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Gravesite Remarks by Monaghan Councillor Sean Conlon

Sinn Fein member Sean Conlon, who spent part of his childhood in Delaware County, graciously shared with the remarks he made at the grave of Luke Dillon at the Easter Rising Ceremony at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon.

A chairde,
It is an honour for me to be here, on the occasion of the centenary year of the 1916 Easter Rising and stand with true friends of Ireland, and advocates for her liberation, to commemorate the contribution and sacrifices of Ireland’s patriot men and women associated with the Rising, and in all campaigns of resistance waged against the foreign occupation of our homeland. Today here at Holy Cross Cemetery, we invoke in particular, the memory of those who resided in the Philadelphia region, and that despite the distance of separation and communication, remained firm in dauntless spirit, and action, in supporting the efforts of their comrades in Ireland.
Since our last assembling here twelve months ago, we reflect on loved ones who have would regularly have attended events such as this commemoration or other opportunities to raise the flag for Ireland and her total independence. As a fellow activist who I recall in years when I lived in this area is the name of Tommy Flynn, along with the name of Sean Rocks, who as a member of the Breen family, is also especially missed today. Continue Reading

History, News, Photo Essays, Photos, Videos

Poignant Easter Rising Ceremony at Holy Cross Cemetery

The annual Easter Rising ceremony at Holy Cross Cemetery on April 3 took on special poignancy this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Dublin battle between Irish revolutionaries and British soldiers that played a pivotal role in the birth of the Irish Republic in 1922.

Members of the families of three prominent Irish freedom fighters who are buried in the Yeadon cemetery took part in the ceremonies, which included rifle salutes by the Pennslvania 69th Irish Volunteers re-enactors, speeches by Sinn Fein’s Sean Conlon, the Monaghan town councillor who spent part of his childhood in Delaware County; Judyann Gillespie McCarthy of the local 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration Committee, and Tyrone native and historian, Patsy Kelly. Continue Reading

History, News, Photos

Philadelphia Remembers the Heroes of 1916—Including Its Own

Imagine, said Villanova History Professor Craig Bailey, PhD, that in 1776, the Revolutionary army under the command of General George Washington had lost to the British and “all our founding fathers were captured and executed.”

Although Bailey was preaching to the converted and well-versed this week at Villanova University’s Falvey Library—many in the audience were members of the region’s 1916 Easter Rising commemoration group—it was an apt way of putting the 1916 Irish rebellion into a perspective the average American could understand. It was the lost battle that eventually led to Ireland’s independence,

The Proclamation read on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin by teacher and revolutionary Padraig Pearse, addressed to “Irish men and Irish women,” owes at least some of its sentiment to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence prose aimed at freeing American men and American women from the yoke of British colonialism. Continue Reading

History, News, Photos

Duffy’s Cut Memorial 2016

A large crowd gathered Sunday at West Laurel Hill Cemetery to remember the 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry who came to work on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in June 1832, and who died six weeks after they arrived on a lonely stretch of track in Malvern.

Brothers Bill and Frank Watson have led the archeological research leading to the discovery of their hidden grave, and they continue to unravel the secrets of the victims—including the lone woman, Catherine Burns, whose remains were repatriated to her native County Tyrone last July. Among the speakers: Bill and Frank Watson, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and Donegal Association President Frank McDonnell.

Given the ignominious death of the Irish immigrants and the prejudice they endured, the memorial ceremony brought to mind many of the issues currently being raised during the current presidential campaign.

“Let us not forget that when somebody says something ugly about newcomers in this country today, they’re talking about these men,” said Mayor Kenney, turning toward the large Celtic cross memorial. “They’re talking about my ancestors. They’re talking about your ancestors.”

We have close to 25 photos from the ceremony, and one video that sums it all up. Continue Reading

History, News, People, Photos

Spooky Tales–And Storytellers–at The Irish Center

There was a full house on Mischief Night at The Irish Center in Philadelphia for an evening of original, ghostly tales from five writers who composed them just for the event.

The authors, who came in costume, included Marita Krivda, author of the historical book, “Irish Philadelphia,” who also organized the evening’s entertainment; Marian Makins, PhD, who teaches critical writer at the University of Pennsylvania and is a singer; Thom Nickels, the author of 11 books, the latest of which is the soon-to-be published “Literary Philadelphia;” Gerry Sweeney, and Lori Lander Murphy, a librarian, genealogist, and writer and photographer for

Lori agreed to share her story of young love and death with us so you can feel like you were part of the evening. Continue Reading

History, News

Catherine Burns is Laid To Rest In Tyrone

Catherine Burns' remains are carried by women named Catherine from Clonoe, County Tyrone. Photo by Jim McArdle

Catherine Burns’ remains are carried by women named Catherine from Clonoe, County Tyrone. The Watson brothers are at right, playing the pipes. Photo by Jim McArdle

On Sunday, July 19, Catherine Burns’s small casket, holding what little remained of the 29-year-old widow who died in the railroad work camp known as Duffy’s Cut in 1832, was carried from St. Patrick’s Church in Clonoe, County Tyrone, to her final resting place by three local women also named Catherine.

For 180 years, Burns lay under the ground in an unmarked grave along with 56 other Irish immigrants hired to build a rail line near Malvern in Chester County, now part of Amtrak’s northeast corridor. She had traveled with her father-in-law on the barque ship, the John Stamp, whose log noted that neither had any luggage. Six weeks after the immigrants arrived from Tyrone, Derry, and Donegal, they were dead, either of cholera or of violence.

Her burial in her home county was the fulfillment of the goal of the men who unearthed these long-forgotten immigrants, both literally and figuratively. “It was something that we had always hoped to do,” says Dr. William Watson, a history professor at Immaculata University who, with his brother Frank, a Lutheran minister, set in motion the search for the Duffy’s Cut victims after discovering a secret railroad file about the incident in their grandfather’s papers. “Once we found them, if we were able to identify them, we wanted to repatriate them,” he said.

In 2013, the Watson brothers and colleague Earl Schandlemeier were able to return the remains of the youngest of the workers, John Ruddy—identified through a forensic examination of his bones—to Donegal, where he was born. He is now buried in the family plot of Vincent Gallagher, president of the Philadelphia Irish Center.

Like Ruddy, forensic scientists determined that Catherine Burns had died of blunt force trauma, likely at the hands of a group of vigilantes determined to stop the spread of cholera that had ravaged the small encampment.

That story, as well known now in Ireland as in the US, is likely what filled St. Patrick’s Church the Sunday of Catherine Burns’ funeral mass, which was said by the church’s pastor, Father Benny Fee. “The story resonates with a lot of Irish people who have little black holes in their family history, family members who came here and just vanished,” said Watson. ‘They have sympathy for anyone that young who experienced such hardship so senselessly. Catherine Burns died just like John Ruddy died, of violence.”

It was Father Fee’s idea to have Catherine Burns’ casket carried by other women of the parish who shared her first name, said Watson. “His sermon was fantastic,” he said.

“It is our solemn privilege to welcome home to her native Tyrone Catherine’s mortal remains and to lay them to rest with the prayers and rites of the church and with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Father Fee told the congregation, according to published accounts. “Catherine is one of our own. She’s no stranger—she has Tyrone blood in her veins.”

From his pulpit, Father Fee thanked the Watsons and Schandlemeier for bringing “Catherine back from her exile to her native pastures. Now there’s no fear, no terror for Catherine any more.”

There are still 50 other victims of Duffy’s Cut whose bodies have not been recovered. Radar imaging has found what Watson calls “an anomaly,” a large apparently empty space that may have been left when bodies buried underground decomposed and collapsed. Core samples of that area are scheduled to be taken in mid-August, he said.

The cores will be taken about five feet from where the anomaly is seen on the scan so as not to disturb anything buried below. Forensic scientists will then sift through the circular samples, which will be encased in canisters about a foot long and four feet wide, to determine if there are any human remains before a dig gets underway.

“If what we find what we expect to find,” said Watson, “this maybe the worst mass murder in Pennsylvania history.”

The photos below were taken by Jim McArdle, who was one of several representatives from the Philadelphia area who attended the funeral service. The others included Irish Center President Vincent Gallagher, Donegal Association President Frank McDonnell and his wife, Kathleen, and Donegal Association members Nora and Liam Campbell and John Durnin.

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Local Irish Honored for their Support of Barry Memorial

The Irish Center's Frank Hollingsworth and Sean McMenamin accept the Barry portrait.

The Irish Center’s Frank Hollingsworth and Sean McMenamin accept the Barry portrait.

Persuading the U.S. Naval Academy that Commodore John Barry, a gallant son of Ireland and the “Father of the American Navy,” deserved a visible presence worthy of his stature should have been a no-brainer.

It wasn’t. In fact, for proponents of the it turned into a bit of a slog, with one rejection after another. John McInerney and Jack O’Brien, members of the Washington, D.C. Ancient Order of Hibernians, led the charge. With help from many supporters, including the Philadelphia Irish Center/Commodore Barry Club, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Philadelphia AOH, and the Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn, the memorial eventually became a reality.

To thank Philly-area project supporters, Jack O’Brien presented a copy of the official U.S. Navy portrait of Commodore Barry to the Irish Center in a ceremony Wednesday.

Here’s our video from the ceremony.

History, News, People

Second Duffy’s Cut Victim Returning Home

The skull of Catherine Burns as it was found in the archeological dig. Photo courtesy of Duffy's Cut.

The skull of Catherine Burns as it was found in the archeological dig. Photo courtesy of Duffy’s Cut.

Catherine Burns is going home in July. She will be buried under a Celtic cross in the cemetery of St. Patrick’s Parish of Clonoe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She is the second of the victims of the Duffy’s Cut tragedy whose remains will be interred in the country they left behind in 1832 to find a better life, but who met death instead.

Hers was the seventh body they found—a handful of bone fragments really—in the pit of clay and shale at the Malvern archeological site called Duffy’s Cut, after the 19th century railroad contractor who recruited dozens of Irishmen to work on laying tracks for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, now part of Amtrak’s northeast corridor. Fifty-seven of them died there, only six weeks after arriving on American soil on the ship John Stamp, which had sailed out of Derry on its two-month Atlantic voyage.

The body was known as SK007—a designation indicating only the order in which it was discovered. But one day, several years ago, as a team of students, led by Immaculata College history professor William Watson, his twin brother Frank, a Lutheran minister, and several colleagues, worked at the site, they received a phone call that helped them give those bones a name.

“We were finishing digging out the body we were calling ‘the tall man’ when we got a call from Janet Monge, our forensic anthropologist at Penn, who told us that it was a woman,” recalled the Rev. Frank Watson. “First and foremost, we almost fainted. We had found a pelvis and a skull and Janet told us that the palate was small and it was a woman’s pelvis. We knew from the ship’s records that there had been a young woman, Elizabeth Devine, who came with her brother who was a laborer. But Janet told us she was too young. This was another woman aged around 30, so that left a woman who had traveled from Tyrone on the John Stamp with her father-in-law, John Burns, at 70 the eldest of the immigrants. She was a widow and her name was Catherine. She was 29. And we found historically that she had disappeared with John, like the others.”

And, like the others, Catherine Burns’ remains showed signs of violence. “She had been treated just like the men. She died of blunt force trauma, just like the rest of the men except for the tall man under the tree who had a bullet in his skull. She was beaten to death,” said Watson. “There were no defensive wounds, so they were probably tied up before they were killed. It’s just horrible.”

Over the years, the Watson brothers and their colleagues pieced together what is now a well known story of Irish immigrants seeking a better life who were murdered by local vigilantes who feared the spread of a cholera epidemic that had overtaken the small encampment where the laborers lived, near a likely contaminated creek running by. Only a small group of nuns, the Daughters of Charity, were courageous enough to minister to the Irish workers, coming out from Philadelphia to do so.

It’s a story told even in Clonoe, a rural parish on the southwest corner of Lough Neagh, says Father Benny Fee, pastor of St. Patrick’s. “It is surprising to me how many [of my parishioners] are aware of Duffy’s Cut and the terrible things that happened there,” he wrote in an email this week.

A friend and former parishioner, Brian McCaul, now of Upper Darby, suggested that Catherine’s remains might find a home in the Clonoe Parish Cemetery. “We got involved because as far as I know Brian gave my name to some of the people involved in the Duffy’s cut Repatriation Project,” wrote Father Fee. “We feel very honored to do something for this child of God, Catherine Burns, a lady who I suspect was given very little dignity or value in life. The seventh corporal work of mercy is to bury the dead, so it is a privilege and an honor to be asked to be involved.”

On Sunday, July 19, after a Mass performed by Father Fee, Catherine Burns’ remains will be interred at the foot of “what we call the Tall Cross of Clonoe,” wrote Father Fee.

It’s “a modern cross erected in 2008 in honour of the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes.,” he wrote. “It is modeled on the Papal Cross that was raised above the Altar in Dublin’s Phoenix Park for the visit of Pope John Paul to Ireland in 1979. And remember at Shannon Airport he spoke of those countless men and women who left Ireland for the New World just as he was leaving Ireland to travel on to New York to address the United Nations. The Cross is lit up at night, based on the lighting of the Bridge of Peace at Drogheda, County Louth. The Cross for us, of course, as believers in Christ is the great bridge from this world to the world of the Presence of God.”

Catherine’s remains will be accompanied by the Watson brothers and their close colleague Earl Schandlemeier who will also revisit and place a marker on the grave of 19-year-old John Ruddy, a victim from Donegal, whose body was buried a year ago in a plot in Ardara, Donegal, donated by Irish Center President Vincent Gallagher. Gallagher may also attend the ceremony. Five other victims whose remains were discovered but who have never been identified are buried in a donated plot—under a Celtic cross—at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd where, until recently, Catherine Burns’ remains were interred.

Several local organizations, including the Philadelphia Tyrone Society and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, as well as individuals have contributed to the cost of repatriating the bodies. “Kathy McGee Burns gave us a significant gift he night of her installation as grand marshal of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade,” said Watson. McGee Burns, president of the Irish Memorial, also contributed to John Ruddy’s burial in Donegal.

Work will resume at the Duffy’s Cut site on June 8—core samples will be taken to determine if there are any bone fragments in a space under the tracks where screenings found another possible mass grave, possibly the other 50 missing workers, said Watson. “Ideally, if we find what we anticipate we’ll find, the dig will reconvene this year. We have no idea what the Amtrak derailment [on Tuesday night, May 12, in Philadelphia] will mean to this.”

What makes the Watsons and their colleagues press on is something both personal and spiritual. The story started for them one day in 2002 while going through files that belonged to their grandfather, who was executive assistant to the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Martin Clement. Clement had kept an extensive file on Duffy’s Cut and it had wound up in their grandfather’s papers.

“We inherited the story from our grandfather and we think it’s for a reason,” said Watson. “This didn’t come to us by accident. This is a story that needs to be told and we need to work for justice and right for these people who never got the chance in their lifetime.”

Photos of other remains below from the Duffy’s Cut team.

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