Galway’s Irish Famine Archives
By Matthew Skwiat, Contributing Editor
August / September 2015
An exciting new archive for a little known area of Irish Famine research was recently unveiled at NUI Galway. The Digital Irish Famine Archive shines a much-needed light on the eyewitness accounts of Irish famine emigrants to Canada between 1847-48 and the role of the many extraordinary people who helped them. Included in the archive are first hand accounts of the Sisters of Mercy or “Grey Nuns” of Montreal, the Sisters of Providence, and the many stories of adoption by French-Canadian families. The remarkable archive includes transcriptions and translations from the French as well as testimonials from Father Patrick Dowd who worked alongside the Grey Nuns in the fever sheds.
The new archive was originally developed in 2012 by Dr. Jason King, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Limerick. Other partners of the archive include the Moore Institute at the National University of Ireland, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University (which currently has an exhibition on the Grey Nuns), the Irish National Famine Museum, the Montreal Irish Park Foundation, the iNua Partnership, and the Irish Research Council. John Francis Maguire who wrote in his 1868 account The Irish in America offers a glimpse into the resiliency and dedication of the Grey Nuns, writing, “First came the Grey Nuns, strong in love and faith; but so malignant was the disease that thirty of their number were stricken down, and thirteen died the death of martyrs. There was no faltering, no holding back; no sooner were the ranks thinned by death than the gaps were quickly filled; and when the Grey Nuns were driven to the last extremity, the Sisters of Providence came to their assistance, and took their place by the side of the dying strangers.”
In a message to the archive, Irish President Michael D. Higgins said, “This virtual archive is a very important project, which allows us to finally acknowledge the generosity and enormous humanity of those wonderful sisters whose great kindness and compassion, during one of the worst moments in our Country’s history, must never be forgotten.” ♦