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Professor to Speak on Irish Potato Famine History

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Submitted by Blaine Marchand

The Bromley Historical Society is honoured to have Professor Mark McGowan, Canada’s leading authority on the Irish potato famine and immigration to Canada and the Ottawa Valley, give the 2022 Dan Gorman Memorial Lecture. The talk will take place on Saturday, October 1st, at 2pm in the Barr Line Community Centre, 1766 Barr Line, Douglas. It is open to the public.

Ottawa-born Dr. McGowan is a Professor of History and Celtic Studies and was the Interim Principal of the University of St. Michael’s College for the 2020-2022academic years. His book, Death or Canada: The Irish Migration to Toronto, 1847, was published by Novalis in 2009.

The Great Famine, coined ’An Gorta Mór’ or the Great Hunger by the Irish, destroyed their way of life, leaving in its wake a million Irish people dead and causing two million people to seek a better life elsewhere. Passage to Canada was less expensive than passage to the United States, so many of the destitute and bereft Irish came to this country. However, the 3,000 mile six-week voyage was perilous. The Irish travelled steerage in what became called the “Coffin Ships”, ripe with numerous diseases that often led to death.

Although the Irish went to different provinces, they were drawn to the Ottawa Valley due to the available farmland and the opportunity to work in the area’s burgeoning timber trade. By 1881, the Irish dominated 53 townships in an almost continuous line of settlements that straddled eight counties. Across the Valley, Irish influence is evident in family names that predominate. It can still be heard, as has been well documented, in its fiddle music, its step-dancing, and, of course, in the distinctive Valley brogue of the residents.

The Dan Gorman Memorial Lecture honours former native Bromley son Professor Gorman, who had a keen interest in history and was a generous donor of the Bromley Historical Society. Light refreshments will be available following the talk.