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 Ruby M. Cusack
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Long after our Irish ancestors have been taken to their final resting place in the churchyard,
their connection to Ireland is remembered - often by a Celtic Cross on a tombstone or a
communal marker, such as this one in a New Brunswick Cemetery.

Immigrant Letters

I kept watching the clock on the wall for dismissal time. The hands seemed to be standing still but finally the teacher announced it was time to put away our work and get ready to go home.

Old man Winter was still being active changing his mind - first rain then a flash freeze that made a great skating pond in the field.

Adults complained about how slippery the walking was but to us kids, it was just a matter of getting up when we fell down.

Cliff and I actually ran most of the way home as we wanted to get our skates and enjoy some skating before supper.

When we tore into the house, Mum asked if we had brought the mail in from the box at the end of the driveway? Then without stopping she inquired if we had gone to Gram’s box and taken the mail to her?

More hurry, less speed certainly applied to our situation. We both moaned, as we knew we would need to go back past the school to get to Gram’s mailbox.

I started to build my case by asking, “What letter would Gram be expecting?” “Why can’t she wait until Dad and Gramp come back from town?”

The look on Mum’s face made me realize that I had said enough, so off we went.

When we carried the mail into the house, Gram saw the letter from Gramp’s sister, which was post marked Montreal. A big smile spread across her face. She opened the letter carefully and commenced to read - devouring every word. I think she was too wrapped up in the letter to even say, “Thank you.”

Mum’s mail held a letter from an Aunt in Gardner, Mass.

We decided we might as well have some potato scallop before we went skating. For dessert we cut a big slice of War Cake.

As we ate, Mum filled us in on the news in the letter. Uncle A. had a bout with the flu and had a difficult time getting back on his feet. Aunt D. inquired about family members and requested they be asked to write her soon with all the news.

Over the years, relatives on both sides of the Atlantic or across North America or maybe just in a nearby community waited to receive letters from loved ones and friends as the post was the way to communicate.

Some Immigrant letters can be viewed online at

On December 21, 1877, John C. Meahan, was studying at St. Joseph's College, Memramcook when he
wrote a letter to his parents, James and Bridget Meahan, thanking them for their many "kindness and sacrifices," but particularly for their gift to him of an "excellent education".

Mary Ann Harley was born in Courtmasherry, County of Cork, Ireland, on February 6, 1799 with her father being a school teacher there. She left Ireland in 1822. Her brother William Harley,  a government surveyor met her at Pockshaw. They walked 75 miles through the woods to Newcastle. She married John Henry. Her life’s story was told in the Portland Daily Press, February 7, 1898.

I read many of the letters and found interesting family information in
John Mullawney’s July 4th 1847 letter back home to Ireland   . . . “Dear father and Mother we are all at Service. Mary is hired at a place Called Mesbeck ten Miles out from the City and Margret is within two Miles of her. i would Get 23£ per year But i would not go untill I seen them all at service. i am at service 23 Miles out from the City at a place Called quaco in the parish of St. Martin with a verry religious Man his name is Thimothy Cusick  from the County tiporery Ireland at Six Dollars per month. . “
From St. John, N.B. Feb. 15th 1848,
Catherine Hennagan wrote she was living 10 miles from St John at Churchland. “Dear Father we had a pretty favourable passage we Cast Anchor at Partridge Island after 5 weeks passage there were 4 Deaths on the passage but the Second day after we arrived here and after the Doctor came on Board the Sickness commenced we were then put on the Island for 3 Weeks at the end of which time my dear Litle Biddy died thank God I got safe off and continues to enjoy good health since Dear Father Pen could not write the distress of the Irish Passengers which arrived here thro Sickness death and distress of every Kind the Irish I know have suffered much and is still suffering but the Situation of them here even the Survivors.  If you would wish to come here I would like you was here as I think times will mend here after some time and dear Father I will soon send you some help let me know if Catherine Bradley Mary McGowan and Mary Kinloghlan wrote home as I do not know where they went to or where they are. Milk and Butter is very dear here 4d. per quart and 15d. per lb.” “When you write direct the Care of the Revd Edmund Quin.” “No more at Present But remains your affectionate Daughter till Death, Catherine Hennagan.”

Letters such as the one written on November 17, 1847 from Saint John by
Bridget Clancy to her mother expresses the feelings of despair.

“Dear mother and brother I take the favourable opportunity of writting these few lines to you hoping to find you are all in as good health as this laves me and my sister at present thanks be
God for all his mercies to us Dear mother we were very uneasy for ever coming to this country
for we were in a bad State of health During The Voiage their was a very bad fever aboard Pebby
was taken to the Cabbin by the Captains wife and was there from we were a week on Sea till we
came to quarentine and took the fever on the Ship then all the passengers that did not pass the
Doctor was sent to the Isleand and She was kept by the Captains wife then on laving the ship.
Pebby was relapsed again and sent to Hospital and remained their nine or ten days but thanks
be to God we got over all the Disorders belonging the Ship I was at work at A Dollar per day But the place got very bad and no regard for new passengers even a nights Lodgeing could be easy found I met with Andy Kerrigan and he took me with him to his house and remained their for amounth Boarding

Mary took a very Bad fever and was Despaired of Both by priest and Doctor And as soon as She got well Andy took the Same disease I am Sorry to relate that poor Biddy Claney And Catharine McGowan Died in Hospital and A great many of our friends there is

A prospect of the winter Been very bad and I offten wished to be a home again Bad and all as we were we offten wished we never Seen St. John

Dear Mother I hope you will Let me now as
soon as possible how are you all my Sisters and poor Brother and all in good health it is all we are Sorry for that we cannot Send any relief to you But this place is Different to our opinions at home any new pasengers except they have friends before them are in Distress its very to get work here except them that are in Steady employment The goverment are about to Send all the passengers that were Sent out here by Lord Pamistown and Sir Robert Home again Because they are sure that all of them that did not perish that they surely will this Winter

Dear mother let us now how ye are getting on or are you all in good health I am very glad that Catharine did not come to this place for a great deal of our neighbours Died here I am Sorry to inform ye that
James Connolly of Glaniff and wife Died and three children Thady Freely Died in hospital and Daniel Gallangher and wife of Coolagrapy and Roger McGowan of Drinaghan Patt Giblin and his Brother Domnick and I was very (sorry) when I herd that Thady Giblin Died Let us now how is Mr. and Misses Likely and not Forgetting Baby Pebby Sends her love and Best respects them Let us now how is our neighbours Dan McGowan and Patt Connolly and family and also Patt Quin Let us now how is Honor Flanigan I am sorry to teel that a great deal of our Comrad passengers died in Hospital Mick Waters of Grange Died and James Gilmartin of Newtown

We have a right To Return God thanks for his Mercy to us Let us now how does the markets Rate or is the publick works in force or any relief given Since we left that Country or is Fill or Mary in Service Thanks be to God I was not one hour Since I came to this Country but Pebby was a long time comeing round which gave me great trouble and uneasiness Bridget Conoly was given up and was in the quarentien Isleand Six weeks and her child Died in the Isleand A great many of the passengers went out to the country and could get no employ Bad as the City is it is better than the Country We expect to Spend the Winter here Patt McGowan and his wife and us is together and his wife works for the Shops at 2l. 5s. Amth The day I rote this Letter Peby got good Service at two Dollars A mounth if God Spares we Soon be able to send some help to you and if either Boy or Girl had Had Any Sort of good Service it would Be Better than Here No more at present But remains your
Loving and affectionate Bryan Clancy and Sister.”

The introduction to these letters states; “Life after emigration is best attested to through the words of those who experienced its upheaval. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick selected twenty four manuscript collections from their holdings and an additional four groups of related records which exemplify the experience of Irish immigrants and their descendants and highlight the effects of immigration. These records, largely consisting of letters and now available for online viewing, reflect the important role of the Irish diaspora in shaping the development of the province.”

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, we remember those who crossed the ocean to seek a better life for themselves and their family, with many not finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Visit Ruby's Bookshelf for books of the Irish in New Brunswick
Some books on the Irish who came to New Brunswick

Poor Ignorant Children

In 1994, Peter Murphy - a New Brunswick historian and genealogist - gained access to an old ledger of the admittance records of the "Orphan Asylum Established by His Excellency Sir William George Colebrook, 25 Octob. 1847" (In Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada). Mr. Murphy transcribed this ledger and meticulously searched for any tracks that were left behind by these orphans in compiling the publication "Poor Ignorant Children." He charted the fate of Irish orphans (310) in a strange unwelcoming land.
Together In Exile by Peter Murphy  traces  a group of Irish emigrants from County Louth who settled in Lower Cove (South End of) Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada in the 19th century.  A product of eleven years of research in Canada, the United States and Ireland by Peter Murphy.  It is a highly praised genealogical work.  Now out-of-print and hard to find and much sought after. 

Historical Essays on the Irish in New Brunswick - NEW IRELAND REMEMBERED - Edited by P. M. Toner 
We Hardly Knew Ye: St. Mary’s Cemetery (Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada), An Enduring Presence by Mary Kilfoil McDevitt's.html
IMMIGRANTS IN THE NEW BRUNSWICK CENSUS OF 1851 by P. M.  Toner.   A list of the names of more than 15,000 Irish immigrants to New Brunswick showing year of entry, age as of 1851, religion, location in the province, and former county of residence in Ireland (when this fact was known).
Moncton’s Catholic Roots - An Illustrated History of St. Bernard’s Church by Leo J. Hynes. 
Chronicle of Irish Emigration to Saint John, New Brunswick 1847 by J. Elizabeth Cushing, Teresa Casey and Monica Robertson.
James P. Collins, M.D. 1824-1847 (A martyr to his duty) by Harold E. Wright. Published by the Partridge Island Research Project, Saint John, New Brunswick 1988.
In Flight From Famine, Don MacKay tells not only of the arrival of the Irish but the appalling conditions that forced them to emigrate.