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Last year's burial service for the Duffy's Cut victims in Pennsylvania Photo by: Philly.com

Donegal welcome home Duffy’s Cut murder victim John Ruddy after 180 years

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Last year's burial service for the Duffy's Cut victims in Pennsylvania Photo by: Philly.com

180 years after his apparent murder, one of Duffy’s Cut victims, John Ruddy’s, remains are to be moved from the suburban Philadelphia all the way to his home county of Donegal in Ireland to be laid to rest.

“We can’t help but think he would prefer to be buried there," Bill Watson told the Associated Press of returning John Ruddy to Donegal.

John Ruddy was one of the 57 Irishmen who came from counties including Donegal, Tyrone and Derry who were hired in 1832 to help build a stretch of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad known as Duffy’s Cut. 

However, within about six weeks of their arrival, all of the immigrant workers were dead - they had either succumbed to cholera, or were murdered by local vigilantes who feared either the spread of the disease or the foreigners themselves. 

The railroad company that hired the immigrants never informed their families that their loved ones had died.

Irish American twin brothers Bill and Frank Watson, both historians who live and work nearby to the site in Pennsylvania, have been working with the Duffy’s Cut site and its victims for around ten years now. Their research began when they discovered a top-secret file relating to the deaths of the 57 immigrants at the Duffy’s Cut site.

Last March, a proper burial and memorial service was hosted in nearby Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania at West Laurel Cemetery for the victims of Duffy’s Cut.

Now though, with the reality of bringing Ruddy home to Ireland, Bill Watson said, "The idea of somehow being able to get one of them back to Ireland, it seemed like a distant hope 10 years ago.”

"It’s just a miracle, actually."

Excavated from the Duffy’s Cut site about four years ago, John Ruddy was able to be identified through his skeletal remains and the passenger list from the ship the immigrants came to America on. His small stature indicated he was the 18 year old on the passenger roster, and a missing molar linked him to the Ruddy family where the genetic anomaly runs common.

In 2010, a Ruddy family member had donated DNA in order to run a comparison, but both time and money have not permitted for the tests to be conducted. Despite this, Dr. Janet Monge from the University of Pennsylvania, who worked hands-on with the research, said it’s unlikely Ruddy could be anybody else.

Now, this week, Ruddy will be returned to his home in Donegal for his final resting. Ruddy family members, as well as community members, are expected to attend the burial services in Ardara in Donegal, nearby to Ruddy’s hometown of Inishowen.

"A lot of the people throughout Donegal see this as being important because they've all got stories in their family tree like this — people who left for America and were never heard from again," said Bill Watson, whose own ancestors also hail from the county. 

Vincent Gallagher, another Donegal emigrant and current president of the Irish Center in Philadelphia, donated the grave site in Ardara for Ruddy.

‘‘When I came to this country, there were a bunch of people waiting for me from my own family,’’ said Gallagher, a landscaper. ‘‘But these people — 57 of them — they came here, they didn’t know a soul.’’ 

With the burial comes another step to concluding the Duffy’s Cut research for twin historians Bill and Frank Watson. They both understand the importance of the Duffy’s Cut victims’ stories in Ireland and America’s shared immigrant history.

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