The remains of an Irish emigrant who was murdered in America 183 years ago were finally buried in her home county at the weekend.
Catherine Burns had travelled to America in 1832. Her husband had recently passed away and she was hoping to make a better life for herself.
Tragically, she was dead within a couple of months of arriving. At her funeral, Father Benny Mee said: “She could stay at home and starve or she could gamble on taking the ship across the broad Atlantic and with a bit of luck, catch the tail of the American dream.”
However, she was one of 57 Irish victims of the Duffy’s cut massacre. It is thought that the Irish were killed by local workers either because of an anti-Irish prejudice that was prevalent at the time or that they were worried that the Irish were spreading diseases such as cholera.
The dead bodies were buried together unceremoniously in an unmarked grave.
In recent years a group of Americans have worked on the ‘Duffy’s Cut Project’ in a bid to find out as much as they can about the victims and, when possible, to bring them back to Ireland for their final burial.
Ms Burn’s funeral took place in Clonoe, Co Tyrone yesterday and was attended by around 400 people.
One of the key figures of the Duffy’s Cut Project – Dr William Watson – attended the funeral.
He said: “It’s miraculous. This whole thing’s miraculous. I was sitting in the church and it was kind of like an outer body experience.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening. The choir, the sermon, the trappings of the mass, the whole community out. It’s just overwhelming. I think an important chapter in all our lives has come to a conclusion.”
Clonoe parish priest Father Benny Mee, who performed the sermon, said it was an ‘awesome privilege’ for the people of Tyrone to welcome Ms Burns home.
Not much is known about Ms Burns as there are no records of her maiden name but Father Mee said that “all of Tyrone belongs to Catherine Burns”.
He added: “She was married and already widowed at the tender age of 29. Before she was 30 she had loved and she had lost.
“Today, Catherine belongs to all the widows of our land, those women who loved and lost, today also is their day.”
There was an Irish wake for Ms Burns prior to the funeral. At the wake Dr Watson said: “I think it’s amazing that Catherine Burns got something that she has not had for the past 180 years.
“For the sake of justice and righting a historical wrong this goes a long way. This is huge. From our perspective this is overwhelming actually. We’re researchers but we’re also human beings. And it’s just a very emotional thing.”
Dr Watson added that it was likely that Ms Burns had suffered a violent death. Analysis of her skull revealed: “massive peri-mortem violence by means of a sharp implement which would have caused her death
“We believe Catherine was murdered in an attempt to contain the cholera epidemic, which the locals believed was being spread by the immigrant railroad workers.
“The workers were a convenient scapegoat for the community, which did not understand the etiology of the disease.”
During the sermon Father Mee called on Irish people to be welcoming to immigrants. He referred to a recent news report that said that hate crimes had risen by a third in the past year, saying: “What percentage of those incidents is related to migrants I do not know though I suspect and I fear the percentage is quite large.
“What a shame, what a disgrace, what a slur, what an indictment that is. How quickly our people have forgotten that they were once migrants themselves.”
For more information about the Duffy’s Cut Project visit their Facebook page.