It’s been years since a monument was first proposed. Now, finally on May 25, a Celtic Cross will be blessed on Deer Island looking toward Boston, the destination so many people set their sights on when arriving to Boston after leaving Ireland during the Great Famine, 1845-1852.
There have been starts and stops with this memorial over the last two decades, but finally a group of Irish ancestors was able to fund the giant 16-foot-high granite Celtic cross.
Local Winthrop energy helped get this project off the ground.
Seacoast Contractors, owned by Winthrop’s Michael Tierney, installed all 50 of the memorial benches around Deer Island.
He found out that a previous group had inquired about an Irish Memorial, but it never came to fruition.
Ron Wayland, with a background in broadcasting, made three half-hour videos of the hunger and the Great Famine and the plight of those victims making it to the United States. The videos had aired in WCAT (Winthrop Cable Access Television) .
Many Irish Immigrants were sent to Deer Island during the huge influx of Irish immigrants by ship to the Port of Boston. In the harbor dozens of “coffin ships” floated. At one point the government started diverting the ill to Deer Island where they were quarantined.
“That highlighted my information really because of Ron,” he said. “His parents are immigrants just like mine from Ireland.”
“It was bothering me that there wasn’t a proper memorial,” Tierney said, who has also worked with Winthrop’s Frank Constantino on the Winthrop Beautification Committee. “We finished the Winthrop soccer field when the contractor walked off the job.”
Tierney is a man who likes to give back and can’t shake what happened to the Irish on Deer Island, right down to the belief that Irish graves were plowed through during construction on the island.
That’s when Tierney contacted Mark Porter of the Irish Famine Project in Boston. Porter had immigrated from Ireland 20 years earlier and owned his own contracting business.
Talking to Porter about the Irish Memorial at Deer Island you can hear the passion in his Irish brogue.
“He had never heard anything about this. He met me in 30 minutes in Winthrop at the site,” Tierney said. “We discussed a proper headstone and went from there. We’re both in the business and we know we could do this.”
Then they went to the drawing board for a rendering of a 16-foot granite Celtic Cross with the number 800 on it, for the number of victims. Cardinal Sean O’Malley is expected to do the blessing.
“It’s not about us, it’s not about who’s involved, it’s about the people who died there,” Tierney said. “This is basically a funeral we’re having. The most important person is the priest”
Porter, with his Irish brogue is passionate when talking about the Irish memorial. He was able to locate Flynn Stone in Pennsylvania and they will be making the cross.
“Our forefathers came here over 150 years ago and we want to remember them,” said Porter. “We just want to put a monument to the people who died.”
The Irish weren’t the only ones who suffered at Deer Island. The Nipmuc Indians also suffered a genocide.
Over 340 years ago, during the King Phillips war (1675-1676) the Nipmuc Indians were interned on Deer Island against their will by the Massachusetts Bay Colonists.
Oct. 30, 1675 the genocide of the Nipmucs began.
Over 500 hundred men, women and children were move from their homeland in Natick to Deer Island in an attempt to keep them from joining other Native American people who were at war with the colonies. Ironically, the victims were pro-English Christian converts known as the “Praying Indians”. They endured a harsh winter and only half of them survived.
There was a push for a Nipmuc Tribe Memorial on Deer Island. A few years ago $25,000 had been raised for a monument, but the Canadian stone-cutter took off with the funds.
Porter has been in touch with those in the tribe and said if he can find a way he will also make sure the Nipmuc Indians have a memorial.