Obstacles to Re-settlement:
The misery of the journey on board the coffin ships wasn't the only obstacle Irish immigrants would face in coming to Canada. The religious divisions of their homeland followed them. The Protestant Irish and Catholic Irish were two distinct ethnic groups(12). The Catholics claimed themselves to be the original inhabitants of Ireland, colonized but never defeated by the British. The Protestants represented the Scottish and English colonists who came to Ireland under the rule of the British and who were often rewarded with free land for their loyalty to the Crown. The Irish Catholics and Protestants inherited a fierce mistrust of each other which, though often overcome by individual acts of generosity, would take generations to heal here in Canada(13).
The majority of Protestant Irish came to Canada with ample savings and a religious background that allowed them to fit in almost anywhere in British Canada. The Catholics, however, were socially and politically marginalized in Ireland, and came to Canada with few advantages other than a familiarity with the English language, British institutions, and the Catholic religion they shared with the French of Québec(14). That wasn't nearly enough.
The Irish Catholics were English-speaking which complicated their relations with the French. But it was Québec that welcomed them most vigorously, partly because of religion and perhaps because of their shared resistence to the English. In the wake of their calamitous arrival at Grosse Isle, hundreds of Irish children were orphaned and alone. Québec families and parishes rallied around these children, adopting them and allowing them to keep their Irish names. In Québec today, you can find fourth and fifth generation Donovans, O'Neills and O'Brians who do not speak English.
But outside Québec, acceptance was more difficult. Irish Catholicism was frowned upon by the Protestant majority in other parts of Canada. And in Canada, citizenship was tied to the British Crown. This made it extremely difficult for the "native Catholic Irish" to remain loyal to their political culture and heritage while at the same time being good Canadian citizens(15). There was much suspicion of the Irish Catholics. Those who came during the Famine arrived poor and sick with cholera and typhus. The fear of spreading disease and of hungry, indigent hordes threatening public order worried government and public alike. The painful stereotype of the Irish Catholic as lazy, drunken and proliferate-the old hurts from home-followed them into English Canada and would remain etched in the public mind for several generations. It was a stereotype the Irish would defeat only through hard work, social ascendancy and education.
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