Resistless Eloquence

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (8) start of chapter

The next Sunday a strange sight was witnessed in the parish church of which the curé was the pastor. The priest was seen issuing from the sacristy, holding in his arms a boy of singular beauty, whose little hands were tightly clasped, half in terror, half in excitement, round the neck of his bearer. Every eye was turned towards this strange spectacle, and the most intense curiosity was felt by the congregation, in a greater degree by the women, especially those who were mothers, to learn what it meant. It was soon explained by their pastor, who said:—'Look at this little boy! Poor infant! (Here the curé embraced him.) Look at his noble forehead, his bright eyes, his curling hair, his mouth like a cherub's! Oh, what a beautiful boy! (Another embrace, the half-terrified child clinging closer to the priest's breast, his tears dropping fast upon the surplice.) 'Look, my dear friends, at this beautiful child, who has been sent by God to our care. There are 200 as beautiful children as this poor forlorn infant. They were starved out of their own country by bad laws, and their fathers and their poor mothers now lie in the great grave at Grosse Isle. Poor mothers! they could not remain with their little ones. You will be mothers to them. The father died, and the mother died; but before she died, the pious mother—the Irish Catholic mother—left them to the good God, and the good God now gives them to you. Mothers, you will not refuse the gift of the good God! (The kindly people responded to this appeal with tears and gestures of passionate assent.) Go quickly to Quebec; there you will find these orphan children—these gifts offered to you by the good God—go quickly—go to-morrow—lose not a moment—take them and carry them to your homes, and they will bring a blessing on you and your families. I say, go to-morrow without fail, or others may be before you. Yes, dear friends, they will be a blessing to you as they grow up, a strong healthy race—fine women, and fine men, like this beautiful boy. Poor child, you will be sure to find a second mother in this congregation.' (Another embrace, the little fellow's tears flowing more abundantly; every eye in the church glistening with responsive sympathy.)

This was the curé's sermon, and it may be doubted if Bossuet or Fenelon ever produced a like effect. Next day there was to be seen a long procession of waggons moving towards Quebec; and on the evening of that day there was not one of the 200 Irish orphans that had not been brought to a Canadian home, there to be nurtured with tenderness and love, as the gift of the Bon Dieu. Possibly, in some instances that tenderness and love were not requited in after life, but in most instances the Irish orphan brought a blessing to the hearth of its adopted parents. The boy whose beauty and whose tears so powerfully assisted the simple oratory of the good curé is now one of the ablest lawyers in Quebec—but a French Canadian in every respect save in birth and blood.

As soon as good food and tender care had restored vigour to their youthful limbs, the majority of the orphans played in happy unconsciousness of their bereavement; but there were others, a few years older, on whom the horrors of Grosse Isle had made a lasting impression.

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

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