The Grave-mound in Kingston

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (12) start of chapter

Let us follow the Irish emigrant—'the faithful Irish'—farther up the St. Lawrence.

In the grounds of the General Hospital of Kingston there is an artificial mound, of gentle swell and moderate elevation, the grass on which is ever green, as if owing to some peculiar richness of the soil. When verdure has been elsewhere burned up or parched, on this soft-swelling mound greenness is perpetual. Beneath that verdant shroud lie mouldering the bones of 1,900 Irish immigrants, victims of the same awful scourge of their race—the ship-fever. With the intention of pushing on to the West, the goal of their hopes, multitudes of the Irish reached Kingston, 350 miles up the St. Lawrence from Quebec; but the plague broke out amongst this mass of human misery, and they rotted away like sheep. So fast did they die, that there were not means to provide coffins in which to inter them. There was timber more than sufficient for the purpose, but the hands to fashion the plank into the coffin were too few, and Death was too rapid in his stroke; and so a huge pit of circular form was dug, and in it were laid, in tiers, piled one upon the other, the bodies of 1,000 men, women, and children: and even to the hour when I beheld the light of the setting sun imparting additional beauty to its vivid greenness, there was neither rail, nor fence, nor stone, nor cross, nor inscription, to tell that 1,900 of a Christian people slept beneath the turf of that gigantic grave.

Twenty years ago Kingston was a small place, with little more than half its present population; and the Irish, who now form an important portion of its community, were then comparatively few in number. But in no part of British America did the Irish display a more heroic devotion to humanity and country than in that city, from which the greater number of the inhabitants had fled in terror, at the presence of the migratory hordes who brought pestilence with them in their march. The Irish of the town stood their ground bravely; and not only were their houses thrown open to their afflicted countrypeople, and their means placed unreservedly at their disposal, but they tended the sick and dying, and ministered to them in the holiest spirit of charity. Among the best and bravest of those who succoured the plague-smitten of that dreadful time were three Irish Protestants—Mr. Kirkpatrick, then Mayor of Kingston; Alderman Robert Anglin; and Mr. William Ford, afterwards Mayor—who were in the sheds both day and night, and by their ceaseless efforts to relieve the sufferers inspired others with increased courage and still greater self-devotion.

Father Dollard, an Irish clergyman, had to bear the chief share of the priestly duty; and from the first moment that the fever broke out, until the earth was beaten down on the top of the grave-mound, he was in the midst of the danger. So shocking was the condition in which the unhappy people reached Kingston, the last resting-place of many of them, that the clergymen, three at the most, had to change their own clothes repeatedly in the day. One of the three priests, who had been only just ordained, died of the contagion.

When the plague abated, and the danger no longer existed, the inhabitants returned; and now there began an unseemly scramble for the orphan children of the Catholic parents who slept beneath the mound in the grounds of the Hospital. The Irish Catholics of the surrounding locality strained every resource in order to afford a home to the orphans of their native country and religion, and through their charity the greater number of them were well provided for; but others of a different faith secured a certain proportion of the children, who are now perhaps bitter opponents of the creed of their fathers.

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