The Forgotten Name

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (10) start of chapter

Absorbed thus into the families of the French-speaking population, even the older Irish orphans soon lost almost every memory of their former home and of their parents, and grew up French Canadians in every respect save the more vigorous constitution for which they were indebted to nature. It is not, therefore, a rare thing to behold a tall, strapping, fair-skinned young fellow, with an unmistakable Irish name, and an unmistakable Irish face, who speaks and thinks as a French Canadian. Thus genuine Irish names—as Cassidy, or Lonergan, or Sullivan, or Quinn, or Murphy—are to be heard of at this day in many of the homes of the kindly habitans of Lower Canada.

Though it was the humane policy of those who took care of the orphans of Grosse Isle to keep the same family in the same neighbourhood, so as not to separate brother from sister, it has happened that a brother has been reared by a French family, and a sister by an Irish, or English-speaking, family; and when the orphans have been brought together by their adopted parents, they could only express their emotions by embraces and tears—the language of the heart.

In some, but rare instances, visions of the past have haunted the memory of Irish orphans in their new homes. One of these, a young girl who bore the name of her protectors, was possessed with a passionate longing to learn her real name, and to know something of her parents. A once familiar sound, which she somehow associated with her former name, floated through her brain, vague and indistinct, but ever present. The longing to ascertain who she was, and whether either of her parents was still living, grew into an absorbing passion, which preyed upon her health. She would frequently write what expressed her recollection of the name she had once borne, and which she thought she had been called in her infancy by those who loved her. The desire to clear up the doubt becoming at length uncontrollable, she implored the cure of her parish to institute inquiries in her behalf. Written in French characters, nearly all resemblance to the supposed name was lost; but through the aid of inquiries set on foot by Father Dowd, the Parish Priest of St. Patrick's, in Montreal, and guided by the faint indication afforded by what resembled a sound more than a sirname, it was discovered that her mother had taken her out to America in 1847, and that her father had never quitted Ireland. A communication was at once established between father and child; and from that moment the girl began to recover her health, which had been nearly sacrificed to her passionate yearning.

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