The Irish of Kent County

 
Kent County is located on the east coast of New Brunswick between Northumberland and Westmorland counties1. The lands are fairly fertile along its river systems and coastline, but most inland areas away from the rivers are fairly boggy and remain virtually uninhabited to this day. It was on this land that some Irish settlers were given land grants and it is not a surprise to anyone that they moved on to other communities. Those who received grants along the river systems were the lucky ones.
Map of Kent County
Kent County is not generally associated with Irish settlement. However, there were a number of Irish communities established here throughout the nineteenth century. Not all of them were successful however, as they were fairly isolated and away from the main populated regions of the county. Land along the coastline and river systems had already been settled, and lands had been granted here primarily to Acadian, English and Scottish settlers. There were, as well, a number of Protestant Irish settlers established on lands along the Richibucto River and her tributaries.

Other than South Branch, Main River and Targettville, most Irish arrivals settled in small pockets among the Acadians who had already settled much of this region. This was certainly the case in Grand-Digue, Cocagne, Notre Dame (once known in French as “Notre-Dame des Irlandais”), Bouctouche, Ste-Anne-de-Kent, and Richibucto. The Irish also settled amongst other settler groups such as the Scots and English, along the Richibucto River system near Mundleville, and in Main River, and Kouchibouguac. Along the Rogersville Road (Route 126) there were also some Irish families in Adamsville.

The small hamlet of Kouchibouguac is located on Route 11 between St Margaret’s and St-Louis-de-Kent. Remnants of the large sawmill can still be seen in the community from the busy days of shipbuilding. Many of the Irish who came here were late arrivals or first generation Canadians , children of other Irish settlers from communities throughout southeastern New Brunswick. The cemetery of the St James mission church has many of the original family names such as Leonard, Kelly, Ryan, McIntyre, Murphy, Sullivan and Harrington.

 

St. Patrick's - Chapel Point
St. Patrick’s – Chapel Point
There were Irish settled all along the Richibucto River system and its tributaries, the St Nicholas, Bass and Molus Rivers – in places like Mundleville, Main River, Targettville and Bass River. Some of the names in this area were McDermott, Roach, Donaher, Fahey, Hanrahan, Henneberry, and Roach, among others. In the early years of the settlement they travelled to mass by river to what is known today as Chapel Point, the home of St Patrick’s Chapel, one of the oldest catholic parishes in New Brunswick. Built in the 1820’s or early 1830’s, this church
Chapel Point Cemetery
Chapel Point Cemetery
is still with us today but is now closed, except for a mass or two during the summer months. It is beautiful in its simplicity with hand hewn shingles, homemade nails and floor and wall boards so wide that they must have been cut from virgin forest.
 
The Chapel Point cemetery is very well maintained and provides detailed information on many of the Irish families of the area.

 

Richibucto, along with nearby Rexton (then known as Kingston) became the second largest shipbuilding centre in New Brunswick after Saint John. There were a number of Irish families living in this area including Barnett, Brittain, O’Leary, Flanagan, Sutton, Donnelly, Wallace, McInerney, Harnett, Grogan, Connaughton, Lannigan, McAuley, McLaughlin and Dwyer.

Some became rather prominent in industry as well as politically.

 

O'Leary Home in Richibucto
O’Leary Home in Richibucto
Henry O’Leary, son of Theophilius O’Leary and Ellen Power was born in Castledown, Barehaven County Cork on 13 May 1836. Educated in Ireland, upon arriving here settled in Richibucto where he became a successful merchant, shipbuilder, lumberman and shipper. At one time he owned up to 30 lobster and salmon canning plants in the province. A Liberal, he represented Kent County in the NB Legislature and later in the House of Commons.

Nearby in Rexton, there were two Irish families that would leave their mark on the world –the Rt. Hon. Andrew Bonar Law, son of Rev James Law of Portrush, County Antrim, was born in Rexton but studied and moved to Britain and eventually would become Prime Minister of Britain – but just for a short time – from October 1922 to May 1923. The Laws, through their mother’s side were also related to another prominent Rexton family – the McInerneys. Both families had roots in Ballycastle, County Antrim and were related through the Ballycastle McDonalds, who had settled in South Branch, Kent County. 2
Andrew Bonar Law Andrew Bonar Law Homestead
Andrew Bonar Law Andrew Bonar Law Homestead
 
 

Logging on the St. Nicholas River
Logging on the St. Nicholas River
One of the largest Irish settlements was South Branch on Route 495 between Rexton and Ste-Marie-de Kent. Named because it was located on the south branch of the St Nicholas River, which flows into the Richibucto, one of the first settlers there was a John Blanchville who was already settled in South Branch in June, 1827, when he was granted 100 acres.3 The settlement attracted a number of settler families from all over Ireland, and some of them were related in Ireland before emigrating. They included the Shortalls of Castle Comer, County Kilkenny.4 Oliver Shortall was related to Blanchville and married to Julia Byrne and emigrated around 1844-45 – just before the Great Famine. There were also Chrystals (Ahamlish, County Sligo), McDonalds (Ballycastle, County Antrim), Burns (Dublin), Evans (Kerry), Fitzgeralds (Rathpatrick, County Kilkenny), Ryans (County Limerick), Markeys, Collins, Currans, Woods, Carberrys, Aylwards, Dunns, Plumes, among others.

South Branch was a farming and lumbering community and still has some of the original families living in the area. The community built a church in 1847 – St Peter’s, which is still in use today, a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish of Rexton. The cemetery is very well maintained and many of the stones contain valuable genealogical information – including immigrant’s place of origin in Ireland.

Just south of South Branch is the community of Balla Philip, named after the village of Ballyphilip in County Wexford and the hometown of the Murphy family.

In 1847, Patrick Murphy, his wife, and four sons and three daughters came [to the South Branch Balla Philip area.] One son had died at sea and tragically the mother succumbed to ship fever seven days after reaching here. She was the first person buried in the South Branch cemetery. Fortunately, Patrick’s brother had preceded him to the area and with him and his two sons, Thomas and Philip, a large area of farmland was cleared.

Just south of Balla Philip was the community of Murphy Settlement on the Murphy Road – named after the same family. This community is abandoned today.

Inland on Route 485, and southwest of St Paul, was the community of Sweeneyville, named after Bishop John Sweeny (1821-1901) who in 1864 secured lands for Irish settlers in the area. Sadly, Sweeneyville and the nearby Bishops Lands (now called Terrain de L’Évèque) were isolated and although it had a population of about 100 in 1898, with a post office, it is abandoned today – as is Bishop’s Land. The land grant map for this area suggests that very few Irish who actually settled on these planned settlements – the land was very boggy.5

Between Rexton and Bouctouche there were a number of Irish families living amongst the Acadians – there were Cadegans, Whalens, Butlers, and Grattans.

The community of Bouctouche today is associated with the Acadian literary folk hero “La Sagouine” but in the 1820’s, families with such names as , Ryan, Nowlan, McPhelin, McLaughlin, McFadden, Mooney Lynn and Carroll had settled here. The McPhelins had come from County Galway and the McLaughlins from County Donegal. Both families would leave their mark and were politically active in the county and beyond.6

On the south side of the Little Bouctouche River on Route 115 are the communities of McKee’s Mills, settled by Presbyterian Scots from Northern Ireland and the settlement of St Gregoire. This community, now gone, was called Doherty Mills where there were 100 Irish living in 1871 including Woods, and Dohertys.

On the scenic drive from Bouctouche to Cocagne on Route 535 one passes through Cormierville, which was once known as Gailey.

South of Bouctouche on Highway 134 is the Acadian community of Cocagne where there were Downings, Longs and Dysarts from Northern Ireland. Long would become a major industrialist in the village with a shipyard, and several mills and a farm. The Dysart family would produce a Premier of New Brunswick with Allison Albert Dysart – the first Irish Catholic to hold the office.7 There were also Carrolls, and inland towards Notre-Dame-de-Kent there were the including Sullivans, Fays and Gradys.

East of Cocagne, on the Northumberland Strait, is the summer cottage community known as Caissie Cape.8 It was named after an Irish mercenary who came to the Chignecto area in the 1600’s with French Acadian families. His name, sometimes spelled Quessy in the old records, is found on the land grant maps here along with his descendants Belony, Philip, Urban, Francis and Gabriel. In Caissie Cape and the neighbouring community of Grande-Digue, there were a number of Irish settlers including Connors, Fogartys, McGraths, O’Briens (Brun today), Downing (Donelle today) and Powers (Poirier today). Many of these families blended into the Acadian fabric of their communities and today consider themselves Acadian rather than Irish. In some cases, the priests would literally change their Irish names so that they would sound more francophone. Someone named Patrick would become Patrice; Mary Jane would become Marie Geneviève etc… Also last names were changed as well making it very difficult to extricate who was Irish and who was Acadian in the parish records.9

There were a number of Irish on Route 126 – locally referred to as the Rogersville Road. In Adamsville there were the Delahuntys, Englands, Swifts, among others.

Although Kent County today is primarily identified as an Acadian region of the province, it can be seen that many of the communities in the nineteenth century had heavy concentrations of Irish settlers – both Catholic and Protestant. However, as in many other areas of the province, Irish settlements were relegated to the ‘back end of nowhere’ and many left the area so that very few of these communities would be considered Irish today. Those that still have an Irish flavour, like South Branch, have so few families left that they are no longer communities but simply a drive through the countryside past small farms and fields, interspersed with forested areas where once another farm may have been located.

The Irish did indeed settle in Kent County. Some remain in many of the settlements today. Others – those who settled amongst the Acadian population became francophones– like the Nowlans, Donelles, Bruns and Caissies and McGraths. Not long ago, I ran into a fellow in Moncton, with roots in Grande-Digue, Kent County, who was a Brun (O’Brien) on his father’s side and his mother was a Donelle (Downing). When I suggested to him that he was Irish, he adamantly clung to his Acadian roots… Maybe he should dig a little deeper.


[1] Kent County was part of Northumberland County at one time.

[2] Edward L Gallagher, History of Old Kingston and Rexton, 1934, p 66.

[3] Robert J Shortall, “Climbing in the Shortall Family Ties”, in Robert Joseph Shortall, The Shortall Family Tree, unpublished. Article compiled 1999. p.4.

[4] Robert Joseph Shortall, The Shortall Family Tree, unpublished

[5] Dep’t of Natural Resources, Land Grant Map # 109.

[6] Leo J Hynes, The Catholic Irish of NB, p. 272.

[7] Ibid, p. 274-5. There has been some question on the Irishness of the Dysart family. Some claim that they are English. A relative of the Long family, Robert Dysart was born in England and went to Northern Ireland before coming to Cocagne to settle. Dysart is a long-standing Anglo-Irish name in Ireland (County Clare). Some family members say they are English – others – usually the side that married Catholic – claim to be Irish.

[8] The official name today is Cap-des-Caissie/Caissie Cape.

[9] All his life Antoine Donnelle of Caissie Cape insisted he was Irish and not Acadian. He signed all legal work with his ‘real’ name Anthony Downing. In the 1970’s, some of the extended family changed their names legally so that today, some family members are known as Donnelle and others Downing.

REFERENCES

Archidiocese of Moncton, Parish Records, Rexton, Richibucto Village, Bouctouche, Cocagne, Adamsville, St Paul, Cocagne and Notre Dame.
Department of Natural Resources, Province of New Brunswick, Land Grant Map, Kent County, #109.

Gallagher, Edward L, History of Old Kingston and Rexton, 1934.

Hynes, Leo J, The Catholic Irish of New Brunswick, 1783-1900, Fredericton, Privately Published, 1992.

Shortall, Robert J, The Shortall Family Tree, unpublished manuscript