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Body of Irish woman murdered in US 183 years ago returns to Ireland for burial


Memorial to victims at Duffy's Cut in the US
Pic: Belfast Telegraph

Memorial to victims at Duffy's Cut in the US Pic: Belfast Telegraph

Memorial to victims at Duffy's Cut in the US Pic: Belfast Telegraph

The remains of a woman murdered in America 183 years ago are to be brought home to Co Tyrone for burial this weekend.

A wake and funeral will take place in Clonoe, near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, for Catherine Burns, who left for the United States in 1832 and lay in an unmarked grave for almost two centuries.

The 29-year-old was among 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry hired to build a railway between Philadelphia and Columbia, on a site that became known as Duffy's Cut.

Within six weeks, all were dead of cholera and possibly violence, and were buried anonymously in a ditch.

The tragedy has been researched at Immaculata University by The Duffy's Cut Project, an archival and archaeological search into their lives and deaths, seeking an insight into early 19th century attitudes about industry, immigration and disease in Pennsylvania.

It is not known exactly where in Tyrone Ms Burns was from, but a wake featuring music and dance is being held in Clonoe on Friday night, with a funeral mass and burial in Clonoe Chapel on Sunday.

In the parish bulletin, parish priest Father Benny Fee wrote: "Les Miserables is a great musical and my favourite song in it is Bring Him Home. And these days I find myself humming that tune because the parish is busy preparing to bring not him but to bring her home.

"After being buried in an un-marked grave for over a century Catherine Burns is on her way home to her native Tyrone to rest in Clonoe."

Fr Fee added: "Her story of hopes dashed and dreams shattered is not unique. So in honouring the homecoming of Catherine we are honouring countless other exiles who sailed out of Ireland in the hope of a new life far from home but did not find the streets paved with gold." A memorial sign at Duffy's Cut says: "Nearby is the mass grave of fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera.

"They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contractor, named Duffy, for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers. Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers."

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Dr William Watson, professor of history at Immaculata University, said the sign was erected in 2004 when the story of the death of the work crew by cholera was being researched.

He said the skull of Ms Burns shows "massive perimortem violence by means of a sharp implement which would have caused her death".

He added: "We believe Catherine was murdered in an attempt to contain the cholera epidemic, which the locals believed was spread by the railroad workers."

Dr Watson said others were also murdered - one man dying of a bullet in the head after an axe blow.

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