In August of 1997 more than 50 members and friends of the Galway Association of New York participated in a poignant pilgrimage to Gross Ile to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the tragic year 1847 during the Great Famine. The Association, in a new effort to promote cultural and educational awareness, actively promoted this historic trip in conjunction with Action Grosse Ile, Canada, and the AOH and LAOH in the U.S.
Over 5,000 Irish, who came to escape the Famine and perished from various diseases, starvation and other circumstances, are buried in mass graves on this island, established as a quarantine station from 1832, on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada.
Galway was the only county with an official contingent represented at the commemoration, joining with about 2,500 people in an international, ecumenical service to mark the memory of these souls and all the victims of “Black ’47.” Following the service there were informative talk tours at the main Great Hunger sites on the island.
It was a moving experience to stand on that hallowed ground, as former Association President Dennis Casey described, “the scene of so much suffering and tragedy for our people [and] a shrine to the courage and hope of those who came here before us.”
After the visit to Grosse Ile itself the Association participated in other commemorative events in Quebec City, highlighted in the weekend’s ‘Schedule of Events,’ which is featured on this website along with other photos from this trip.
During the return leg of the cultural tour, the group visited several points of interest in Quebec and Montreal, including the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, credited with many miracles of curing the sick and disabled; Canada’s largest church, St. Joseph’s Oratory national shrine; and the ornate Gothic style Notre-Dame Basilica (Montreal).
A little information about The Black Rock, pictured below:
The Black Rock: In Montreal, the first major port past Quebec, thousands of Irish emigrants fleeing the Famine faced a similar fate as at Grosse Ile. In an area west of the city at Pointe St. Charles, numerous hospital sheds and shelters were constructed where doctors, priests, nuns and other attendants did what they could to tend to the overwhelming numbers of sick and dying; several of these attendants contracted and succumbed to diseases themselves.
When this site was being cleared for construction of the Victoria Bridge (completed in 1859), construction workers came upon the mass graves of those who had perished in the ‘fever sheds’ and dredged a 10 foot black boulder out of the river, placed it on the site and inscribed it:
“To preserve from desecration the remains of 6000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D. 1847-8. This stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey & Betts employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859.”