Grosse Ile: A Spiritual Journey
- IAUC Chapter Report
On a hot and muggy August morning, nine Floridians flew ITom Miami to Quebec to join in the commemorative activities on the 150th anniversary of Black '47 and the Summer of Sorrows. Action Grosse lIe and the AOH under the co-chairmanship of Jim Gallagher had organized this weekend to mark when the St. Lawrence River was clogged with 441 coffin ships and their destitute ballast of famine Irish. Grosse lIe, the quarantine island in the St. Lawrence with few medical staff and little accommodations, was inundated by the mass of humanity that lay at anchor.
Michael Quigley of Action Grosse lIe had been a speaker at our Florida famine forum in 1995 and related to us, for the first time, the horror of that summer which left me with a profound desire to walk on this hallowed island - the most sacred site of mass famine graves outside of Ireland, as President Mary Robinson described it in her speech on Grosse lIe in 1995. Quebec is a beautiful walled city built by the French and English at the point of the St. Lawrence with parks, side-walk cafes, out-door markets, and European ambiance.
Saturday morning loomed gray and wet as we boarded one of the two ferries down by the waternont. As we disembarked ITom the ferry we remarked how similar the coastline was to the rugged Kerry or Connemaracoast - it must have given hope' to our famine Irish as they waited in their typhus-ridden coffin ship. A few years previous, we had journeyed to Monserrat in the Caribbean on a similar research mission, and that island, on approach, was similar to the coastline of Kerry - a postscript to a nightmare.
An ecumenical service for Repose of the Souls was concelebrated by Msgr. Andre Gaumond, Catholic Archbishop and Rev. Bruce Stavert, Episcopalian Bishop of Queb~c. We were then given a guided tour of the main sites: The Fever Hospital (Lazaretto) the last remaining building ITom 1847 and one of the scores of hospital sheds prefabricated in Quebec and hastily erected in 1847, and the Irish Monument - a 46 ft. high granite Celtic Cross erected by the AOH in 1909.
Doctor Marianne O'Gallagher author of Grosse lIe:Gateway to Canada and granddaughter of Jeremiah Gallagher, designer of the Celtic Cross, was the speaker and told the poignant story of the orphans who roamed the island after their parents had died. Volunteer clergy returned to the parishes along the St. Lawrence River seeking parents, and generous French Canadians adopted the orphans and allowed them to retain their Irish names.
We visited the Doctor's Monument site erected by Dr. George Douglas to pay tribute to the doctors who sacrificed their lives at Grosse Ile.
Famine Diary By Marie Tierney Smith
I wish to thank both Emerald societies, law enforcement and cultural, for inviting me to speak on the effects of the Great “faux” Irish Famine (1845-50) at their monthly meeting. I use the word “faux” to illustrate that there was no shortage of food in Ireland during the five year period of emigration and starvation; bumper crops were exported on a daily basis, and Britain’s response to the starving Irish, trying to get food at the ports, was to send mere troops in to protect the shipments.
In 1995 at the opening of the five-year commemoration of the Great Irish Hunger, and heeding a call to action by then Irish President, Mary Robinson, we set a course to educate our local community by offering talks and exhibits at our local libraries in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, arranging famine forums with guest speakers and researchers. For the first time, in one hundred and fifty years, light was shed on the conspiracy of silence surrounding the genocide of the Irish people, and blame was laid at the doorstep of the British Establishment in power at that time, which with callous indifference almost brought the Irish nation to extinction. In 1997 British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave his (this) apology.
At present in America, close to 44 million claim Irish ancestry; 70 million worldwide. To understand the circumstances surrounding this mass exodus of our ancestors from Ireland, we must look back in history. Many of our ancestors, because of the shame surrounding the exodus – seeing their communities, family and friends die of “pure hunger”, and believing the propaganda at the time, that they, as victims, were the cause of their own “killing fields”, closed the door on the memory. It was necessary in order to survive in their new country, to assimilate and forget. We, as Irish Americans, carrying the DNA of our famine people, bone of their bones, must, as a memorial to their life and sacrifice, remember and educate future generations.
As we close our five-year commemoration of the Great Irish Hunger, we invite all Irish Americans in our community to attend a day of famine commemoration and celebration on Saturday, September 30, 2000, in Boca Raton. A famine mass will be officiated by Bishop Anthony O’Connell. Prior to the mass a forum will be held, and after the mass a Famine Wake Concert featuring Mick Moloney & Friends will be held, more details next issue… We invite all Emeralds to participate.
Recently our Commissioner of Education, Tom Gallagher, committed to purchase 32 copies of the famine & video to be taught in the social studies program in the State of Florida. It is our hope that the proceeds of this September 30 event will start-up a yearly scholarship award when a Florida high school student after submitting his/her paper on the Irish famine, or related history event, will be selected to study for a time in Ireland. The scholarship will be offered to all high school students in the State of Florida, which should augment the famine curriculum package that has been distributed to the social studies supervisors within the State.
Commencing with your next issue, I will write extensively on the Irish famine under the above heading, giving the causes and consequences, and first hand accounts from the various villages during that period. Go raibh maith agat arise (thanks, again). firstname.lastname@example.org.
Famine Diary, Part 2
Now let us examine why, at the time of the famine in 1845, the ownership of the land of Ireland, by the Irish, stood at 5%, and while millions of rural Irish, living in the southwest and northwest of the island, were subsisting only on the lowly lumper potato. Most revisionist historians and the media commence the story of the Great Irish Hunger with the coming of the potato blight. Charles Trevelyan, the Dracula of the famine period, blamed the deaths on the laziness of the Irish character, John Mitchell on the British, and the victims on themselves.
When Ireland was conquered in 1169 by the Normans under Henry II, two distinct personalities, the direct opposite of each other went down the path of confrontation. The Celts on the island of Ireland had evolved as a creative, spiritual, and intellectual people. After their defeat and dispersal by the Romans in Europe they had settled in Ireland in isolation, to bring to fruition, during the First Golden Age, all of their ancient learning and laws. During the great monastic period, Ireland was known as the Island of Saints & Scholars – a beacon of light in a sea of darkness following the fall of the Roman Empire. The Romans had conquered England inn 55 BC and with their arrival brought with them Germanic soldiers Anglos and Saxons. When the Roman armies withdrew to Europe their Germanic armies remained behind, and as Britain collapsed into tribal warfare, after the Roman departure, Norse kings, in order to secure their territories, brought over from Europe, Germanic mercenaries. All of this is the basis of the word defining British roots – Anglo-Saxons.