Event to Unveil Kingston’s Forgotten Famine Irish History

Published on: 2023/05/25 - in News

Dr. Katherine Hull will shed light on a forgotten chapter of history, revealing stories of courage and compassion that have remained hidden beneath the surface of Kingston’s rich historical tapestry. On June 3, Dr. Hull, a renowned historian, will delve into the tragic journey of Irish emigrants during the peak of the Great Famine in 1847 and the heroic efforts of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph in providing crucial care and support.

The mid-19th century was a time of immense hardship for Ireland, as the country was ravaged by the Great Famine. This catastrophe was triggered by a devastating potato blight, crop failures, and the presence of absentee landlords. In search of survival and hope for a better life, thousands of Irish individuals set sail for North America.

However, their aspirations for a brighter future were soon overshadowed by the grim realities they encountered during the arduous journey. Overcrowded ships exposed passengers to deadly typhus, and upon arrival in North America, many were either gravely ill or orphaned. Kingston, situated on the waterfront, became the receiving point for these afflicted individuals, with the “fever sheds” serving as the primary care facility. It was the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph who stepped forward to provide compassionate care to these vulnerable souls and ensure the well-being of the many orphaned children left behind.

A solemn reminder of this tragic period can be found in the mass grave near Kingston General Hospital. The resting place of approximately 1400 typhus victims, this site has been impacted over the years by the hospital’s expansion. In 2021, Archaeological Services Inc. took on the task of recovering and meticulously documenting the remains. Dr. Hull will share insights into this significant project, while also providing a comprehensive overview of the Irish famine, the emigrant experience, and the devastating typhus epidemic.

Anne Hall, the Local History and Heritage Librarian at KFPL, expressed the significance of this event, stating, “This occasion not only offers a unique opportunity to explore a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of our shared history, but it also serves as a tribute to the resilience of the Famine Irish and the compassionate care they received in Kingston.”

To participate in this thought-provoking event, interested individuals can register online or call (613) 549-8888.

Image: Kingston Frontenac Public Library