On May 28th, members of the AOH in America participated in the “Annual Walk to the Stone” memorial ceremony that is organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Canada. The Black Rock Memorial is currently located in between two highway roads near the Victoria Bridge in the Point Saint Charles section of Montreal and is the site of a 6,000 person mass grave of coffin ship victims from 1847-1848.
Since the 1860s the AOH Canada has sought to protect the Irish immigrants that perished from typhoid (many of whom were children) from further desecration of their resting place as they fled The Great Hunger. The Black Rock Monument was created after Irish construction workers who were completing the Victoria Bridge in 1859-60 discovered several bodies from the mass grave. The workers refused to work and complete the bridge until there was a memorial on this site. The workers negotiated for a 40 ton granite rock to be placed in the cemetery with the inscription, “To Preserve from Descratation the remains of 6000 Immigrants Who died of Ship Fever A.D. 1847-48” They were not allowed to mention Irish in the inscription.
Over the years the AOH Canada has fought to fulfill the promise inscribed on the Black Rock Memorial by fighting development and encroachment on the site. In 2017, Hydro-Quebec purchased the land the Black Rock Memorial is on with plans to donate 3.65 acres to create a memorial park that is scheduled to be completed in 2028.
The 2023 Walk to the Stone started with a beautiful Mass on Pentecost at Saint Charles Church. After Mass, members of the parish, AOH, representatives from the City of Montreal and other Irish organizations; led by a piper, walked the mile to the Black Rock Memorial. Once at the memorial site, AOH Canada National President started the ceremony. The Irish, Canadian and United States National Anthems were performed beautifully by Esmé Cavanaugh and Lily MacLean of the band Gráinne. President Boyle went over the history of the Black Rock Memorial and the 6000 people that rest uneasily below. Memorial wreaths were placed on Black Rock by many organizations including the AOH in America National Board, the AOH NYS Board and Schenectady AOH JFK 1 (who hosted President Boyle at their Communion Breakfast the month prior). After the ceremony participants went back to the parish center at Saint Charles and shared some delicious Irish Stew and samosas along with some traditional Irish music.
This year’s event also coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. MP John Finnucane of Sinn Féin (Belfast North) participated in the ceremony and gave his remarks and paid his respects to the victims of The Great Hunger at that site. The day prior the Friends of Sinn Féin Canada hosted a 25th GFA Anniversary at Hurley’s Irish Pub where members of the U.S. AOH were able to meet MP Finnucane, Kevin Callahan from Friends of Sinn Féin Canada, Marion Mulvenna from Concordia University’s Irish Studies Program and AOH Canada National President Victor Boyle.
Overall the weekend was tremendously moving, and the people, especially President Boyle, were welcoming and gracious hosts. Walk to the Stone will take place in 2024 on May 26th, and members of the AOH and LAOH are most welcome to participate.