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The Irish of Albert County

By Beulah Morrissey, Winnie Smith and Gerald Teahan

As the early land grants and census records show, the Irish first came to Albert County as early as 1818. They came from both the north and south of Ireland, as desperation had probably driven them from their homeland where there was much persecution and little chance of employment. They emigrated from County Antrim, Cork, Donegal, Fermanagh, Kerry, Londonderry, Louth, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Tyrone and Waterford.1

 
Figure 1: Albert County
Figure 1: Albert County
 
The Irish people who made Albert County their home came here after first arriving in the City of Saint John, in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, sometimes after living in those areas for a time. If they arrived in Saint John they then made their way up the Shepody Road, also known as the Immigrant Road, often walking the long distance. Some went towards the area of Hastings, which is now in Fundy National Park, but mostly they settled in a place they called New Ireland, with names such as Galway and Kerry within this community reflecting their beloved homeland. Hastings and New Ireland were both hilly areas with elevations of approximately 1250 feet. Small pockets of the Irish people coming from Nova Scotia and Saint John by boat settled in near the water in Point Wolfe and Goose River, also now within Fundy National Park. Here, weir fishing was begun in 1840 by Brian Doherty. Shad was also plentiful until about 1880, when it was supposed that the sawdust from the many mills led to their decline.2
 
Always conscious of religious differences, many of the Protestant Irish who had settled in New Ireland eventually moved out towards Alma, Brookville, Sinclair Hill and Hebron. There they seemed to blend in with the Americans and Nova Scotians, who were obtaining grants and settling the area of Salmon River, later known as Alma. Still, many of the people living there today are descendants of these early Irish immigrants. Some of the Anglican Irish remained in the eastern part of New Ireland and erected a church there. There is a record of a marriage performed there in 1855 in St. Stephen’s Church by a Rev. Mr. A. J. Creswell.3
 
As New Brunswick was anxious to have the province settled, they granted land to people whom they felt qualified for such; people who would clear and settle it. Settlers often were given a “location ticket” first, allowing them to live on the land. Later, if improvements were made they received the land grant, usually of 100 acres.4 When the land was first cleared of trees in New Ireland, it was then burned. Then they planted a crop which was known as “burnt land potato”. These potatoes were very scabby and barely edible.
 
Later some of the people had fairly large farms, with big barns for hay. They kept cows, made hay and grew crops such as corn, oats, barley and buckwheat. In 1847 Bernard Duffy petitioned to erect a grist mill. Some of these crops were then processed at this mill which was located on McGee (later Duffy) Brook, near the Forty Five River. At that time they used oxen instead of horses for transporting their crops to the mill.
 
In the Clover Hill part of New Ireland, which was located northwest of Teahan’s Corner on the road to Elgin, there were many maple trees. These were not cut down, but were tapped in the spring for sap. The sap was then boiled down for syrup and maple sugar, which was then sold in Saint John. At one time a stage coach went through these areas coming from Saint John and continuing on to Hopewell Cape, or on to the Bend. This was mostly for mail, but it sometimes carried passengers. Also, near Clover Hill can be found the Mines Road. Elderly residents recall the old smelters which are long gone but there are still traces of the mines where small amounts of minerals such as gold, silver and copper were extracted.
 
There has been a long history of logging in the area and it has been one of the most important industries in Alma and New Ireland. There are many lakes, brooks and rivers in the area and most of these rivers had a dam built on them. The men cut the logs, hauled them to the river by oxen or horses, where they were piled high. In the spring, the logs were released into the rushing water (called a freshet) and on their way to a mill. This was dangerous work and many a man was badly hurt, or lost his life, in the “river drive”. In New Ireland the logs were sent down the Forty Five River, so named because it took approximately 45 minutes for them to get to Alma. Farther along, the Forty Five flowed into the Salmon River. In Hastings the logs often were sent down the East Branch, Sweeney, Rat Tail or Foster Brook to the Point Wolfe River. At these destinations the lumber was milled and shipped to many far away places.
 
Some of the people who lived near the water worked on the ships that were being built there. For a few, becoming a sailor on one of these ships was the life they chose.

Regardless of where the Irish settled in the lower end of Albert County, they eked out a living from the land, mostly by farming and lumbering. They picked the stones off the land, and then used them for stone fences to mark their lots of land and for fireplaces and cellars for their houses. The houses were made of hewn lumber or sometimes logs. The log homes were caulked with moss, and birch bark or buckwheat hulls were used for insulation.

 
 
Figure 2: Free standing stone fencing in New ireland Remnant of a stone fireplace in New Ireland
Free standing stone fencing in New ireland Remnant of a stone fireplace in New Ireland
Vital to any community is a church and school. These two buildings were nearly always located adjacent to each other. In the 1851 census book there are nine schools listed for Harvey, which then included Alma Parish. (Harvey and Alma are the two parishes where the majority of the Irish settled. Two hundred and fifty one immigrants of Irish nationality are listed for Harvey Parish, out of the 377 Irish who came to the county. And those 377 are the largest number of the total 723 immigrants from all countries who arrived here).5 Many of the teachers in the schools came from Ireland. John Cairnes arrived in 1836 and applied for a licence. He, and also Thomas Morrissey in later years, taught at the Shepody Road School, located near the Anglican Church, for many years in the late 1870’s6.

School photo circa 1920, Riverside Albert Consolidated School
School photo circa 1920, Riverside Albert Consolidated School
 
In 1866 Bishop John Sweeney of Saint John appointed Fr. David O’Brien as parish priest in the New Ireland area, and a chapel was built on the present site of the New Ireland Cemetery. In 1868 Fr. Robert Welsh replaced Fr. O’Brien and finished the Catholic mission church.7 Near this church, later known as St. Agatha’s Catholic Church, another school was located – the New Ireland School, also known as the Doran School. John Barrett taught here. A native of County Mayo, he was one of the earliest teachers in New Ireland, applying for a licence in 1831. In later years Frances Doherty, whose father came from Ireland, was one of the teachers who taught in another school located near Teahan’s Corner. This school continued in operation until 1923, sometimes under different names, but finally known as the Galway School. The number of pupils in these schools ranged from 20 to 40, and they ranged in age from four to twenty years of age.8
 
Picnic at the New Ireland Rectory circa 1910
Picnic at the New Ireland Rectory circa 1910

The Irish people brought some of their culture and customs to their new homeland. Bills paid from the estate of Rosie Cusack show that on the day of her death, goods purchased from A.C. Peck included 14 yards of” shirting,” sugar and oil, one “reel,” 18 pipes and six plugs of tobacco.9 – articles and goods very important for the Irish wake. Neighbouring women experienced in laying out the body, would gather at the house of the deceased where they would wash the body, dress it in a robe, and place a crucifix on the breast and rosary beads in the fingers. Sheets were hung over the bed and along two or three sides, creating a “dead wall” which separated the corpse from the mourners. After kneeling to say a prayer beside the deceased, the mourners would retire to the other side to honour their late friend with storytelling, eating, drinking, singing and perhaps even dancing. Clay pipes and tobacco were given to all and the house soon filled with smoke in honour of the dead. The body was never left alone, and the rosary was recited. The clocks were stopped as a mark of respect.10 Even with a lot of hard work, there was still time for entertainment. This was usually in the homes, with people playing accordion, mouth-organ, fiddle or sometimes just singing. Some of this music was a form of singing called “doodle’ where the person sang the tune, but no words. And if they sang words they were often long songs telling a story, perhaps brought here from Ireland.

Contact Winnie Smith at wesmith@nbnet.nb.ca for more information


[1] Heather Long, Good Green Hope: The Irish Catholic Settlers of Albert County, New Brunswick., Halifax, Privately Published, 1995, p 2.

[2] Robert Fellows, 1851 Census, 1972

[3] Anglican Church Records, Albert County.

[4] Ann Breault and Winnie Smith, Of the Country – The Story of a McKinley Family, St Andrews: St Croix Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., 2003. p. 3

[5] Robert Fellows, 1851 Census, 1972

[6] Ann Breault and Winnie Smith, School Records – Selected Schools from Alma and Harvey Parishes, Albert County, Privately published, 2008, p. 105.

[7] Fr. Oram, Brief Sketch of the Catholic Missions in Albert Co. NB, (From the historical Parish Files, Albert County Missions), Saint John: Diocese of Saint John, 1923.

[8] Ann Breault and Winnie Smith, School Records – Selected Schools from Alma and Harvey Parishes, Albert County.

[9] Ann Breault and Winnie Smith, Of the Country – The Story of a McKinley Family, St Andrews: St Croix Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., 2003. p. 37.

[10] ——, “The Irish Wake” from http://www.bcpl.net/-hutmanpr/wake.html#Main.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

——, Anglican Church Records, Albert County (Albert County Museum), no date.

Breault, Ann, and Winnie Smith, Of the Country – The Story of a McKinley Family, St Andrews: St Croix Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., 2003.

Breault, Ann, and Winnie Smith, School Records: Selected Schools from Alma and Harvey Parishes, Albert County, NB, Privately published, 2008.

Fellows, Robert, 1851 Census, Fredericton, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, 1972

 
Long, Heather, Good Green Hope: The Catholic Irish Settlers of Albert County New Brunswick, Halifax, Privately published, 1995.

Oram, Fr., Brief Sketch of Catholic Missions in Albert Co. NB, from Historical Parish Files, Albert County Missions, Saint John Diocesan Archives, Saint John, NB.

——, “The Irish Wake” from http://www,bcpl.net/-hutmanpr/wake.htm1#Main.