Digital archive of Irish Famine records launched

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Millions left Ireland during famine and many were cared for by the Grey Nuns in Montreal. The nuns’ records relating to the Irish patients is now available online.

Records of Irish people who emigrated to Canada during the Great Famine have been translated into English and digitalised.

Millions of people were forced to leave Ireland during the famine and many made their way to Montreal, Canada.

Millions left Ireland during  famine and many were cared for  by the Grey Nuns in Montreal. The nuns’ records relating  to the Irish patients is now  available online.

Some of the emigrants were cared for by the Grey Nuns in fever sheds in the city. The nuns kept records of correspondence relating to the Irish patients.

The records have been translated from French and made available digitally. In 2015, Kevin Vickers, the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, launched ‘The Digital Irish Famine Archive’.

The archive contains three sets of annals from the Grey Nuns –
1 – ‘Ancien Journal (Old Journal), Volume I’
2 – ‘Le Typhus d’1847, Ancien Journal (The Typhus of 1847, Old Journal), Volume II’
3 – ‘Récit de l’épidemie” (Tale of the epidemic)’

The first two are translated from French to English. The third is the nun’s first-hand account of the Irish migration and is transcribed in French from the original.

Mr Vickers said: “It gives me great pleasure to launch the Digital Irish Famine Archive. The archive commemorates and pays tribute to the Grey Nuns of Montreal and people of French and English Canada, like Bishop Michael Power in Toronto and Dr John Vondy in Chatham, who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants during the Famine exodus of 1847.

“It is especially fitting that we launch the digital archive after Montreal’s Irish community has just made its annual pilgrimage to the Black Stone monument, which marks the site of the city’s fever sheds and mass graves for 6,000 Irish dead, and before the Irish Famine Summer School begins at the Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon.”

Irish President Michael D. Higgins is patron of the archive. He said: “During that bleak and terrible period of our history, an estimated 100,000 Irish people fled to Canada. It is impossible to imagine the pain, fear, despair and suffering of these emigrants, many of whom lost beloved family members on their journey.

“As a country we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Grey Nuns, who cared for so many Irish widows and orphans who were left destitute, impoverished and alone in a strange country.”

The archives also contain testimonies from Irish children who were orphaned and adopted by French Canadian families.

It was a terrifying time for everyone who had to leave Ireland, particular the children. One account wrote of a boy named Robert Walsh. It says: “For two weeks the boy never uttered a word, never smiled, never appeared conscious of the presence of those around him, or of the attention lavished on him by his generous protectors, who had almost come to believe that they had adopted a little mute, or that he had momentarily lost the power of speech through fright or starvation.”

The archive was curated by postdoctoral researcher Dr Jason King who specialises in interculturalism and migration.

The archive can be found at faminearchive.nuigalway.ie


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