One of the Orphans

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (9) start of chapter

A decent couple had sailed in one of the ships, bringing with them two girls and a boy, the elder of the former being about thirteen, the boy not more than seven or eight. The father died first, the mother next. As the affrighted children knelt by their dying mother, the poor woman, strong in her faith, with her last accents confided her helpless offspring to 'the protection of God and His Blessed Mother,' and told them to have confidence in the Father of the widow and the orphan. Lovingly did the cold hand linger on the head of her boy, as, with expiring energy, she invoked a blessing upon him and his weeping sisters. Thus the pious mother died in the fever-shed of Grosse Isle. The children were taken care of, and sent to the same district, so as not to be separated from each other. The boy was received into the home of a French Canadian; his sisters were adopted by another family in the neighbourhood. For two weeks the boy never uttered a word, never smiled, never appeared conscious of the presence of those around him, or of the attention lavished on him by his generous protectors, who had almost come to believe that they had adopted a little mute, or that he had momentarily lost the power of speech through fright or starvation. But at the end of the fortnight he relieved them of their fears by uttering some words of, to them, an unknown language; and from that moment the spell, wrought, as it were, by the cold hand of his dying mother, passed from the spirit of the boy, and he thenceforth clung with the fondness of youth to his second parents. The Irish orphan soon spoke the language of his new home, though he never lost the memory of the fever-sheds and the awful death-bed, or of his weeping sisters, and the last words spoken by the faithful Christian woman who commended him to the protection of God and His Blessed Mother. He grew up a youth of extraordinary promise, and was received into the college of Nicolet, then in the diocese of Quebec, where he graduated with the greatest honours. His vocation being for the Church, he became a priest; and it was in 1865 that, as a deacon, he entered the College of St. Michael, near Toronto, to learn the language of his parents, of which he had lost all remembrance. He is now one of the most distinguished professors of the college in which he was educated; and, in order to pay back the debt incurred by his support and education, he does not accept more than a small stipend for his services. Of his Irish name, which he was able to retain, he is very proud; and though his tongue is more that of a French Canadian, his feelings and sympathies are with the people and the country of his birth. The prayers of the dying mother were indeed heard; for the elder of the girls was married by the gentleman who received them both into his house, and the younger is in a convent.

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