Irish community visits archeological site of newly discovered 200-year-old cemetery
Published Wednesday, December 11, 2019 2:10PM EST Last Updated Wednesday, December 11, 2019 4:15PM EST
MONTREAL -- Members of Montreal's Irish community made an emotional visit Wednesday morning to a 200-year-old cemetery that was discovered only weeks ago.
Last month, archaeologists uncovered part of the cemetery for Irish migrants who died after fleeing famine in 1847. Archeologists were called to the site under Bridge Street where construction for the new REM light-rail system is being carried out. There, they discovered bone fragments of 12 to 15 people in a spot about 2.3 metres in diameter that will eventually hold one of the light-rail system's pillars.
Victor Boyle, director of the Montreal Irish Monument Park said they were shown a skull and femur of an adult.
"It's one thing to say, over and over – which we have for generations – that this is an Irish cemetery, there are 6,000 bodies buried here. That part of the history is well known. But to see these remains with my own eyes, to touch a coffin with my own hands? It's something that just goes beyond description," he said.
Calling it a 'labour of love,' Boyle said he's very pleased by the care and respect with which the archaeologists are handling the remains.
The findings are believed to be part of a larger cemetery under Bridge Street close to the Victoria Bridge near the Black Rock, a three-metre-tall boulder erected by railway workers in 1859 that is believed to be the first-ever memorial to victims of the potato famine. Many of them were stricken with typhus, arriving on what were known as coffin ships. This finding is the first evidence of that mass grave.
A pillar for the REM will be installed at the exact location where the remains were found, but Boyle said the plan is to reinter them as close to that as possible.
Beyond that, said Boyle, the rest of the REM will be travelling high above the cemetery and will not desecrate or disturb the graves in any way.