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June 2015 Launch of the Digital Irish Famine Archive at NUI Galway
Canada’s Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin Vickers, recently launched the Digital Irish Famine Archive which is curated by NUI Galway. The Digital Irish Famine Archive is designed to make accessible eyewitness accounts of the Irish famine migration to Canada in 1847-1848 that would otherwise be unknown. It also pays tribute to those who cared for Irish famine emigrants.
The archive contains the digitized, transcribed, and translated French language annals of the Grey Nuns of Montreal, or Sisters of Charity, who first tended to Irish famine emigrants, especially widows and orphans, in the city’s fever sheds in 1847 and 1848. It also includes annals from the Sisters of Providence and correspondence from Father Patrick Dowd, who worked alongside the Grey Nuns in the fever sheds, as well as testimonies from Irish famine orphans, such as Patrick and Thomas Quinn, Daniel and Catherine Tighe, and Robert Walsh, who were adopted by French-Canadian families.
Launching the archive, Ambassador 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, now Miramichi, New Brunswick, who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants during the Famine exodus of 1847. It is especially fitting that we launch the digital archive on this day, 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 six thousand Irish dead, and before the Irish Famine Summer School begins at the Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon. The stories contained within the digital archive attest to the selfless devotion of the Grey Nuns in tending to typhus-stricken emigrants and providing homes for Irish orphans. In an age of increasingly desperate acts of migration, their compassion provides a lesson for us all.”
President Michael D. Higgins is the patron of the Digital Irish Famine Archive. In his preface for the archive, he states: “During that bleak and terrible period of our history, an estimated one hundred thousand 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. This virtual archive is a very important project, which allows us to finally acknowledge the generosity and enormous humanity of those wonderful sisters whose great kindness and compassion, during one of the worst tragedies in our Country’s history, must never be forgotten.”
The Digital Irish Famine Archive is curated by NUI Galway’s Dr Jason King. Dr King developed the archive in partnership with NUI Galway’s Moore Institute; Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University; the University of Limerick; the Irish National Famine Museum; the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation; the Ireland Park Foundation; the iNua Partnership; and the Irish Research Council.