Saint John, New Brunswick

Our Proud Irish Heritage

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 Heritage.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Circa 1870   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 these shores.
    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 city.
    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 Irish-born fathers.
    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 marchers.
   Assumption Church But the 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.

   Micheal Flood 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.

    The first 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 William DollardBishop Thomas ConnollyBishop John Sweeny

    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 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 Lee.

    Dr. J.P. CollinsDr. 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 period.
    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 engineering.
    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.
    Ralph 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 House.
    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