EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY Irish refugees have finally been honoured, more than a decade and a half after they died on Deer Island in Boston Harbour, after fleeing their home during the Great Famine.
On Saturday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Mayor Marty Walsh lead a memorial in honour of those who had perished - 850 Irish men, women and children who were buried in a mass-grave.
To mark the occasion, a 16-foot high stone Celtic cross was erected - which overlooks the harbour.
“Many of us here are descendents of those people that fled the hunger and the oppression of the 1800s to come to America.” Said Cardinal O’Malley in front of hundreds of gatherers who paid their respects.
Mayor Walsh stressed the importance of Americans remembering and honouring their Irish heritage, noting that he recalls stories from his grandparents about the famine.
“I heard those stories from my grandfather and my mother heard those stories, my father heard those stories and we’d hear those stories passed down through generations,” said Walsh.
Deer Island was the first stop for thousands of Irish who had sailed across the Atlantic in the mid 1800s and it was used as a quarantine station due to the amount of Irish passengers who arrived carrying typhus, cholera and other illnesses.
The Deer Island Quarantine Hospital and Almshouse opened in 1847 and housed many of the sick and dying who ‘shipped up to Boston’. Over the next two years, almost five thousand refugees passed through - 850 of which sadly never left.
During the famine, around a million people died and over a million emigrated from Ireland - a significant proportion of whom ended up on America’s east coast.
Ireland’s population fell by around 25% as a result.
Twenty years ago, Dr. Bill O’Connell and his wife Rita, set out to establish a proper Irish Famine memorial on the island. Although they have now both passed, their longtime vision has finally been realised - and the souls of the 850 who died there, finally honoured.