who had died in Ireland 150 years earlier, he made Great Hunger the theme of that year’s parade and called for one minute’s silence. The late Murray Lender, a Quinnipiac University alumnus and vice chairman of its Board of Trustees, was moved by what he observed and heard from President Lahey, and wanted to give his support in educating people about the causes and consequences of the Famine.   Murray and his brother, Marvin, provided the financial support that led to the creation of the Lender Family Special Collection Room in the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel campus. This small, beautiful room, which is shaped like a ship’s hold, was officially opened in 2000. Remarkably, the Lender brothers had no direct connection with Ireland.

Today, the Lender Family Special Collection is probably the largest collection in the world of published material relating to the Irish Famine. It consists of both primary and secondary sources, even including a set of nineteenth century British Parliamentary Papers. The collection is available for scholarly research, but the resources may be used only on the Library premises.

The collection also initially included artwork and sculptures relating to the Great Famine, but, as more art was acquired, it was decided to create a dedicated museum for this unique resource. Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum was opened in September 2012, in a specially-dedicated building situated about one mile from the Mount Carmel campus. It is now home to the world’s largest collection of visual art relating to the Famine. Works by noted contemporary Irish artists are featured, as well as a number of important 19th and 20th-century paintings.

In September 2013, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute was established, to provide a scholarly underpinning to the work already taking place at Quinnipiac University. Additionally, part of its mission is to promote further research on the Great Famine, and to place the tragedy in its wider historical context.

In its relatively brief existence, the Great Hunger Institute has introduced an Irish Studies Minor to the undergraduate programme at Quinnipiac University. It has also established a rich schedule of cultural and historical events that are open both the university community and to the public. In April 2014, the Lady Sligo Exhibition was opened in the Lender Room of the Arnold Bernhard Library. It was based on the University’s collection of over 200 letters, written between the 1820s and 1870s, that were written by the Sligo family. Many were penned by Hester Catherine Browne – Lady Sligo – who had been born in County Galway in 1800, but at the age of 16 married the second Marquis of Sligo, owner of Westport House in County Mayo.   Some of the letters were written just as the Famine was appearing in Ireland. The letters demonstrate her concern and compassion for the welfare of the local poor. They also reveal the agency of a woman in nineteenth century Ireland. Without the survival of these letters, Lady Sligo would have been invisible from the historical record. The Exhibition closed on 22 March 2015, but the good news is that it is moving to Ireland – to Westport House, where it will form a permanent exhibition. So, fittingly, Lady Sligo is going home.

Lady Sligo's touching letter to a prospective migrant

A new exhibition, which tells the remarkable story of the religious orders in Montreal who selflessly came to the assistance of immigrants fleeing from the Famine who were sick with fever, opened at Quinnipiac University on 1 April 2015. It is entitled ‘Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger’ (Sauver les Irlandais de la famine: les Sœurs Grises et la Grande Famine). A centre-piece of the new exhibition is a beautiful painting by Theophile Hamel, entitled Le Typhus, which was commissioned by the Bishop of Montreal in 1848, to give thanks for all of the lives that were saved. It is possibly the first painting in the world dedicated to commemorating the Famine. The records kept by the Grey Nuns throughout these years, which were written in French, have been loaned to the exhibition by the Grey Nun Archive, and will be on display.

An unusual feature of both exhibitions, and one that has particularly intrigued the students, is a replica of a bonnet that would have been worn by a young woman who was part of the Earl Grey Orphan Emigration Scheme, introduced in 1848.   This unusual project sought to both correct the gender imbalance in Australia (where there were approximately eight men to every one woman) while relieving Irish workhouses of the burden of long-term inmates. Approximately 4,000 Irish girls arrived in Australia as a consequence of this scheme. Their presence changed the course of Australian history.

In early June 2015, the Institute will be hosting an international conference on the theme of ‘Women and the Great Hunger. A comparative approach’. It will be held at the York Hill campus, and will feature three keynote speakers: Dr Ciarán Reilly of Maynooth University, Dr Jason King of Galway University, and Professor Oonagh Walsh of Glasgow Caledonian University. The conference is open to the public (although there is a registration fee) and will include a visit to the Grey Nuns’ Exhibition, the Great Hunger Museum, and to New Haven. A conference proceedings will also be published.

One of the most exciting projects that the Institute is involved in is the production of a Graphic Novel (and if you are not sure what this is, ask anybody under the age of 25). Graphic novels are increasing used in teaching young adults and even undergraduates, the most famous example being Maus, which tells the story of the Holocaust through images and words. The forthcoming graphic novel is called ‘The Bad Times’ (An Droch –Shaol) and is based on the lives of three teenagers from County Clare. It is set between 1846 and 1849 and will be available in autumn 2015. The text has been written by Christine Kinealy and the artwork by Boston-based artist, John Walsh. It is hope that ‘The Bad Times’ will bring the story of the Great Hunger to a younger audience.

Quinnipiac is a relative newcomer in the world of Irish Studies, but the unique combination of Great Hunger Institute, the Great Hunger Museum, and the Great Hunger Collection, has created a wonderful resource for scholars and for anybody who has an interest in Irish history and culture. Visitors are always very welcome and the Institute would be delighted to hear of ideas for collaborations and partnerships.

More information about the work of the Great Hunger Institute…

Professor Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, is author of Charity and the Great Hunger. The Kindness of Strangers (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation at St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2015

From Donovan King:


The Mayor Denis Coderre giving the thumbs up when I yelled “Support the Black Rock!”

Montreal St. Patricks Day Parade 2015 Mayor Denis Coderre

Montreal Ireland Memorial Park Foundation St Patricks Day Parade 2015 2

Black Stone Stage Prop

Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation