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Plans to repatriate Tyrone-born victim of Duffy’s Cut massacre

Frank Watson pictured with Earl Schandelmeier,  and his brother Bill Watson at the Duffy's Cut grave and marker at West Laurel Hill cemetery. This is the team which got John Ruddy’s remains home to Donegal, and who hope to return Catherine Burns’ remains back to Tyrone.

Frank Watson pictured with Earl Schandelmeier, and his brother Bill Watson at the Duffy’s Cut grave and marker at West Laurel Hill cemetery. This is the team which got John Ruddy’s remains home to Donegal, and who hope to return Catherine Burns’ remains back to Tyrone.

A TYRONE immigrant murdered during one of the most grim chapters in Irish-American history could soon be repatriated back to her homeland.

The people of Philadelphia will come together this weekend for a fundraiser aimed at returning Catherine Burns, a victim of the infamous Duffy’s Cut massacre, back to her native Tyrone.

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Almost 60 Irish workers lost their lives at the Duffy’s Cut railroad construction site in 1832, shortly after arriving in the USA on board the ship John Stamp.

Many of them succumbed to a cholera epidemic that swept through the work camp however several others were murdered in a skewed attempt by work colleagues to contain the disease.

The killings took place during a period when anti-Irish sentiment was still high and what has become known as the Duffy’s Cut massacre remains a particular point of shame for many Philadelphians.

In 2013 18-year-old John Ruddy became the first Duffy’s Cut victim to be repatriated back to Ireland. His body was brought home to Inishowen, 181 years after his death.

This Saturday Philadelphia will again unite in a bid to raise enough money to bring the remains of Catherine Burns home.

The skeletal remains of Catherine Burns which were uncovered at Duffy’s Cut.

The skeletal remains of Catherine Burns which were uncovered at Duffy’s Cut.

Little is known about Catherine Burns other than she was a 29-year-old widow who boarded the John Stamp along with her father-in-law, John Burns.

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Even her birth name remains a mystery and according to researchers, on their arrival in the USA both simply “disappeared from history”.

Through 21st century DNA testing of skeletal remains uncovered at Duffy’s Cut, experts have now been able to confirm that one of the bodies is that of Catherine Burns.

Because of a lack of records however they have been unable to ascertain any background other than the fact that she originally hailed from Tyrone.

A large number of those who perished at Duffy’s Cut were however from the Castlederg, Aghyaran and Ardstraw areas and historians say there is a high likelihood she was from a local town or village.

To the fore in recovering the bodies of those who perished at Duffy’s Cut has been Dr Frank Watson.

He told the UH that he was extremely keen to see Catherine Burns returned to her native soil.

Dr Watson also revealed that the bones used in DNA testing were found purely by chance.

“We found these two small bones that had been covered in rust and in the fall of last year we took them to a dentist in Lancaster,” he explained.

“We were able to ascertain that they were the remains of a 30-year-old woman and using genealogical protocols, we were able to trace them back to Catherine Burns.”

The majority of those who died at Duffy’s Cut were male and of an average age of 22. Because of Catherine’s sex and age, she was able to be identified.

Her father-in-law, John Burns, was 70 and again because of the uniqueness of his age compared to the rest of the bodies, there is a chance that he too may yet be traced.

Of Catherine Burns, Frank Watson revealed that she was one of the first seven people to die and the cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Now, and with the passing of almost two centuries, the young woman who set out in search of a better life but who instead met a grisly pauper’s end, could soon be laid to rest in Irish soil.

“It would be hugely symbolic for us to get someone from the North of Ireland home,” Dr Watson said.

“We have already taken John Ruddy home to the Republic and it would be lovely if Catherine could go home too. And if we can find John Burns, it would be our intention to repatriate him too.

“It has been an unusual case for us and we feel it would be historical justice that Catherine is taken back to Tyrone,” Dr Watson added.

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