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The stone enclosure overlooking the tracks outside Malvern, PA are a memorial to the Irish rail workers who died Photo by: John Ahtes

Irish mass grave found in Pennsylvania town

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The stone enclosure overlooking the tracks outside Malvern, PA are a memorial to the Irish rail workers who died Photo by: John Ahtes

A mass grave containing the remains of 57 Irish immigrants has been found in Pennsylvania.

The immigrants from Counties Donegal, Tyrone and  Derry died just weeks after arriving in Pennsylvania in 1832 to help build the railroad.

The men, who were hired by a local businessman Philip Duffy,  fell ill from cholera and were left to fend for themselves as terrified neighbors refused to help them.

Denied access to medical treatment, all 57 men died and their bodies were dragged into a ditch where they were left to rot.

Some researchers believe that some of the men may have been alive when they were buried.

Historians William Watson from Immaculata College suspects that the men were treated so badly because of widespread anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment.

Watson also believes that the railroad covered up the incident. No death certificates were filed, and work resumed on the railroad that winter without any further acknowledgment of the tragedy.

Historians have long believed that the area known as Duffy's Cut was the final resting place for the tragic immigrants but their first real evidence emerged on March 20 when the Immaculata College team dug up dozens of bone fragments, including pieces of two human skulls, at the site outside Malvern, near Philadelphia.

The team had been searching for the exact location of the grave through the Duffy’s Cut Project since 2003.

Watson started the project after learning about the tragedy from personal documents of his late grandfather, a railroad worker himself.

Watson said they have discovered the names of 15 of the 57 immigrants with help from a ship's passenger list, and even have tentatively identified one set of remains as that of John Ruddy, a teenager.

Researchers plan to extract DNA from the bones and find living descendants of the men in Ireland. The goal is to identify them all and either repatriate their remains or give them proper burials, Watson said.
 
The railroad never informed the men's families of their deaths and instead allowed the bodies to be "thrown into a ditch and treated like garbage," Watson said.
 
"This was someone's son or brother or husband," he said. "Something has to be done."

A historical marker was placed in the general area of Duffy’s Cut in 2004 to honor the Irish immigrant laborers who had died, and Watson and his team have already learned the names of 15 of the buried Irish workers from an immigrant ship's passenger list.

But since discovering the grave site and the men’s remains, Watson now has the opportunity to do the men justice by identifying all of their remains and reburying them in hallowed ground.

“I know they’d want that. That’s what I’d want,” Watson said, adding, “What happened isn’t moral.”

For more information on Duffy’s Cut Project, visit  www.duffyscutproject.com.

Click here to read an Irish America magazine article from 2004 on William Watson's search for the graves of the 57 Irish railworkers.

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