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Ambassador Eamonn McKee: 
‘It’s kind of a little Ireland here’
Eamonn McKee

THE Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Dr. Eamonn McKee, and his wife Mary were welcomed on their visit to Martindale by Elaine Gannon (Catholine Butler) on Monday, October 11, 2021.

Elaine was visiting from her home in Vancouver and she was accompanied by her son Patrick McCay, his partner Jackie Klippenstein, and her granddaughter Kelsey McCay.

In the early 1970s, Elaine spearheaded a fundraising project along with Martin Brown and Eddie McLaughlin to establish the triple cenotaph monument and Celtic Cross now in place at Martindale Pioneer Cemetery.


Ambassador McKee said he was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the cemetery at Martindale. He said, “I appreciate that it tells a fascinating and important story about the Irish in the area.”

He also said he found the background history deeply moving. “It is very poignant and inspiring in a way to stand in a graveyard that has been vandalized for reasons unknown with all of the headstones removed back in the 1960s.

“It is also poignant to think about why these immigrants were here. Many came with the Great Irish Famine but found new lives.”

An Irish cultural identity still remains very strong in the Gatineau Hills. McKee said, “It is fascinating to hear about the Irish community in the area of Martindale and how they created new lives for themselves.”

Elaine shared memories of her upbringing on the Martindale Road and the early Irish history of the area.

“It’s kind of a little Ireland here,” marvelled McKee. 

"The first school in Martindale was called Killarney School and when the kids were asked what was their nationality they all replied ‘Irish’.


This was even though they were all born in Canada. Their parents were also born in Canada, and even their grandparents. There was a real sense of being a little Ireland here, which is amazing."


DR. EAMONN McKEE the Irish Ambassador to Canada is pictured above at the triple cenotaph at the Martindale Pioneer Cemetery in Low, Quebec. Standing beside him (L-R) Elaine Gannon, Kelsey McCay, Jackie Klippenstein, and Pat McCay.

“It is very poignant and inspiring in a way to stand in a graveyard

that has been vandalized for reasons unknown with all of the headstones removed back in the 1960s."


ELAINE GANNON with Ambassador McKee and his wife Mary pictured at the Martindale Pioneer Cemetery monument on Monday, October 11, 2021.

Ambassador McKee said “It’s inspiring that I am here with Elaine Gannon who fought to have the records recorded. She had to fight with Father O'Donnell over the preservation of this graveyard, despite his having all the headstones bulldozed down. 


"She managed through a fair bit of grit and determination to have this beautiful memorial and  Celtic Cross, and all of the names inscribed on the cenotaph. We know that the headstones are buried deep in a ditch here. That has not been forgotten and thanks to her great efforts a piece of Irish history is being preserved here.”

Elaine mentioned that the project was also realized through the support and assistance of Martin Brown, Eddie McLaughlin and Bernice McSheffrey. 


She explained that at the time of the destruction parishioners would never argue with the parish priest, his word was law. Despite any suggestion otherwise, it was the priest who motivated and facilitated the razing of the graveyard. And in this case he was wrong.

Ambassador McKee said, “Well that is such an Irish thing, but if you ended up with a man like Father O'Donnell you could be in trouble. It took a fair bit of courage on your part to stand up to him you know.”

He said this is a great Irish story that is not well known. It is part of the Irish heritage shared by what he terms the four valleys: Gatineau, Ottawa, Rideau and St. Lawrence.

“The pioneer Irish often landed in Quebec and Montreal and made their way here as your son Pat was telling me. They carved out not only a life for themselves, but an actual physical landscape to make a farm for themselves and their families.

“The story of the Irish in Canada is not well known. In a way, it's kind of hidden behind the story of the Irish in America, but the Irish in Canada is also a fascinating story. 


When the Irish first arrived here, they would have had to clear the forest. I think the lumber industry was obviously very important to help make money for them as well.

“But the towns up in this end of the valley have so many Irish.  It's a very fascinating story and one that is particularly interesting to the Embassy.

“We are doing a mapping project that we are going to be calling the ‘Four Valleys’. We want to capture the kind of Irish footprint here, the history of the Irish here, and the current Irish community here, because this has not been well captured or recorded.

“So that’s a really interesting exercise.  We will capture that and publish it and network with the Irish who are around here.”

Elaine laughed and said, “Well, anytime there’s a spotlight on Martindale, I’m interested.”

Ambassador McKee said, “Well, we want to get your story, and the story of Martindale because it tells so much.”

If you have an Irish heritage story to share related to the mapping project in the Four Valleys, the Embassy of Ireland in Ottawa would like to hear from you. Please e-mail

A Farewell Message from Jim Kelly
Irish Ambassador to Canada
Jim Kelly

JIM KELLY the Ambassador of Ireland was a special guest at the ceremony on September 19, 2016. This was his first official function upon arrival at his new posting in Ottawa and he spoke eloquently about the significance of Martindale Pioneer Cemetery to the people of Ireland.

OTTAWA [2020] – I write this message in grateful appreciation of the enormous contribution which Maura De Freitas, her mother Catholine Butler and all of the team at The Celtic Connection have made to the Irish community in western Canada, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest over almost three decades.

To produce for so long such a first rate and consistently top quality publication – always informative and interesting in equal measure – is an extraordinary achievement for which you and Catholine deserve great credit.

From the day I came to Canada as Ambassador and first encountered The Celtic Connection, I have always kept a lookout for the arrival of each new issue and would bring it home that same evening for an enjoyable and leisurely read!  

Before that though, I had the good fortune to meet with Catholine and Maura much closer to home when they invited Anne and I and our girls to attend and speak at our first community function on arrival in Ottawa.

This was the unveiling of a plaque to honour those (including Catholine) who had worked so hard to erect a poignant memorial at Martindale Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place of many survivors of the Great Famine who had settled in the Ottawa Valley.

Our visit to Martindale on that sunny Sunday afternoon in September 2016 will remain a treasured family memory of our years in Canada, as we move on shortly to our new posting in New York.


THE 2016 ceremony at Martindale Pioneer Cemetery was the first community event attended by Jim Kelly, the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada. He attended along with his wife Anne and their two daughters.


MAURA De Freitas presented a copy of the two volume history book The Untold story: The Irish in Canada by professor Robert O'Driscoll  to Frank Flood, the new Irish Consul General in Vancouver in 2018. She is pictured above with Jim Kelly, Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, and Frank Flood at the opening of the new Irish diplomatic mission in Vancouver. 

I know that our Consul General in Vancouver, Frank Flood, and Vice Consul Jennifer Bourke are very appreciative too of the strong support that they have received from Catholine and Maura since the opening of the new Consulate in Vancouver.

Frank and his wife Orla have fond memories of their visit with Catholine and Maura just after their arrival in Vancouver, when they enjoyed tea and cake and heard first-hand of how The Celtic Connection was produced from such a family home full of warmth and love and books!

What really impressed them was not just how such a top quality paper was produced without any formal office space but also the stories of how it was distributed wherever there is an Irish community or venue in British Columbia. On my visits to Vancouver, I always found Maura was a willing and generous source of valuable advice and insight.

For Frank too as our first Consul General in British Columbia, Maura was the proverbial font of wisdom and knowledge. Whenever the Consulate needed to know who to contact, or the background to any issue, Maura always had the answers, could point the way or raise issues that needed to be addressed.

While always supportive, she was ever ready to ask the important questions and to discuss issues of concern. An invaluable resource for the Irish community for so long, The Celtic Connection also played a key role in raising awareness of the opening of the new Consulate and its activities.

This was particularly the case when Minister Ciarán Cannon visited British Columbia for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in 2019. The Celtic Connection advertised all the events and helped ensure their success including the first Irish Community Family Day event in St. James Hall. It reported fully and captured the spirit of the occasion with lots of photos while also including a typically comprehensive write up of Maura's interview with Minister Cannon.

Of course, The Celtic Connection was not just about the Irish as it has always lived up to its name with articles of interest to the Scottish and Welsh communities as well to the Irish in the Seattle area. 

The Consulate has built on this engagement and with the support of The Celtic Connection has easily developed links with Scottish and Welsh groups in B.C. Part of the newspaper's legacy is that the new Consulate will work to maintain friendly and mutually supportive relations with our Celtic cousins in western Canada.

Through The Celtic Connection, Maura and Catholine provided an invaluable service to the Irish community in western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest over three decades which I am sure will never be matched. While we will all miss the paper, we wish you both well in your future ventures online and elsewhere. 

In the words of the Irish poet and priest, John O'Donohue: “perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning.”

As you look to a new beginning, we know that you will both remain at the very heart of the community that you love in whatever new endeavours lie ahead for you. 

Go raibh míle maith agaibh, a chairde. 
Heartfelt thanks from all of us.
Jim Kelly, Ambassador of Ireland to Canada.

Declan Kelly

DECLAN KELLY, the Irish Ambassador to Canada in 2009, is shown above at the memorial to the survivors of Ireland's Great Hunger at the Martindale Pioneer Cemetery in Low, Quebec.

‘On behalf of the Irish people
thank you to Catholine Butler’

Irish Ambassador to Canada

OTTAWA (2009) – Since returning to Canada as Ambassador in 2006 (I served as number two in the Embassy between 1985-90), I have been involved in several important events marking the arrival in Canada of Irish men, women and children fleeing the horrors of the Great Famine.

In 2007 President Mary McAleese opened the beautiful “Ireland Park” memorial in Toronto to commemorate the extraordinary events of May-October 1847 when some 38,000 Famine victims passed through Toronto which then had a population of just 20,000.

I have also made three visits to Grosse Île where 5,500 Famine victims are buried, the largest recorded number of Irish people buried in one place outside of Ireland.

My most recent visit was in May of this year when I accompanied Irish Government Minister Eamon ÓCuiv and Canadian Minister for the Environment Jim Prentice to the Island.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the erection of the Celtic Cross on Grosse Île by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.


THE 12-foot high Celtic Cross at Martindale Pioneer Cemetery in Low, Quebec, is the second largest in Canada outside of Irish Memorial National Historic Site at Grosse Île outside of Quebec City.


DETAIL at the base of the Celtic Cross at Martindale depicts families crossing the ocean aboard the 'Coffin-Ships' during Ireland's Great Hunger.

THE Celtic Cross at Grosse Île in Quebec was erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1909. It is now the site of the highest number of Irish people buried outside of Ireland. Declan Kelly who served as Ambassador of Ireland to Canada from 2006 to 2010 made three trips to Grosse Île while in Canada.

Also, this year the Irish Government announced that the Great Famine would from now on be commemorated each year both in Ireland and overseas. Canada was chosen as the first overseas destination for the commemoration. 

By this decision the Irish Government acknowledged the central role played by Canada in assisting the tens of thousands of Irish people fleeing the Famine.In the terrible Summer of 1847 over 400 ships set out from Ireland and Britain carrying 100,000 people.

Some 18 to 19 thousand died on the journey. Some are buried at sea and the rest are buried all along the St Lawrence Seaway, from the Gaspe to Toronto.

Some of those fleeing the Famine eventually settled in the Western part of Quebec in the Gatineau Valley about one hour north of Ottawa.

Inspired by a visit to the Embassy last year by Catholine Butler [Elaine Gannon], I visited the tiny hamlet of Martindale in 2009 accompanied by my wife Anne.

The cemetery is nestled amid beautiful rolling hills very reminiscent of rural Ireland. As we approached this tranquil setting on a beautiful early summer’s day we were both immediately impressed by the beautiful Celtic Cross which marks the site.

Beside it is the elegant monument with the names of all those who are buried in the cemetery.  

As we read the names on the monument, Anne and I could not help but reflect on the difficulties faced by our ancestors as they struggled to make a new life in a strange land.

However, despite the appalling circumstances of their arrival they did succeed and in doing so they helped make Canada the great country which it is today.

Something of that pioneer spirit was manifested in the extraordinary job done by Catholine and those who assisted her in making sure that the early pioneers who suffered so much, and now lie buried far from their homeland, will not be forgotten.

For her remarkable achievement in preserving this important part of Irish history in Canada,  I would like to say a sincere “Go raibh maith agat” (Thank you in Irish) to Catholine on my own behalf and on behalf of the Irish people.


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