03 November 2011

BUILDING AMERICA'S RAILROADS: SACRIFICE OF THE IRISH IMMIGRANTS

    Disappointing news was announced this week for all of us who have been monitoring the events at the Duffy's Cut "dig," near Immaculata, Pennsylvania. While the massive grave of Irish immigrant railroad workers, some murdered and others perhaps dead of cholera, is nearer to being uncovered, the proximity of the bodies' remains to current Amtrak tracks will prevent the team of researchers from digging any further. The goal of the team to give the men a proper burial in Ireland will go unrealized. Thus, the tragedy of these 57 hard-working men continues to this day.
     In 1832, these men, mostly from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry, signed on to help build America's railroads soon after they arrived in Philadelphia. In their short time in America, they put in long days in harsh conditions for little compensation. Suddenly, all were dead, supposedly of cholera. Their bodies were quickly buried at the worksite. About ten years ago, two brothers (and historians), Frank and Bill Watson, set out to prove their theory that many of these men were murdered. Anti-Irish, anti-immigrant sentiment was high in the Philadelphia area at that time.  They have since uncovered evidence of murder in the artifacts and bones that have been unearthed. Of particular interest to Irish family historians, the project has been working toward identifying the men and tracing their family connections to Ireland (see my previous post on the subject via the link below).
     I have been informed by some family researchers that a mass grave of Irish immigrant railroad workers also exists in McLean County, Illinois. Near the railroad tracks in Funk's Grove, a six foot tall Celtic cross marks the ground where over 50 Irish men died in 1852. Like the men of Duffy's Cut, these men supposedly died of cholera. But, some historians argue that cholera was not present in the county at that time--another mystery, another Irish American tragedy.
     I wonder how many Irish men are buried along our railroad tracks? How many Irish Americans have no idea that their ancestors are lying beneath the rails on which they travel?
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