IRISH AMBASSADOR VISITS
Ambassador Eamonn McKee:
‘It’s kind of a little Ireland here’
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.”