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The Uncounted Irish in Canada and the United States

by Margaret E. Fitzgerald and Joseph A. King

Mum hurried to get supper early, leaving the dishes to Cliff and me. Then she hurried to the barn to help Dad with the evening milking and the separating. Next they came hurrying into the house to get cleaned up. Dad said they were hurrying so they could relax.

I found out the reason for the relaxing when Gram and Gramp arrived a few minutes before seven-thirty and the radio was tuned to a programme of Irish music. We were told not to make a sound while the adults listened and tapped their toes as Bing Crosby crooned, "When Irish eyes are smiling, Sure it's like a morning spring. In the lilt of Irish laughter, You can hear the angels sing. When Irish hearts are happy, All the world seems bright and gay. . .”

At the end of the half hour, Gramp remarked, “It is too bad the announcer didn’t mention that Bing had ancestors who once lived in New Brunswick.”

Gramp was a man of facts but this statement didn’t seem like the truth to me.

A chapter in "The Uncounted Irish in Canada and the United States", by Margaret E. Fitzgerald and Joseph A. King is titled, “A Music Maker: Bing Crosby’s Irish Roots.” Bing’s great-grandparents Dennis Harrigan and Catherine Driscoll emigrated to the Miramichi in 1831. They had ten children before leaving County Cork, Ireland and were among the lucky few who escaped the hardships of Ireland in that period.

The baptism of their youngest son, Dennis Jr. (Bing’s grandfather) was recorded on the register of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Nelson, Miramichi, on October 6, 1833, age thirteen months. The family lived in the nearby settlement of Williamstown, situated between the South West and North West Miramchi Rivers.

The first of the Williamstown settlers was Robert Tweedie, a weaver by trade, who arrived from a small place called Lisduff, in County Leitrim in 1822, accompanied by a large family. By 1831, lots were granted to Robert and his brothers Joseph and James and a relative John McLean. Other Methodists who settled there were William Quayle, William Graham, Nathaniel Buck, and the Hosfords.

The Irish Catholic group, which arrived soon afterwards, was made up of Harrigans, Fitzgeralds, Regans, Jardines, Kingstons, Sullivans, O’Briens, and Sauntrys. It was a large extended family, which transplanted itself to New Brunswick over a twenty-year period.

Harmony between the two religious groups did not always prevail. The teacher seemed to be acceptable or not according to his religious convictions, and the first Catholic teacher, James Evers, was not.

Time marched on, and soon recruiters from out West were generating “Wisconsin Fever,” as New Brunswickers with lumbering skills were badly needed there. Maurice Fitzgerald arrived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1851 and was soon followed by many other members of the Williamstown extended family. They included his aging parents, three sisters, four brothers and a number of Harrigan, Lucey, and other cousins and friends. Many of their descendants did well and had distinguished careers.

Back on the Miramichi, about 1866, Dennis Harrigan married Catherine Ahearn, daughter of Irish-born John Ahearn and Ann Meighan. Shortly after the marriage, they moved to Stillwater, Minnesota, a sawmill town on the St. Croix River where he became a major building contractor.  The family later migrated to Washington State, where the famous grandsons, Bing and Bob Crosby, were born.

Lots of details are given in the book on the folk in the settlement of Willamstown.

A very interesting chapter is titled, “The Fenian Attempt to Establish an Irish Republic.” In the year 1866, an army of about 20,000 Irishmen, many of them veterans of the Union and Confederate Armies in the American Civil War, moved from all states and territories toward the Canadian border. Their purpose was to invade Canada, establish an Irish Republic in Exile on a piece of Canadian soil and gain international recognition as an independent Irish nation. The American Fenian Movement had considerable and lasting effect on the governments of Canada, Great Britain, and the United States.

“The Fenian threat of the New Brunswick-Maine border brought six British warships, two British generals, a British vice-admiral, an American warship, and an American general. About five thousand British regulars and Canadian militia were mobilized to defend Campobello against some six hundred Fenians scattered on the Maine border. The Fenians produced reactions far out of proportion to their numbers, not only militarily but politically.”

The Uncounted Irish in Canada and the United States, by Margaret E. Fitzgerald and Joseph A. King is available for viewing at several libraries in New Brunswick.
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Ruby M. Cusack is a genealogy buff living in New Brunswick, Canada. Send your New Brunswick genealogical queries to her at:  Include your name and mailing address for the benefit of the readers of the newspaper who do not have access to E-mail but could have information to share with you. Please put "Query" followed by the surnames in your query. For more information on submitting queries, visit
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