Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Tag: Galway

New Publication: Women and the Great Hunger (Christine Kinealy, Jason King, Ciaran Reilly)



Even considering recent advances in the development of women’s studies as a discipline, women remain underrepresented in the history and historiography of the Great Hunger. The various roles played by women, including as landowners, relief-givers, philanthropists, proselytizers and providers for the family, have received little attention.

This publication examines the diverse and still largely unexplored role of women during the Great Hunger, shedding light on how women experienced and shaped the tragedy that unfolded in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. In addition to more traditional sources, the contributors also draw on folklore and popular culture.

Women and the Great Hunger brings together the work of some of the leading researchers in Irish studies, with new scholarship, methodologies and perspectives. This book takes a major step toward advancing our understanding of the Great Hunger.

Christine Kinealy is Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University. Jason King is Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow, National University of Ireland, Galway and Ciarn Reilly is a Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates, Maynooth University


Introduction. ‘This expertise is hard won’. Women and the Great Hunger in Ireland

Steadfast Women

‘Never call me a novelist’: Cecil Woodham-Smith and the making of the Great Hunger – Christine Kinealy (Quinnipiac University)

Asenath Nicholson and school children in Ireland – Maureen Murphy (Quinnipiac University)

Agency and Action

‘Nearly starved to death’: The female petition during the Great Hunger – Ciaran Reilly (Maynooth University)

The women of county Leitrim respond to the hunger – Gerard McAtasney (Independent Scholar)

‘Meddlers amongst us: women, priests, and authority in Famine-era Ireland’ – Cara Delay (College of Charleston)

‘Nearly naked’: clothing and the Great Hunger in Ireland – Daphne Wolf (Drew University)

Hidden Histories

The Famine Irish, the Grey Nuns, and the fever sheds of Montreal: prostitution and female religious institution building – Jason King (National University of Ireland, Galway)

‘Permanent deadweight’: female pauper emigration from Mountbellew Workhouse to Canada – Gerard Moran (Maynooth University)

The Lore of women: Irish expressive culture in New England after the Great Hunger – Eileen Moore Quinn (College of Charleston)

Publicizing Pain

Keeping hope alive: Jane Elgee and the Great Famine Matthew Skwiat – (Rochester University)

‘Skeletons at the feast’: Lady Wilde’s poetry and 19th century Irish critiques of famine and empire – Amy Martin (Mount Holyoke College)

‘Revolting scenes of famine’: Frances Power Cobbe and the Great Hunger – Maureen O’Connor (University College Cork)


New Directions

Nature and nurture: The Great Famine and epigenetic change in Ireland – Oonagh Walsh (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Amongst strangers: The Sisters of Charity and the New York Famine Irish -Turlough McConnell (Turlough McConnell Communications)

Lady Sligo and her letters: mounting an inaugural exhibition – Sandy Letourneau O’Hare and Robert A. Young, Jr. (Arnold Bernhard Library, Quinnipiac University)

The Earl Grey Irish orphan scheme, 1848 -1850 and the Irish diaspora in Australia – Rebecca Abbott (Quinnipiac University)

Postscript and A woman’s place is on the curriculum – Ruth Riddick (Open Door Counselling)

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

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.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University to open exhibition, ‘Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger,’ on April 1


Hartford Courant article on “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit


Call for Papers Famine migration and diaspora: inaugural meeting of the International Network of Irish Famine Studies (INIFS) Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, 23-24 April 2015

logo nijmegen unief

Inaugural Meeting of International Network of Irish Famine Studies

Call for Papers

Famine migration and diaspora:

inaugural meeting of the

International Network of Irish Famine Studies (INIFS)


Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, 23-24 April 2015


Confirmed keynote speakers:

Piaras MacÉinrí (University College Cork)

Jason King (NUI Galway)

Mark McGowan (University of Toronto)

William Smyth (University College Cork)

Laura Izarra (University of São Paolo)

Marguérite Corporaal (Radboud University Nijmegen)

The Great Irish Famine (1845–52) was one of the most influential periods in the history of Ireland and its diaspora. While emigration had already been a common feature in Irish life before the 1840s, the Famine catalysed the process, causing far greater numbers to leave the island and changing the nature of Irish emigration and Irish communities overseas, while also greatly influencing Irish society at home.

On 23–24 April 2015, Radboud University Nijmegen in collaboration with The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) will host the first meeting of the International Network of Irish Famine Studies (INIFS). This network brings together scholars conducting groundbreaking, ongoing research on the Great Irish Famine. As such, it intends to stimulate the development of interdisciplinary dialogues and methodologies necessary to face future challenges of the field of Irish Famine Studies.

Specifically, this inaugural meeting will have Famine migration and diaspora as its theme, focusing on not just the Irish-North-American diaspora, but also Irish migration across the globe, to Latin America and across the Pacific for example. Moreover, it will investigate both the immediate and long-term effects of Famine migration, and will view these processes of migration, settlement and the establishment of transnational overseas communities through an interdisciplinary and comparative lens.

We welcome scholars doing research in the fields of Famine studies and/or Irish migration and diaspora studies to contribute to the meeting, in the form of a paper. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • The history and historiography of Irish Famine migration;
  • Politics and (trans)nationalism in diaspora;
  • Geographical aspects of Famine migration and diaspora;
  • New methods and methodologies to research Irish migration and diaspora;
  • Cultural memories and identities in diaspora;
  • The process of emigration as seen ‘from back home’;
  • Issues of integration, belonging, exclusion in receiving societies;
  • Literary and artistic representations of the processes of migration and of being in diaspora;

“The Grandfather Canoe”: National University of Ireland Galway returns First Nations Cultural Artefact bequeathed to it by Famine era Landlord.

The Grandfather Canoe

First Nation Canadians offer traditional canoe in thanks

Funding to be raised for replica to mark repatriation of world’s oldest birchbark canoe

When Canada’s oldest birch-bark canoe was discovered hanging from the rafters of a building in Galway none were more surprised than the craft’s original owners, the Maliseet First Nation community of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Two hundred years previously the revered and sacred canoe disappeared from the banks of the St John River. The Maliseet believed it had been stolen and had vanished from their possession for good.

The canoe’s history is complex and extraordinary. The Maliseet call it ‘Akwiten’ or Grandfather Canoe. They understand it to represent the spirits of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They are recognised as the finest canoe-builders in North America and Canada and can trace their presence along this river for over 12,000 years.

In this documentary, Joe Kearney charts the canoe’s 200 year journey from the banks of the St John River to famine ravaged Headford, Co. Galway and back again to Canada. It is a story of the fight for lost identity and heritage in a tug-of-war battle for ownership of the ‘Grandfather’ Canoe.

The Grandfather canoe’ was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee. It was produced by Joe Kearney. Production Supervision by Ciaran Cassidy. Sound Supervision by Mark McGrath.

First Broadcast 23rd August 2014

Irish Times (August 23 2014)

First Nation Canadians offer traditional canoe in thanks

Replica Grandfather Akwiten canoe which the Maliseet community has offered to Galway as a mark of thanks for returning their original.

Funding to be raised for replica to mark repatriation of world’s oldest birchbark canoe

Lorna Siggins

It can take four days to find a suitable tree for the type of birchbark canoe a native American community once built to transport moose and fish.

It might take longer to source one in the moose-free west of Ireland, but members of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) St Mary’s First Nation are determined to do so, if funding can be raised.

The community of just 1,000 people who take their name from the Wolastoq or St John river in New Brunswick, Canada, plan to build a replica to present to Ireland as a mark of thanks for repatriating the world’s oldest surviving birchbark canoe of its type.

“We would like to bring our skills and our music as a type of cultural exchange,” their leader, Chief Candice Paul, said.

It has been over five years since President Michael D Higgins, then Labour’s GalwayWest TD, intervened to back an appeal by Chief Paul for the canoe to be sent home. He recognised its importance as a “spiritual and cultural artefact”.

A mid 19th century account describes how this river “horse” was made of bark, garnished with cedar, coated with fir-tree gum and willow twigs, and how it carried “wives, children, dogs, kettles, hatchets, matachias (trinkets), bows, arrows, quivers, skins and the coverings of their houses”.

‘Home for pigeons’

In an open letter, Chief Paul had explained how the spirits of her community elders were vested in the craft which had then become a “home for pigeons”, hanging from a ceiling of NUIG’s James Mitchell museum.

So how did this particular craft come to be suspended from rafters on the other side of the Atlantic?

The Grandfather Akwiten canoe, as it is known, was one of three built by the Wolastoqiyik – nicknamed “Maliseet” or “slow speakers” – for British lieutenant-governor Sir Howard Douglas, who arrived in New Brunswick in 1824.

It passed into the hands of Lieut Stepney St George, an ancestor of former Fianna Fáilminister Martin Mansergh.

The lieutenant was then serving with the British imperial forces in Canada, and took the craft back home to Headford Castle, Co Galway.

Lieut Stepney St George was an enlightened landlord, and chair of the Headford Relief Commissioners during the Great Famine. He contracted fever and died, and in 1852 the canoe was donated by Edward Lombard Hunt to what was then known as Queen’s University in Galway.

It hung from the roof of the geology museum in the Quadrangle through decades of political turmoil and change, until it was rescued latterly by Dr Kathryn Moore of the university’s earth and ocean sciences department, and sent to Canada for restoration.

Members of the Wolastoqiyik spotted it on CBC News and contacted the Canadian Museum of Civilisation, where it was put on temporary display before return to Ireland. Irish academic Gerry McAlister of the Irish Studies Programme, St Thomas University, and Dr Susan O’Donnell, University of New Brunswick Fredericton supported Chief Paul’s campaign, which was a success.

“In a world ruled by ownership and personal interest, the Irish people have demonstrated their goodwill and respect for our people in the most meaningful and most honourable way possible,” community representatives said in a message relayed through Mr Higgins.

Such knowledge could help to “rebuild the cultural foundations of indigenous people worldwide”, it said, adding that it would focus in the months ahead on the need to establish a permanent home for the craft.

‘Not a nail’ used

That hasn’t happened yet, and the canoe is carefully conserved in a crate until it can be displayed. Before it was packed away by conservation specialists, however, the community measured it and scrutinised its construction, noting that “not a nail” was used.

The Wolastoqiyik also held a ceremony for it on the St John river, which was “very emotional”, according to Joe Kearney who compiled an RTÉ Radio 1 documentary which records some of their music.

“This canoe had been talked about for generations. They believed they had lost it forever, and it was like a lost child coming home,” he says.

The community, including Wayne Brooks and his sons, have begun building replicas to paddle on the river, and a delegation hopes to work with teenagers here on construction of one for the Corrib. “We would like to visit Galway and anywhere else in Ireland that would have us,” Chief Paul says.

An RTÉ Radio 1 documentary, The Grandfather Canoe, will be broadcast this evening as part of the Documentary on One series.