Difficulties and Hardships of the Irish Settlers in Canada

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VI (4) start of chapter

After difficulties and hardships enough to fill the poor adventurers with despair—which difficulties and hardships were aggravated by fever and ague, that alike unsparingly attacked the robust and the delicate, the strong on whom the weak relied, and the weak who were thus rendered still more helpless—they arrived at what is now known as one of the most beautiful and prosperous towns in Canada, and was then but a trackless wilderness. Those who arrived first commenced immediately to put up rude huts, or wigwams, made of great strips of bark, branches of trees, and sods; and as batch after batch of emigrants arrived, after successfully passing the rapids and shallows of the river, the landing-place presented an animated appearance, which gave some idea of a new home to the exiles, and cheered their drooping spirits. Here they remained encamped until they proceeded to settle on the lands in the neighbourhood. The proportion of land granted to each family of five persons was 100 acres; but each grown-up son was also allowed the same quantity for himself. Soon the temporary huts made their appearance here and there in groups, as the attractions of friendship or acquaintance induced families to seek each other's neighbourhood, or as greater facilities for shelter or comfort suggested; and it was not long before this Irish camp assumed the air of a place of business.

The novelty of the present and the uncertainty of the future must have deeply impressed the most thoughtful and observant of the settlers; but that which gave them the greatest uneasiness was the absence of a spiritual director and comforter—of the priest, to whose guidance and ministrations they had all their lives been accustomed. They embraced the first opportunity of appealing to the Governor-General of the Province to supply this great want; and in their memorial, which is touching in its simple earnestness, they display their traditional love of education and devotion to their faith. They say: 'Please your Excellency, we labour under a heavy grievance, which we confidently hope your Excellency will redress, and then we will be completely happy, viz. the want of clergymen to administer to us the comforts of our Holy Religion, and good schoolmasters to instruct our children.' What a comment is this on a comical absurdity which I heard uttered in no less important a place than the House of Commons—that the Irish were rushing to America in order to get rid of their priests!

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America