“Children of the Gael died in the thousands on this island having fled from the laws of the foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God’s loyal blessing upon them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.” – Inscription on Celtic Cross, Grosse Île, Canada
August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, is the annual feast day of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. On that day in 1909 an international crowd of almost 2,000 attended the unveiling of a forty foot Celtic Cross on Grosse Île, the quarantine station where more than 10,000 Irish men, women and children were cared for in the 1840s during the mass immigration to Canada caused by the artificial famine at home. More than 5,000 who were too sick to continue their perilous flight to a better life are buried here.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians held a weekend of commemoration to mark the centenary of the cross that began on August 14 with a dinner in Quebec attended by the presidents and vice-presidents of the AOH from Ireland, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and Australia. As the granddaughter of Jeremiah Gallagher, of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who designed the cross and saw to its erection, it was my honor to present the history of the idea of remembrance and its execution. Present were two grandsons of Jeremiah: J. Anthony Conway and Neil O’Gallagher.
On Saturday, the 15th, the AOH went en masse to Grosse Île, 30 miles from Quebec City, to fulfill the most earnest part of their three day pilgrimage – the rededication of the Celtic Cross.
The open field next to the western cemetery became the open-air church for a noontime Mass officiated by Father Pierre René Coté. It was fitting that a French-Canadian priest celebrate with the Irish, since 40 of his predecessors had served as chaplains here in 1847, and four among them had died of fever contracted when they attended to the sick.
In the afternoon the rededication of the cross at the summit of Telegraph Hill was marked by solemn words from Victor Boyle, president of the Montreal branch of the AOH, who organized the commemoration, and Declan Kelly, the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada.
At the end of the day a chunk of granite, long ago broken from the cross in a thunderstorm, was made ready for its journey to Vancouver where it will be incorporated into a monument there.
A second day of commemoration by the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Montreal was held on Grosse Île August 23, with a rededication of the Anglican chapel, recently restored by that society.