An estimated half-million Irish were evicted from their cottages by the British during the genocide of the 1850s and 1860s. Unscrupulous landlords either applied a legal judgment owing for back-rent or simply paid to send pauper families overseas to Quebec, Canada. Landlords would first make phony promises of money, food, and clothing, then pack the half-naked people in overcrowded British sailing ships, poorly built and often unseaworthy, that became known as coffin ships.
The three thousand mile journey, depending on winds and the captain’s skill, could take from 40 days to three months. Upon arrival in the Saint Lawrence River, the ships were supposed to be quarantined. Any passengers who were sick were to be removed to facilities on Grosse Isle, a small island thirty miles downstream from Quebec City.
Sean McNally met Kaen McKinnish on their voyage from Liverpool England and became friends.
Excerpt from the story – ‘They helped haul two bodies up from the hold and lifted them onto the railing, ready to push them over.
“Kaen stopped, removing his flat cap, to recite a poem.
“My heart is grieved to cast them into the sea. Down in the deep, they will forever sleep, never more to roam.
“He and Sean rolled the bodies overboard. Their arms and legs swung uncontrolled in different directions. Clearly, there was no life in them.
“Would we have been better off remaining in England? Sean said.
“How would we live with our pockets empty and thousands of us wandering Liverpool looking for work? We’d have starved soon enough, or ended up on one of these horrid ships.
“They continued to haul buckets of seawater up and motioned to the others to wash themselves.
“Ah, Lord above,” gasped a great-breasted woman as the cold water flowed over her head and shoulders.”