A local clergyman has said reports that 57 Irish immigrants were murdered at Duffy’s Cut, near Philadelphia, are an attempt by the media and others to sully the reputation of America.

The plot of land known as Duffy’s Cut hit the news after brothers Dr. Frank and Dr. William Watson began their investigation into the deaths of the Irish immigrants when a file of evidence prepared by their grandfather was left to them on his death. Through years of investigation and examination of the remains the Watson brothers believe they have found proof that many of these Irish immigrants buried in a mass grave met a violent end.

In July 2015 the brothers and their volunteer staff returned to Clonoe, County Tyrone to bury the remains of Catherine Burns in her native soil which had lain in a mass grave for 183 years.

In 1832 Burns sailed from Derry to a new life in the US. Burns became one of 57 Irish immigrants from counties Donegal, Tyrone and Derry hired to work on Duffy’s Cut, a stretch of railway in Pennsylvania. Six weeks after starting with the railway works all the workers were dead.

It is believed that many of the workers died from cholera while others were murdered by local people who believed that the immigrants were responsible for spreading the disease. The families of the workers were never informed of their deaths.

Mark Mitchell does not believe this version of history.

The Pennsylvanian clergyman told the Ulster Herald, “It has been fashionable for the last 40 years or so for academia and the news media to take swipes at America and to make her look bad.

“Cholera in 1832 was the Ebola of its day. No one is alive today who knew exactly what happened there. No one can prove today if actual murder took place there or not. Can we be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that certain injuries came about after death? Would these accusations of murder hold up in court?

“It is all speculation, and dredging these events from 1832 strikes me as being part of the trend over the last 40 years to make America look bad, particularly by members of the press and academia.”

Dr Frank Watson, one of the brothers at the center of this archaeological investigation, has rejected these views.

After a decade of examination he has stated that the physical evidence exists to prove that the people buried at Duffy's Cut were murdered. He also called it shocking that the opinions of historians and scientists would be called into question in such manner.

Watson said there is clear evidence that these people were shot and in some cases attacked with an axe. The bodies have been exhumed and prove this.

He said, “As this individual never examined the remains, it is astonishing to me that they would claim to know something better than one of the top, world-renowned experts in the field.

“As the one who discovered this man who was shot in the head, I can only speculate on the motives behind such a denial of the obvious facts of this murder from 1832.

“The Tile Films/PBS/RTE documentary ‘Death on the Railroad’ [see full show below] shows my excavation of this body and forensic anthropologist Dr Janet Monge’s examination of the skull. It is there for free on the PBS website for anyone to see.

“It is somewhat shocking that anyone who has not even examined the evidence would claim to know better than the historians and scientists who have uncovered the truth of the matter.”

Earlier this summer Dr William Watson spoke about the brothers' and their team's years of investigation and the need for justice for the victims.

Speaking with the Derry Journal he said, “It was a tale of injustice. We are here to put the final stamp on it after many years.”

The brothers, both history professors, believe it was fate that handed them this opportunity to provide justice and shed light on the tale of Duffy’s Cut.

Frank Watson added, “We both have PhD’s in historical areas and we know that when we looked at this it is something very unique. If it had fallen into the hands of someone else it may not have gone anywhere…Otherwise this was folklore, whitewash, hidden history that no one would have given a damn about.“