Dr. Stewart Donovan
The epic tale of the Irish arrival and settlement in the Province of New Brunswick has, until very recently, been an unknown and an untold story—their history, in all its complexity, pain and triumph, has been largely a hidden one. Just as the Irish writer and nationalist, Daniel Corkery, once spoke and wrote of a hidden Ireland, so Canadians can read and talk of a hidden New Brunswick. And what was largely hidden for almost a century belonged in custom, memory, religion, ceremony, and ethnicity, to Ireland. There are many reasons for the existence of this forgotten record of one of the provinces founding peoples and we shall explore some of these as this journey into the Irish past of New Brunswick unfolds through this portal. Although Irish historians and biographers have included New Brunswick in some of their more prominent footnotes, most notably perhaps is the brief but adventurous sojourn of the romantic and tragic revolutionary, Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The dashing Lord Edward was stationed as a soldier in Fredericton in the eighteenth century, not long, in fact, before his heroic, but inevitably tragic, participation in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Fitzgerald’s story, though compelling and romantic, is far from typical of Irish arrival and settlement in the province.
Though the Irish have been in New Brunswick since its beginnings as a colony, their story is primarily a tale of the nineteenth century, a narrative that begins with the Napoleonic Wars and the settlement that arose and was encouraged by that conflict. In the first of two virtual exhibits for this portal the story of the Irish arrival in early nineteenth century New Brunswick can be viewed through the virtual exhibit, An Honourable Independence: Irish Settlement in New Brunswick. This virtual exhibit is a recreation of the actual physical panels which have been seen throughout New Brunswick and Ireland and which now, through the benefit of this online portal, will be made available to a world-wide audience. An Honourable Independence presents and illustrates though, among other things, letters, documents, photos and artists’ conceptions, the lives which Irish immigrants created and lead in what was then regarded, fundamentally, as a timber colony. New Brunswick, for almost a century, was central to the military and merchant navies of the British Empire; the British fleet was built from New Brunswick forests and it was the Irish, for the most part, both Catholic and Protestant, who were employed to harvest the trees and build the boats and ships for the imperial fleet.