Campaigners on behalf of Irish immigrants murdered in America have commended a Derry women’s project for sharing their stories of the past to work towards reconciliation.
Dr Frank Watson and Tom Conner from the Duffy’s Cut Project, Pennsylvania, were welcomed by Creggan Enterprises (pictured) in the Ráth Mór Centre to share their experiences with the Unheard Voices women’s history project, which aims to promote reconciliation by giving a voice to the most marginalised in society.
The Duffy’s Cut Project set out to tell the story of 57 Irish men and women who died at Duffy’s Cut near Philadelphia in the 1830s building America’s most dangerous stretch of railroad.
The 57 Irish immigrants from Derry, Donegal and Tyrone died on the railroad at Duffy’s Cut, some from cholera but some were murdered locals who believed the Irish labourers brought the disease with them.
Dr Watson revealed he and his twin brother Bill found out about what took place at Duffy’s Cut from their grandfather but were met with opposition when they tried to investigate the deaths and share the story.
Dr Watson and Mr Conner have said it’s equally important that Derry women’s stories are heard as part of peacebuilding and reconciliation work.
“These stories are meant to be told,” said Dr Watson. “People told us the story didn’t need to be told. We were asked to justify why the story of 57 dead Irishmen and women was worth telling – how can you be asked to justify that?
“Almost 200 years after the fact, nobody wanted to know about it.
“But everybody’s story has a right to be told, that’s the way we looked at it over in America, and everyone has a right to be remembered.”
Dr Watson’s team have since located six bodies of the Irish dead from Duffy’s Cut, as well as clear evidence that at least some of the dead were murdered.
The remains of two of those who died have been since been identified and re-interred in Ireland – including Catherine Burns, who was buried last year following a funeral Mass in the parish church in Clonoe, County Tyrone.
“She came to America looking for a better life, so it seems fitting that she’s now buried right at the foot of the High Cross of Clonoe.,” said Dr Watson.
Carol Cunningham, Project Co-ordinator of the Unheard Voices Project, said there were parallels between both projects that provide important insights into the struggles faced by women during the Troubles and the emigrants who left our shores for a better life in America.
“Both projects highlight the importance of storytelling,” she said.
“In each case these stories were hidden for decades, yet they’ve now been written into history.”
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