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The Irish in Westmorland County

When one thinks of “Irish New Brunswick”, the Miramichi region or the city of Saint John comes to mind. Not Westmorland County. This is certainly true today. However, during the peak Irish immigration period (1815-1850) – and for a couple of generations that followed, Westmorland County was very Irish indeed.

Westmorland County is nestled in the south-eastern corner of New Brunswick. Her physical landscape includes the extensive marshlands along the Tantramar along the Nova Scotia border and the Petitcodiac and Memramcook River systems in the southeast. The landscape then gradually rises to the worn down remnants of the Appalachian Mountain Chain in the northwest corner at Indian Mountain.
 

Irish Settlements in Westmorland County
Figure 1: Irish Settlements in Westmorland County
Good arable farm lands along the Tantramar marshes, the Memramcook and Petitcodiac river systems had already been settled by the time the Irish came in any great numbers after 1815. Along the coastal Northumberland Strait, Acadians – those who had avoided the deportation in 1755 – as well as those who had returned – had settled much of the land. Most of the new Irish arrivals were forced inland on lands that were rich in timber, but poor for agriculture. Some lands near the inland streams weren’t too bad, but most land grants were on lots that, once the forest cover was removed, was not viable – much of it was on clay-packed bog or stone strewn upland with a very small cover of topsoil.

The earliest Irish settlement in Westmorland County and perhaps in the province of New Brunswick was the community of Petitcodiac, on the inland marshlands of the headwaters of the river of the same name. Settled in the 1760’s, this community was planted by Ulster Scots who had originally wanted grants in the Truro-Onslow area of Nova Scotia but were disillusioned and came in-land instead. Some of the family names associated with Petitcodiac were Alwards, Bleakneys (Blakeneys), Cochranes and Camerons.1

Irish immigrants came into Westmorland County from every direction. Some came up the Shepody Trail from Saint John to Alma, in Albert County and then up-river. Others came along the Westmorland Road via Hampton, Sussex, Petitcodiac and Salisbury – but to call it a road at this time would be an exaggeration. Most trails in New Brunswick – whether they were ‘roads’ or simple ‘portages’ were a long miserable trek. Relating his experience with the Westmorland Road, Lt. Col. Joseph Gubbins in his 1811 journal wrote:

“This day’s journey was through a dreary forest upon an execrable track, lately cut through deep swamps encumbered with roots of trees and stumps recently cut down.”2
Some immigrants came via Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Others hopped off timber ships in ports such as Alma, Shediac, and Cocagne.

The largest Irish community in Westmorland County was Melrose on Route 116 on the Tormentine peninsula in the southeastern portion of the county.

“In 1820 the government of New Brunswick contracted the survey of an east-west line through the centre of the peninsula tipped by Cape Tormentine. The road was meant to encourage pioneering by immigrants who were then flocking into the colony. Fifty parcels of land of about two hundred acres each were marked off as free grants, and almost immediately Catholic Irish immigrants began arriving to claim them. In a very short time, a community took shape, built around numerous kin links, common origins, and common experiences. By 1825 all the lots had been distributed.”3
Known at first as simply Emigrant Road or Emigrant Settlement, the community was briefly called Savagetown, after one of the families there, and eventually became Melrose. This Irish community was unique in many ways. It was planned and early lots were free. Most importantly, many of the settler families were related in Ireland before coming here – many came from the Bally-na-muck area of the Parish of Morragh (Murragh today) in County Cork. The related families included the family names Lane, Savage, Murphy, Hartnett, Mahoney, Carty, Barry, Donovan, and Shea. Other family names associated with Melrose were Carroll, Stack, Hickey, Houlahan, Hayes, Sweeney, Hennessey, Holland, and Noonan, among others.4 The community became so large that it was later divided into two communities – Melrose and Malden. Today, there is little that remains except for St Bartholemew’s RC Church and the graveyard where many were laid to rest.

The second largest concentration of Irish in Westmorland County were settled north of Moncton – in what was simply known as “Irishtown” for many years – because everyone in Moncton referred to the lands north of Moncton as simply ‘Irishtown’ – but in reality, ‘Irishtown’ was really four Irish communities that were separate and unique – but located close together in terms of distance. They included Irishtown proper, McQuades, O’Neills and eventually, Tankville.

Irishtown is located on Route 115 between Moncton and Notre Dame. It lies along the headwaters of the Shediac River. It began with a petition to the NB government on January 23, 1821 to begin a community by eight individuals:

“…on vacant lands laying about North from the mouth of Halls Creek on the Petitcodiac River, about eight miles back, Shediac river running through the lands…your petitioners therefore prays that they may have a Block of land allotted to them of three hundred acres for each petitioner.”5
The petition was not granted because it was not detailed enough and eventually through the 1820’s, only three of the eight petitioners actually settled in the community, suggesting that some of the petitioners were actually attempting to acquire crown lands for the timber rather than settling.

Nonetheless, Irishtown grew rapidly and settlers came into the community from mostly the southern counties of Ireland. Some were related to the settlers in Melrose as well. Before long, there was a church, named after the 11th century archbishop of Dublin, St Lawrence O’Toole. This would serve all of the Irish communities north of Moncton including McQuades, O’Neills and Tankville as well.

Names found in Irishtown were Gallagher, Hennessy, Larracey, Donovan, Hogan, Eddington, Kennedy, Fitzgerald, Cronin, Marley, among many others.

O’Neills was west of Irishtown on Indian Mountain and it was also settled primarily from the south of Ireland. It was named after the family who kept the post office in the community, the O’Neills, of whom there were a number of families. Other families here were Fitzsimmons, Kelly, Delahunt, McFarlane and Gaines.

Just a bit north of Irishtown on McLaughlin road (Route 495), a road that ran parallel to the Irishtown Road, was the community of McQuades, again named after one of the first settler families. Many of the McQuade families had arrived in Saint John in May 1832 and came from the same area in Ireland – the parish of Donagh in County Monaghan. They included the families – McQuade, Anketell, Donaghy (later spelled Donahue/Donahoe), McDonald, Foley, Barr, Kelly and Doyle. Other families joined the community later on: Kervin, Lowry, Griffin and Lannigan, among others. The settlement was located between the headwaters of the Shediac and Cocagne rivers.

Tankville is located between Moncton and Irishtown – on primarily marshland which separated Moncton from Irishtown. It was originally referred to as Irishtown as well but it took on it’s own identity as the community grew. When the Moncton & Bouctouche railway went through the community, it stopped there for water and so the settlement became known as Tankville – after the water tank. Most settled here after the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Moncton in the 1860’s. There were the Irish families of Anketell, Crossman, Delahunt, Hannagan, Kennedy, Carmichael, and Morrison but there were also non-Irish families such as the Sellick and Russell families, among others.

Seven miles northwest of Salisbury, were the Irish communities of Fredericton Road (sometimes known as Leaman’s Hill) and Keenan Hill. Located on Route 112, this was once a sizeable community as well and was served by it’s own parish (Our Lady of Ransom) and a school. Today all that remains is the cemetery, which is well-maintained. Some of the family names here were O’Sullivan, Murphy, Keohan, Monaghan, Wheaton, McHale, Keenan, Flynn and Donovan and McQuirk.6

West of Moncton was the community of Shediac Road, on what is now Route 134. Family names here were Connors, Fogarty, McDevitt, McDonald, O’Neal, and Walsh among others.

In Botsford Portage, inland from Cap Pelé, there were the families Butler, Joyce, Blanch, Butler, Whalen among others. This settlement is now virtually abandoned.

South of Moncton, along the eastern side of the Petitcodiac River was the settlement of Dungiven, now known as Little Dover. There were Carters, Powells, O’Neals, and McCarthys.

Along the Memramcook River system, there were also the Irish communities in Calhoun, Gaytons and McGinley Corner. Although separate communities amongst Acadian ones, they were closely related socially. The family names Sullivan, Power, McManus, McKelvie, McGinley, Atkinson, Gayton(Keating), Cassidy, Casey, Doherty, Sweeny, Sherry were settled here, among others.7

Irish immigrants also settled amongst the Acadians in settlements along the Northumberland Strait. There were the Friels, Downings, McGraths, and O’Briens in the Cap Pelé-Shemogue region and the Murphys and Roaches in Shediac. Also there were the Donovans, Powers, O’Briens and Caseys in Shediac Bridge. Sorting out some of these families are difficult. Over the years they became very francophone and the priests would change their names over time. Many Caseys are now Caissies; Powers became Poirier or Porelle; O’Brien became Brine or Brun; Downing became Donell or Donelle; McGraths became Magraw or Magras. Many of these families no longer are even aware of their Irish roots.

There was one thing common in all of the Irish communities throughout Westmorland County. They were all in-land, on smaller streams, on poor or non-arable lands, and away from viable markets. The most viable cash crop on their land grants was the timber thereon and when that was gone, life was very difficult. Most practiced no more than subsistence farming, supplementing their incomes by working in the woods, building roads, or working in nearby Moncton when work was plentiful.

Better roads and the railways came to most of these communities. The railway was touted as God’s salvation to most – it would bring them closer to markets and make their farms more viable. Instead they bled their communities of people – rolling them off down the rail lines to either Moncton or the “Boston States”. Gradually, the communities emptied. Many went into Moncton to find new jobs working for the railway repair sheds. Many more hopped the train to Saint John and then the boat to New England, and the factories of the market towns surrounding Boston.

Westmorland County was dotted with several Irish communities during the nineteenth century. The family names are still around – and many of their descendants live in Moncton. But the communities are mostly abandoned now and only exist in name for the most part.


[1] Cecil J Houston and William J Smyth, Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement, Patterns, Links and Letters, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, p. 195.

[2] Dan Soucoup, “Westmorland Road today no more than a memory”, Times-Transcript, June 15, 1887.

[3] Cecil J Houston and William J Smyth, Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement, Patterns, Links and Letters, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, p. 198.

[4] Rev Edward Savage, The Story of Melrose, privately published, circa 1900. Citations throughout.

[5] —— “Petition for Lands by Thos Laracy and seven others” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, F4190, RS107.

[6] Maurice Leger and Oscar Bourque, Souvenir of the 50th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Moncton, Sackville, Tribune Press Ltd., 1986, p. 125.

[7] Gustave Gaudet, La Vallée Memramcook : Hier-Aujourd’hui, Chapman’s Corner : Chedic Ltée, 1984, p. 154.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cail, Shirley Landry, Village of Tankville, Moncton, Elmwood North Community Association, 2004.

Gaudet, Gustave, La Vallée Memramcook : Hier-Aujourd’hui, Chapman’s Corner : Chedic Ltée, 1984.

Houston, Cecil J and William J Smyth, Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement, Patterns, Links and Letters, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Leger, Maurice, and Oscar Bourque, Souvenir of the 50th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Moncton, Sackville, Tribune Press Ltd., 1986.

—— “Petition for Lands by Thos Laracy and seven others” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, F4190, RS107.

Savage, Rev Edward, The Story of Melrose, privately published, circa 1900.

Soucoup, Dan, “Westmorland Road today no more than a memory”, in Times-Transcript, Moncton, June 15, 1887.

Steeves, Harold, Our Heritage, MacDougall, Irishtown, Scotch Settlement, Privately published, 1984.