Enniskillen is a small rural community in NB. I love history and am interested in how this community got its name and its start. To my surprise there are three Enniskillen communities in Canada. They are all named from Irish Immigrants who settled in Canada. The story’s behind these Irish immigrants is incredible. Most fled Ireland looking for a better life. Around 1850 Ireland’s potato harvest was hit by blight and lasted several years. Tens of thousands starved to death. Tens of thousands weakened by lack of nutrition caught life treating diseases’ like cholera and died. Many placed in mass graves.
Three million Irish fled Ireland to survive. Only two million were able to make it to a new land. One million perished on their journey to find a new promise land. Canada received tens of thousands of Irish Immigrants. Many came to Toronto; many came to New Brunswick -Saint John and Mirimichi.
They traveled by sailing ships across the cold and treacherous North Atlantic. Ship building material was coming from lumbering centers in North America. Port of Saint John was a key center trade. However the ships had to return with empty cargo holds, very unprofitable indeed. Passage from Ireland to Saint John could be purchased as cheap as one pound. Some ships provided nothing for their passengers, only open holds, no food just water. These ships were soon called coffin ships as so many of their passengers died during a voyage of 50 or more days. When they arrived at the port of Saint John they were placed in quarantine on Partridge Island where hundreds and hundreds more died of exposure and disease.
The Irish, who came a bit earlier, were the saviors to their fellow countrymen wanting to set up a new life in Canada. I have had the opportunity to talk to some of the Irish citizens who are living in present day Enniskillen or nearby. They tell of their family struggles, their voyages, their building of a new community and a new life. They tell of the great bond between family and friends that was key to their survival. Letters were sent back to kin in Ireland telling them to come to the land of milk and honey and telling them how to be prepared for the voyage and what ships to take. They soon built communities with schools, churches, roads and bridges. In later letters the new settlers claimed that they had truly reached the land of milk and honey. A story of far off dreams of a better place was realized and turned into the reality of a much better life… My painting shows a circle cloud which is the surreal portal to the dreams of the earliest Irish Immigrants coming to the new Enniskillen founded in NB. Today half of the community is now Base Gagetown and the other half is much grown up. However in its heyday it was a beautiful rural community – a community of Irish – a community of milk and honey.