Saturday, 17 March 2012

An Irish Tragedy At Grosse Ile

While I'm as happy as the next person to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with all the trimmings of Irish song, mirth and folklore, I am a firm believer in remembering the history of so many who fled certain death if they did not emigrate to the Americas.  The suffering of one people is our caution to ensure it does not happen to other peoples.

My daughter sent me a pic of a vintage sign hanging in a NY bar. ~

As one million Irish died of starvation during the Great Potato Famine of the 1800's, another one million chose emigration to the Americas.  They were weak from malnutrition and brought an epidemic of Cholera and Typhus with them.  The African Slave Trade had ended and the holds of those same ships were now overcrowded with desperate Irish immigrants. There was no potable water, little food and no sanitation facilities. Thousands did not survive the voyage.  

The Canadian quarantine station was build on a small island, just 1 Kilometre by 3 Kilometres, in the St. Lawrence River, near Quebec City.  In 1847 the flood of immigrants had reached a peak that overwhelmed the rudimentary facilities of the island and it's staff. Overcrowded death ships piled up in the river as the fever sheds on shore were jammed with the sick and dying.  Those who survived the passage of as many as 60 days at sea, were trapped on board with more contagious sick.  

By the end of that terrible year, over 6,000 Irish souls were laid to rest on Grosse Ile. These mounds are mass graves. ~

Today, the Island is a National Park with a monument to those who never saw their dream of freedom and prosperity come to be.  Their names are also engraved on a glass plaque.  For those 1,500 who died nameless, an engraving of a sailing ship commemorates each one. ~ 

Families were fractured as the healthy were released to find their way in the new land and, for many years, the Montreal newspapers carried notices of people trying to find their loved ones or discover if they had perished on the island. 

Today, I will hope that St. Patrick keeps them all safely together and heaven rings with Irish laughter and song.