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THE IRISH STORY
The information on the
following pages was taken from a brochure published as a project by the Famine
150 group and sponsored by the Government of Canada, Canadian
In the years between 1815, when vast
industrial changes began to disrupt the old life-styles in Europe, and Canadian
Confederation in 1867, when immigration of that era passed its peak, more than
150,000 immigrants from Ireland flooded into Saint John.
Those who came in the earlier period were largely tradesmen, and many stayed in
Saint John, becoming the backbone of its builders. But when the Great Irish
Potato Famine raged between 1845-1852, huge waves of Famine refugees flooded
It is estimated that between 1845 and 1847,
some 30,000 arrived, more people than were living in the city at the time. In
1847, dubbed "Black 47," one of the worst years of the Famine, some 16,000
immigrants, most of them from Ireland, arrived at Partridge Island, the
immigration and quarantine station at the mouth of Saint John Harbour. During
this period, Saint John was second only to Grosse Isle, Quebec, as the busiest
port of entry for Irish immigrants to North America.
Despite the deluge during the Famine years, so steady and long-standing had
migrations been, that the pre- Famine Irish continued to constitute the bulk of
the province's Irish-born population. These people and their descendants had a
profound and lasting effect on the character and development of the
By 1850, the Irish Catholic community constituted
Saint John's largest ethnic group. In the census of 1851, over half the heads
of households in the city registered themselves as natives of Ireland. By 1871,
My 55 per cent of Saint John's residents were Irish natives or children of
There were some difficulties in the
early years, as longer established residents began to feel threatened by the
flood of new immigrants. In 1847 and 1849 there were Orange versus Green riots
at York Point, a Catholic housing ghetto paraded through by Orange Lodge
Irish in Saint John were soon able to put behind them the differences that
plagued their homeland. They assimilated and became the mainstay of the city's
labouring and budding force. Following the Great Fire which levelled much of
the city's central peninsula on June 20th, 1877, Saint John was rebuilt almost
exclusively by Irish labour.
Names of prominent leaders
began to emerge. Timothy Warren Anglin -
Born in Clonakilty, County Cork, he immigrated to New Brunswick in 1849 and
became involved in the life and politics of Saint John. He founded The Freeman
newspaper (perpetuated today as the "New Freeman," a Catholic diocesan weekly.)
He later served as a Member of the Provincial Legislature and of the House of
Commons, where he became the first and only Speaker from New Brunswick.
Although he led the fight against Confederation, his biographer, William Baker,
calls him "the most powerful Catholic layman in the public arena in New
Brunswick for a quarter of a century." His daughter Margaret became a noted
stage actor in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, and his
eldest son FA Anglin, became a
distinguished member of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Michael Flood - immigrating from County
Kildare in 1836, he started in 1848 what has become Canada's oldest
construction company. The company has been responsible for many prominent
buildings in Saint John, including Caverhill Hall, built in the 1880s at the
corner of Sydney and Mecklenburg Streets, and the Byzentine-style Church of the
Assumption, built on the West Side in 1907, to replace an earlier Assumption
dating back to 1849, which had been destroyed by fire.
three Bishops of the Diocese of Saint John were natives of Ireland - William Dollard of Mooncoin, County Kilkenny;
Thomas L. Connolly of Cork and John Sweeny, of Clones, County Fermanagh. All were
visionaries and builders.
Bishop Dollard pioneered
in ecumenical diplomacy, fostering better relations between Catholics and
Protestants of the era. It was during Bishop Connolly's tenure that the
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was built and the Sisters of Charity
were established in the city. Bishop Sweeny, whose 40 years stand as the
longest tenure of any bishop before or since, left a network of philanthropic
and educational institutions.
Sister Honora Conway, a young
Galway-born novice from New York, was among the first to respond to Bishop
Connolly's calls for assistance, and it was under her leadership, the
widely-respected teaching and nursing order, the Sisters of Charity was formed
in Saint John.
Saint John's first Irish free Presbyterian Church was founded in 1843,
when the St. John congregation, which wanted a minister from Ireland, separated
from the Scottish-based St. Andrews congregation. Their first minister, Rev.
Robert Irvine, came from Ballynahinche in 1844, and their first St. John Church
was at Carmarthen and King Street East. The congregation eventually united with
the St. Stephen congregation of 1917, to form a precursor of the present-day
St. John and St. Stephen Church built in 1963 and now pastored by Rev. Philip
Dr. James Patrick Collins, a native of Cork,
volunteered to help treat fever victims on Partridge Island shortly after
setting up his medical practice at York Point. Three weeks after arriving on
the island to assist Doctors George J. and William S. Harding, he contracted
typhus and succumbed "a martyr to his duty."
Samuel Perry McCavour, of Irish ancestry, who
settled in Lorneville, was comptroller of currency from 1925-1930, and as such,
his signature appears on Canadian banknotes of that
As they assimilated, the Irish began to place a
high value on education and gradually emerged in leading roles in the
judiciary, the medical profession, politics, the arts and
Some examples: E.J.
Henneberry, who later became one of the city's best-known Provincial
Court Magistrates, was elected to the Legislature in 1935 and became president
of the Executive Council.
McInerney was elected to the Legislature in 1939 and George McInerney, along with long time school
principal Arthur W. Carton, followed in the
1950s. All were from Saint John.
Robert J. Higgins, leader of the New Brunswick
Liberal Party, was the first Irish Catholic from Saint John to be elected to
lead a provincial political party.
Thomas J. Higgins was the first elected Irish
Catholic Mayor of Saint John. (1993-95.)
Shirley Dysart, the first elected woman MLA from
Saint John, went on to become the first woman interim leader of the Liberal
Party, the first woman Minister of Education and first woman Speaker of the
The basic contribution of the Irish - only
recently being recognized in a re-awakening of interest in Saint John's
historical development - was the decent, hard-working efforts of humble,
God-fearing men and women with a devotion to family and a dedication to duty.
These were the real Irish heroes who have meant so much to the budding of this
city. They gave us our future, based on a past of hard work
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