The remains of a woman murdered at Duffy’s Cut in America have finally been returned to Ireland after almost two centuries.
Catherine Burns, a 29-year-old widow, left County Tyrone for the United States in 1832. She was among a group of 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry, who sailed across the Atlantic to build a railway between Philadelphia and Columbia at a site known as Duffy’s Cut. Within six weeks of their arrival all were dead of cholera, and possibly, violence. They were buried anonymously in a mass grave.
Dr William Watson, a local expert on Duffy's Cut victims, had said previously that her skull shows "massive peri-mortem violence by means of a sharp implement which would have caused her death.”
He said: "We believe Catherine was murdered in an attempt to contain the cholera epidemic, which the locals believed was being spread by the immigrant railroad workers.
"The workers were a convenient scapegoat for the community, which did not understand the etiology of the disease."
All that is known about Burns prior to her death is based on an entry on the ship's log which states her age, the county she is from, and her marital status.
While it was not known exactly where in County Tyrone the young widow was from, Clonoe parish has welcomed her home, The Belfast Telegraph reports. A funeral mass will take place at Clonoe Chapel on Sunday. Locals have marked the occasion with an Irish wake complete with traditional music, song and dance ahead of the funeral mass.
In the parish bulletin last weekend, 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, 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."
"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."
Dr Watson is a professor of history at Immaculata University, home of the Duffy's Cut Project, an ongoing archival and archaeological search into the victims' lives and deaths. Speaking at the wake in Washingbay, near Coalisland in County Tyrone, Dr Watson said he found the event "very emotional.”
"I think it's amazing that Catherine Burns got something that she has not had for the past 180 years.
"For the sake of justice and righting a historical wrong this goes a long way. This is huge. From our perspective this is overwhelming actually,” he said.
"We're researchers but we're also human beings. And it's just a very emotional thing."
Dr Watson said many historical projects can be "boring", but this was about a "real human being" who had "something terrible" happen to her.
"And she had no one to advocate for her over in our country in 1832, so we see it as our mission to advocate for her and for the others who died there.”
The forensic teams were able to confirm that the remains belonged to a woman of about 30 years of age.
A memorial sign at Duffy's Cut erected in 2004 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."