Grosse Ile

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Castlebar Old Photographs ]

Posted by Ahem on May 24, 2001 at 01:50:01:

In Reply to: Re: RE: Dennis Mahon and the ships Virginius, Naomi, Erin's Queen and John Nunn posted by Emigre on May 24, 2001 at 01:11:14:


During Black '47 the coffin ships arrived at Grosse Ile much faster than the facility could possibly handle. At one point there were reportedly 40 ships stacked up three kilometers deep with over 13,000 emigrants aboard. Large numbers of the emigrants on almost every ship departing Ireland for Canada had typhus when they boarded, and as the ships continued on their journeys, with the passengers packed together (often the ships were illegally over packed) in filthy conditions, with no facilities for washing, the decease spread like wildfire. British law called for the ships to provide only 7 lbs of food a week for each passenger; often they got even less, and even that was sometimes inedible. Many ships bought used casks for the passengers drinking water which were cheap, and which often leaked or had been used for wine, making the water undrinkable.

Like the attempts to count all the famine victims in Ireland, the statistics on how many died in the coffin ships or the quarantine stations of Canada are all estimates. Some say as many as 25,000 may have died either enroute to or shortly after arriving in Canada in 1847 alone; fully, one out of every four who began the trip.

The statistics of those who died during voyages and those who arrived sick is both appalling and heartrending. One ship reported 158 dead and 186 sick of 596, another 96 dead and 112 sick out of 399, still another 78 dead and 104 sick of 331. If it you could have walked on the ocean bottom it would probably have been possible to follow the trail of bodies to Quebec.

In his diary, Gerald Keegan, a doctor aboard the Naparima in 1847, described a night a few days before they reached Grosse Ile. They were anchored in the river, with another coffin ship upstream from them. He and his wife, Aileen, were standing on deck when they noticed several forms floating by in the dark river. As he looked over the side, one of the forms caught on the anchor cable and he recognized that it was a body. The ship ahead of them was throwing the bodies of dead emigrants over the side. Keegan and his wife would not suffer the fate of those poor souls drifting down the St. Lawrence, but both would perish in the fever ridden hospital of Grosse Ile.

The locals in that area of Canada now call Grosse Ile, I'lle des Irlandais. In 1909 the ancient order of Hibernians put up a 40 ft. high Celtic cross on Grosse Ile. It has an inscription in three languages. The English version, in this country that had only been ruling itself for a short time in 1909, is obviously intended not to insult the tender sensibilities of the English government, as has been the case so many times in so many famine related events for the last 150 years. It reads: "Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish immigrants who, to preserve the faith, suffered hunger and exile in 1847-48, and stricken with fever ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage."

In the Irish version it says: "Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish emigrants who ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage. Thousands of the children of the Gael were lost on this island while fleeing from tyrannical laws and an artificial famine in the year 1847-48. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God save Ireland"

In 1962 Cecil Woodham-Smith, an Englishwoman, wrote one of the definitive books in the Famine: "The Great Hunger." Read pages 218 to 238 of that book, which describes what happened to the Irish who traveled to Canada on English ships in Black '47. Read of the conditions they endured on board those ships and at Grosse Ile, and see if you can still deny that there was an Irish holocaust.

Sir Charles Trevelyn, one of the British officials most responsible for the policies which resulted in over a million deaths in Ireland, once said, "the great evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people." In April of 1848, the year after he help create the disgusting, inhuman atrocity of Black '47, Trevelyn was knighted by the Queen.

We are wretches, famished, scorned,
human tools to build your pride,
But God will yet take vengeance
for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now is your hour of pleasure --
bask ye in the world's caress;
But our whitening bones against ye
will rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches,
in their charred, uncoffin'd masses,
For the Angel of the Trumpet
will know them as he passes.
A ghastly, spectral army,
before the great God we'll stand,
And arraign ye as our murderers,
the spoilers of our land.

The Famine Year by Lady Jane Wilde (Speranza of the Nation)


Gallagher, Thomas Paddy's Lament: Ireland 1846-1847 Harcourt Brace & Co.-1982

Kinealy, Christine This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52

Roberts Rinehart Publishers - 1995

Keegan, Gerald Famine Diary: Journey to a New World Wolfhound Press -1994

Laxton, Edward The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America Henry Holt and Company, Inc. - 1996

Woodham-Smith, Cecil The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 Penguin Books -

Follow Ups:

Post a Followup




Optional Link URL:
Link Title:
Optional Image URL:

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ Castlebar Old Photographs ]