Partridge Island, Saint John

Of the many routes of migration the Irish took while immigrating, one of the most popular was to the Atlantic and Maritime Provinces of Canada. The route was harrowing, and the ships were full of fever, but the Irish who survived the voyage thrived as their descendants can attest today.

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Partridge Island, Saint John

I’m writing to you from the City of Montreal – as we continue our journey along the Irish Ancestry Trail in North America. I’m having some straight-up Montreal coffee as I write – and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.

Just a couple of mornings ago (hard to believe!), we were having breakfast at the local market in Saint John, New Brunswick. We got chatting to the owner, Dave Forrestal (a good Kilkenny/Wexford name) and he told us about the Irish actor, Stephen Rea. Stephen called into him most mornings for breakfast and a chat while he was appearing in the local theatre. Dave asked Stephen how he was settling in and the answer was:

“You know, since coming to New Brunswick – I  realise that I know nobody, but I recognise everybody!”

Well, Stephen – we know exactly what you mean! The Maritime and Atlantic area of Canada is spilling over with familiar tunes, faces and even accents. What do you think?

From County Donegal to Partridge Island.

Thomas Kennedy, Elizabeth Reid Kennedy and their seven young children set sail from County Donegal in 1853 – bound for an uncertain future in New Brunswick, where they planned to meet up with Elizabeth’s parents in Victoria County.

Their first contact with North America was the quarantine station on Partridge Island – just at the entry to the harbour at Saint John, New Brunswick. It appears they all arrived healthy, right down to the youngest of their children who was aged just 3 months.

Partridge Island was set up as a quarantine station in the late 1700s, in reaction to the many ships that left Saint John for Europe full of lumber, but returned with a human ballast of hopeful immigrants. It was probably put to its severest test during the Irish Famine – when some 30,000 Irish immigrants were processed by the island’s visiting and resident physicians – 1,200 of them dying on Partridge Island and Saint John during the Typhus outbreak of 1847. By the 1890s, there were almost 80,000 immigrants passing through this island every year. Today, the island lies overgrown, unused and neglected.

Did any of your Irish ancestors pass through Partridge Island? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

It appears that the Reid-Kennedys may have been one of the lucky families. They moved further inland to join their kin, and some of their offspring eventually migrated over the nearby border to the state of Maine in the USA. One of their descendants – the great-granddaughter of that 3 month old baby – is our reader and good friend Sandy Kennedy LaFerriere.

We had the good fortune to capture Sandy on video early this week. Here she is with Carina – sitting at the Irish Memorial in Saint John, NB, overlooking Partridge Island. Sandy talks about her ancestors who arrived in the area – and stay tuned to the end when she shares what she would love to discover next:

Wasn’t that a special moment as Sandy shared her own ancestral connections in a place that means so much to her?

That’s it for this week – and we do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Slán for now, Mike & Carina.

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