We are going to visit Canada this year. Yes, we will be visiting tourist haunts, do shopping, visit art galleries, etc. But a visit would not be complete if we did not also remember the influx of Irish people into Canada in one of its darkest times.
Although Irish immigration into the USA has traditionally received more attention, many Irish would move to Canada. Both countries were, of course, part of the British Empire until Irish independence. It was therefore much easier for someone in Ireland to move to Canada than it was to emigrate to the USA.
In our last magazine, we wrote about the Jeannie Johnston, a ship that transported people to Canada during the famine. It provided excellent care and is one of the few ships that did not have a single death during its voyages. Unlike many other ships, which caused these ships to be called “coffin ships”.
There were those that perished as a result of shipwrecks. We read a very interesting article on this here.
Most deaths were, however, the result of diseases. The deadly results were often exacerbated because crews would not let the passengers out on the deck, because they were afraid of becoming ill themselves. But of course, after delivering their human cargo into cities like Montreal, these diseases spread among the locals. To protect themselves, the Canadian authorities decided to create a quarantine station, at Grosse Isle, and island in the St. Lawrence river. We intend to visit this island during our visit to Canada.
The quarantining of immigrants would later also happen in the USA, where the Castle Garden Landing Depot, which is located on the island of Manhattan, was replaced by Ellis Island Immigration Station , which was on a separate island of the coast.
Grosse Isle predates this. It actually even predates the Great Famine! This famine has become very notorious and “overshadows” many other calamities. In fact, the quarantine station was created as a result of a major cholera outbreak in 1832. In the famine times of the 1840s, you can add of typhus, ship fever and starvation to the list. The station was however completely inadequate for the enormous numbers arriving as a result of the famine, starting in 1847.
Note: I have borrowed heavily from an article by Michael Quigley, who is a historian for Action Grosse Ile, an Irish Canadian lobby group for the below information.
“The Syria was the first ship to arrive [in 1847]. She sailed from Liverpool on 24 March carrying 241 passengers and anchored at Grosse Ile on 15 May. Six days later, 202 passengers from the Syria were ill. The quarantine hospital on the island, built for 150 patients, could barely accommodate 200, and was already filled to capacity.”
In May 1847, 40 ships with 12,500 starving passengers would lie waiting at Grosse Isle to “offload” their passengers. At that stage between 50 and 60 people would die every day!
A medical commission visited the island in June. There were then 21,000 emigrants at Grosse Ile and the death toll had tripled: 150 people were buried that day. They were very critical of the management of the quarantine station but were unable to offer anything beyond instructions to comply with the regulations — which was of course completely impossible: on 20 July 1847 more than 2,500 fever cases were housed in the island’s hospitals!
After this, however, it appears authorities got to grips with the influx. In September, there were still 14,000 people held in quarantine on board of ships at anchor off Grosse Ile. At the end of October, the Grosse Ile quarantine station closed for the winter.
Because the quarantine station was completely overwhelmed, it did not succeed in its intended aim. Many of the Irish immigrants who were “released” into the cities of Quebec and Montreal would later become sick. In these cities too, fever sheds were built, victims hastily segregated. It did not do much for the immigrants who would still die in their thousands.
And it did not protect their hosts either. Clergymen, Catholic priests, stewards, nurses, orderlies, cooks, policemen, and carters were infected and died. And it was not only them: John Mills, the Mayor of Montreal caught the fever at the sheds and died ad did Toronto’s first Catholic bishop, Michael Power.
In 1909 a fifteen-metre tall Celtic cross was erected on the highest point on the island, built by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
We will come back to the story of Grosse Isle after we have visited it later this year.
About a month ago we attended a workshop at a conference about politics in Ireland one hundred years ago. We believe some of the notes we took are worth sharing.
Before doing that, we want to set some context: one hundred years ago, in 1919, the War of Independence started in Ireland. This was in effect a guerrilla war fought in Ireland from 1919 to 1921 between the Irish Republican Army (IRA, the army of the Irish Republic) and British forces: the British Army, along with the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC, the police force) and its paramilitary forces the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans. Michael Collins is often depicted as the leader on the Irish side, but he did not start out as such and technically never was.
The War of Independence was a culmination of what had started in Easter 1916. Then the Irish Brotherhood via the Irish Volunteers (or at least part of that organisation) and the Irish Citizen Army launched a rising against British rule. Michael Collins did take part in the rising but only in a minor role. The rising was defeated a week later but the harsh British response led to great popular support for the Irish republicans.
As a result, in the December 1918 election, the republican party Sinn Féin won a landslide victory in Ireland and formed on 21st January 1919 a break away parliament (Dáil Éireann) and government and declared Irish independence. Eamon de Valera was its leader.
And now for some of the notes we took.
The parliament was quite different from what we expect from a legislative house. To ensure that not all TD’s (Teachta Dála, or members of parliament) would not be arrested at the same time, when a sitting was called, some got a letter stating “You are invited not to attend”! It only met 21 times in two-and-a-half years, with two gaps of 4 and 8 months respectively. In its entirety its minutes only amounted to 300 pages.
It was however successful in setting up ministerial departments. Arguably the best run of these were the Department of Finance, led by Collins, and that of Local Government which had Cosgrave at its head. The latter department was based in Wicklow Street, in an office masquerading as an Insurance company. Before leaving, Cosgrave would put on a disguise, as he was a wanted man. This did not fool everyone however, and one day, leaving his office, he was greeted by a beggar with the words “Please spare me a copper, Mr. Cosgrave.”
Not all were able to evade the British forces. By accident De Valera, the leader of the Irish government, was picked up in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin. The local police must have been disgusted to get an order from British Prime Minster Lloyd George to release their catch! This was because at that stage, Lloyd George had realised he could not win the war and he needed someone to negotiate with.
The War of Independence was fought by the Irish Army. However, it always adhered to the civilian government, as least in theory. The negotiations also took place between the civilian governments of the United Kingdom and that of what would later become the Republic or Ireland. The veneer was kept intact that a civilian democratic government was in charge. This was important for Ireland’s future development. The country easily could have gone autocratic a number of times in its history. Thankfully the seeds of democracy were sown and Ireland has always been a democracy.
Back to the negotiations however: De Valera was still the leader of the government. Rather than leading the delegation himself however, he requested Collins to lead the negotiations.
Collins had become notorious. The British press had created an image of Collins as a most dangerous man, responsible for most violence in country. Collins was a mystery for a lot of papers. Once a paper even thought he did not exist. Others described him as the most wanted person in world, thought he had dozens of doubles and was even called the Moriarty of the IRB. A US reporter wrote he did not find a man, but a god. There were stories of Collins dressed as a monk or woman, some even saying Collins kept trinkets of his murders. He was called a bloodthirsty chief, mysterious Mike.
When negotiations started officials on the British side were disappointed. Descriptions from them at the time said he had the demeanor of a civil servant, that he was uneducated, stupid, ordinary. Although all agreed he was a good military leader.
In fact it is not even certain Collins ever killed anyone, or even fired a gun. He was a manager, an organiser. One of his biggest accomplishments was the ensure money would come in and was managed properly. He did create his murder squad (called Collins squad, or the 12 apostles), but was not in control of most of the violence in the country. He was however very accomplished in PR – using outrages about the violence committed by the British forces to his advantage, and he is thought to have stopped a plan to kill the British government because it might lead to adverse opinion. And he probably fanned the imagination of the British papers, leading to the above descriptions. However, violence was for Collins functional and not an aim. Despite photos of Collins in an army uniform are the best known, he only wore one in the last 6 weeks of his life. And again the reason was more political than military: he was trying to convince the army to support the treaty he had negotiated with the British. The treaty that would lead to Irish autonomy and as Collins predicted, would form a stepping stone to Irish independence. Unfortunately he had to fight a Civil War first against the opponents of the treaty, which would lead to his killing in 1922.
The Kilmacud Stillorgan Historical Society has been publishing its annual journal, Obelisk, for 13 years. Since 2016 – for 4 years now – Genealogy.ie’s Michael van Turnhout has been contributing an article to it.
These articles are about local history, rather than family history. However, we believe local history is important to get a better understanding of the society your ancestors lived in. In this case, it gives you a picture of what kind of school your mid-nineteenth Irish ancestor would have gone to.
St. Mary’s National School, Sandyford, Dublin, Ireland
On our page dedicated to the growing list of articles that we have contributed to magazines and journals – including the respected Irish Family History Journal of the Irish Family History Society and North American Magazine Your Genealogy Today you will be able to download our article and follow a link to the Society’s website, if you are interested in purchasing a copy of the journal.
You can visit this page by following this link:
“The floor of the repository is piled 10 to 20 feet high with twisted ironwork and debris and entry is impossible . . . In the vaults were deed boxes on iron racks. The racks were evidently softened by the great heat, and the weight of the boxes has bent them and drawn them forward; the lids of the boxes have fallen in, and the contents have been reduced in every case to a little white ash.”
This was a contemporary description of what as left of the Four Courts records after the shelling in 1922 by the Free State troops to end the occupation by the anti-treaty forces.
The Four Courts were the main repository of all public records in those days. The fire caused by the fighting meant a lot of records were lost forever:
However, there is also plenty that survived:
It does mean however that it is just that little more difficult to find your Irish ancestors. But not impossible. You will have to know however where to look and there are also alternative resources. Ever thought about checking the dog licence register?
You should start by looking through the resources that still survive. You can find advice on how to go about this on our website:
And if you do hit the famous brick wall, please feel free to Contact Us
The Irish Family History Society, established in 1984, is based in Ireland and has a worldwide membership. The Society is for those who are looking to trace their Irish roots. The IFHS is a voluntary, non profit making organisation. One of our objectives is to help members to do their own research through information and advice. You can visit their website here.
The IFHS is a constituent member of the Federation of Local History Societies and an associate member of the Federation of Family History Societies.
Every year the Society brings out a journal, full of informative articles. This year, in Volume 33, our own Jillian van Turnhout was asked to contribute an article. The title of the article – which has pride of place as the very first article – is:
John Fenton Hudson, 1932 Captain Royal Dublin Golf Club, The “Missing Photo” Challenge
In it, Jillian outlines the research she did on behalf of the Golf club to find a photograph of this previous Captain. All past Captains were remembered with a photo in a gallery at the club. However, John Fenton Hudson’s was missing. As he had been a life long bachelor, so there were no descendants to ask. After extensive investigations, Jillian was successful in finding a picture, which is now proudly hanging in the Captain’s gallery. You can read her entry here: “Missing Photo” Challenge
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On 12th October 2018, Jillian van Turnhout was awarded with the honorary fellowship of the Faculty of Paediatrics, the highest honour the faculty bestows.
It is conferred on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the practice of paediatrics and also to individuals who have made significant contributions to improve the lives of children.
Dr Ellen Crushell, dean of the Faculty of Paediatrics, paid tribute to the new honorary fellows: “We are delighted to confer Honorary fellowship to four deserving candidates in recognition of their activities, advocacy and work for the benefit of children in our society.”
Jillian is joined by Joe Schmidt, a New Zealand-born rugby union coach – currently the head coach of Ireland, paediatric ophthalmologist, Professor Michael O’Keeffe and paediatric oncologist, Professor Sir Alan Craft.
Jillian van Turnhout commented upon receiving the award:
“I am chuffed to receive the tribute of an Honorary Fellowship by the Faculty of Paediatrics of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. It is “in recognition of your significant contribution to children’s health and wellbeing, through advocacy and in particular your work in the area of promoting children’s rights nationally and internationally.” It was a great honour to receive this award along side Dr Michael O’ Keeffe, Joe Schmidt, and Prof Sir Alan Craft.”
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Between 1808 and 1811 a fort was built to help protect New York against invasion. This was not an idle threat, as in 1812 a war broke out between England and the USA, with the former trying to regain possession of its former colonies.
The fort did not however see any action during this war, or at any time after.
The original name of the fort was “West Battery”. In 1815 however, it was decided to rename it “Castle Clinton”, after a popular New York mayor (and not the last politician of that name to rise to high office).
In 1821 the United States Army decided it no longer needed it. The city of New York leased the property and used it as a place of public entertainment, under the new name of Castle Garden. Officially however, the name is still Castle Clinton.
An ever increasing number of immigrants started to arrive in New York, mostly landing at the docks on the East side of the tip of Manhattan, around South Street.
To cope with this influx, the castle was converted in 1855 to an “Emigrant Landing Depot”. It would fulfill this function until in 1890 the federal government took over and moved the center to the larger and more isolated Ellis Island.
The latter because immigrants were known to carry diseases, which led to epidemics of cholera and smallpox.
When it closed, more than 8 million people had arrived in the United States from via Castle Garden.
We in Ireland are looking forward to next weekend, when we celebrate St. Patrick. Patrick is Ireland’s most famous saint. He lived from ca. 385 to ca. 465 AD. He was born in Roman Britain, apparently in a well-to-do family. This did not protect him from being kidnapped by Irish marauders who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He managed to escape and return to his homeland, where he became a priest. It was in this role he returned to Ireland, this time to convert the then still pagan Irish to Christianity.
Nowadays, his day – 17 March – is a huge celebration across the world.
Every year our “an taoiseach” (Irish Prime Minister) gets to visit the White House in Washington to offer the sitting President of the USA a bowl of shamrock.
The parade in New York City, this year under Grand Marshal Loretta Brennan Glucksman,is one of the biggest parades on New York’s calendar. It has been going since 1762 (although initially it was a gathering and not a parade).
And of course people drink and eat green food, fountains spout green water and landmarks “go green”. Last year a record 278 iconic landmarks and sites in 44 countries were turning green for St Patrick’s Day – the biggest number to date.
In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day has been turned into a 5-day festival. This year it takes place from 15-19 March. You can read all about it here: St. Patrick’s Festival Dublin 2018
It is also a busy time for genealogists, as many Americans, Canadian, Australians, etc. want to learn more about their Irish roots. If you have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is interested in his or her Irish ancestry, can you imagine how happy they would be to get professional help?
Here at Genealogy.ie we sell vouchers in USD, EUR and GBP and in various amounts. You can order them by clicking on the picture below.
Genealogy.ie has just been published for the second time in “Your Genealogy Today“, a leading genealogical magazine in North America.
“Your Genealogy Today” is a resource guide to successful genealogical research. Whether you are a beginner, or an experienced genealogist, each issue provides you with proven techniques and sources for discovering your ancestors. With regular columns on: “Genealogy Tourism”, “DNA & Your Genealogy”, and “Advice from the Pros”. In each case, the columns will be authored on a rotational basis by contributors who are experts in their respective fields. It is published six times a year.
It can be bought in Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million in the USA and Chapters book stores in Canada.
Our article in the January/February issue is about “Avoiding Common Mistakes”. It gives advice on how to prevent research errors by using the guidelines of the Genealogical Proof Standard, that we in Genealogy.ie rigorously adhere to.
This article joins a growing collection of contributions that Genealogy.ie is making to various magazines in North America and Ireland. You can read about the periodicals and download our articles from our website, by clicking the button below. (Note: our latest article is not available for download yet as it is only just published).
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