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