EXPLORE: The Irish Arrival at Passamaquoddy Bay >

The Great Famine of Ireland of the 1840s saw a significant number of people flee from the island to all over the world. Robert E. Kennedy explains however that this common argument of the mass emigration from Ireland being a “flight from famine” is not entirely correct. Emigration had not only been starting at the beginning of the 19th century, but with this theory it would mean that once conditions were better emigration would have slowed down. After the famine was over the four following years produced more emigrants than during the four years of the blight. Kennedy argues that the famine was considered the final straw to convince people to move and that there were several other factors in the decision making.

Irish people were facing discrimination in the United Kingdom based on their religion, increasing rents and evictions. Evictions only increased after the repeal of the British Corn Laws in 1846 and the new Encumbered Estates Act being passed in 1849 as well as the removal of existing civil rights. There had been agrarian terrorism against landlords which these new laws were to help crush. Any hope for change was squashed with the death of the political leader championing for Ireland, Daniel O’Connell in 1847 and the failed rising of the Young Irelanders in 1848. It was increasingly easier to immigrate to America straight from Ireland and with the 1848 discovery of gold in California there was an alluring factor to leave

The 2006 census by Statcan, Canada’s Official Statistical office revealed that the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group with 4,354,155 Canadians with full or partial Irish descent or 14% of the nation’s total population. This may understate the Irish contribution to Canada’s population, as those responding “Canadian” in census surveys are thought to be largely of British or Irish descent. (Source Unknown)

Irish Along Fundy Shores

Saint John, New Brunswick, claims the distinction of being Canada’s most Irish city, according to census records. There have been Irish settlers in New Brunswick since at least the late 18th century, but during the peak of the Great Irish Famine (1845–1847), thousands of Irish emigrated through Partridge Island in the port of Saint John. Most of these Irish were Catholic, who changed the complexion of the Loyalist city. Others landed along the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay.

Standing tall, overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay, is a tribute to the many unfortunate souls buried on Hospital Island. This quarantine station housed hundreds of sick and destitute Irish immigrants between its inception in 1832 and its abandonment approximately 30 years later. The ten-foot Celtic Cross points to this tiny island from Indian Point in the town of St. Andrews.

The cross features a ship representing the disease-ridden, overcrowded vessels that brought ten thousand Irish immigrants through this port of entry to New Brunswick and beyond. It features a fiddle reflecting the Irish musical spirit that survived adversity, and a shamrock, the symbol of faith, love of homeland and hope for a better life in the new world.

The inscription on the cross reads: “In memory of those men, women and children who died of hunger and disease while fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, and lie buried on Hospital Island. Lovingly remembered by their descendants who persevered and helped build this great nation.”

The cross was erected through the efforts of the Charlotte County Chapter of the Irish Canadian Cultural Association of New Brunswick under the leadership of long-time president, Joan Mahoney Jones. Built by Smet Monuments of St. Stephen, the official unveiling took place May 28th, 1995.

This was a significant date in the history of Hospital Island, the anniversary of the arrival of the infamous ship, Star, carrying 383 destitute men, women and children from the Wicklow estates of Earl Fitzwilliam. This 1847 “clearance” added scores to the existing burials on the island, many of them children.

Among those attending the ecumenical dedication ceremony was Katherine Baldwin of St. George, a direct descendant of a Hospital Island survivor. Mrs. Baldwin’s grandmother, Bridget Wellesley Weir, was born in Ireland in 1846, and as an infant came to St. Andrews. Her parents and siblings contracted the fever, and all died either at sea or on Hospital Island. The Catholic priest in St. Andrews took responsibility for the upbringing of this orphaned child. Bridget married Joseph Murray, and one of their sons, Lawrence, born in 1872, was Mrs. Baldwin’s father. Katherine Baldwin’s presence made the unveiling ceremony particularly poignant for the large crowd gathered around the green, white and orange draped monument.

Along with Joan Mahoney Jones, others taking part in the ceremony were Sheila Caughey Washburn, Ann McKinley Breault and Faye McMullon. In attendance were Mayor Nancy Aiken of St. Andrews, Mayor Allan Gillmor of St. Stephen, the Rev. Robert Murray of Greenock Presbyterian Church, Rev. John Matheson of All Saints Anglican Church, and Father Peter Bagley, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.

 Many of these folks survived harsh conditions at sea and arrived at various places along the coast of the northeast, including Bay of Fundy ports like St. Andrews and Saint John. This Celtic cross looks out across Passamaquoddy Bay to the quarantine islands where many lost their lives but where many more began a new life here in the Bay of Fundy … lives that contributed significantly at all levels of the community. ) From NewIrelandNB.ca)

This cross stands as a memorial to these ancestors of today’s Canadians at St. Andrews, NB.


New Ireland NB Website

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Ruby M. Cusak, Genealogical resources and books of New Brunswick, Canada

Saint John NB, The Irish Story

The Irish Canada Story

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