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Mark McGowan Kingston Riot Transcript

Interior shot. Bearded man in dark blue jacket standing in darkened room, with wooden berth in replica of ship’s hold behind him. In the left background a woman’s dress can be seen in a glass display case.

Mark McGowan from St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, Canada. But today I am actually in the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, in County Roscommon, in Ireland.

I am actually in a replica hold, of an interior of a ship that was likely used during the Great Irish Famine, transporting Famine refugees from Ireland, and from Liverpool, England, and other ports, to British North America – and specifically, to Quebec.

But it is also reminiscent of the inside of a ship that may have been seen by Father Bernard Higgins in Kingston, the eastern most port in Canada’s Lake Ontario at the time.

Higgins was a parish priest in Kingston who had been called into the ship [Princess Royal] by a young woman who claimed that her husband was ill aboard this ship: that was filled with migrants who were going to be landed in Kingston and triaged for potential settlement or for quick transportation out of British North America.

Now as he got into the hold of the ship and couldn’t find the young man in question, he was taunted by members of the crew that insulted him because of his Catholicism, insulted him saying “down with the Pope”, and eventually he was escorted off the ship by Captain Twohy and members of the crew who were quite hostile.

That was August the 1st, 1847. On August the 2nd, crew members of the ship Unicorn decided to storm the fellow ship, the Princess Royal, because they had given insult to the priest. It caused considerable controversy in Kingston, because it was felt that the priest had put this mob up to the task of defending his honour.

In point of fact though, he was actually attending to more sick refugees of the Famine about a mile away, in another part of town.

Eventually the story came out that the captain indeed had warned Higgins that it was the wrong hour that first night when he came aboard ship, but he was welcomed by the local constabulary later and was reconciled.

Why do I mention the Higgins incident? It is because it is one of the few incidents we know in British North America where there was close to fisticuffs between Catholics and Protestants over the arrival of these refugees from Ireland, most of whom were sick or had infectious diseases that could be spread to the host population.

It was a tense time, but marked more by peace than by the violence experienced by Father Higgins in Kingston in 1847.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.