The Irish Orphans

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (6) start of chapter

This deplorable havoc of human life left hundreds of orphans dependent on the compassion of the public; and nobly was the unconscious appeal of this multitude of destitute little ones responded to by the French Canadians.

Half naked, squalid, covered with vermin generated by hunger, fever, and the foulness of the ship's hold, perhaps with the germs of the plague lurking in their vitiated blood, these helpless innocents of every age—from the infant taken from the bosom of its dead mother to the child that could barely tell the name of its parents—were gathered under the fostering protection of the Church.

They were washed, and clad, and fed; and every effort was made by the clergy and nuns who took them into their charge to discover who they were, what their names, and which of them were related the one to the other, so that, if possible, children of the same family might not be separated for ever.

A difficult thing it was to learn from mere infants whether, among more than 600 orphans, they had brothers or sisters.

But by patiently observing the little creatures when they found strength and courage to play, their watchful protectors were enabled to find out relationships which, without such care, would have been otherwise unknown.

If one infant ran to meet another, or caught its hand, or smiled at it, or kissed it, or showed pleasure in its society, here was a clue to be followed; and in many instances children of the same parents were thus preserved to each other.

Many more, of course, were separated for ever, as these children were too young to tell their own names, or do anything save cry in piteous accents for ‘mammy, mammy!’ until soothed to slumber in the arms of a compassionate Sister.

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