AN American clergyman has rubbished speculation that no one was murdered on a railroad where 57 Irish workers lost their lives in 1832.
Pennsylvanian native Mark Mitchell questions what proof there is to back up claims some of those who died at Duffy’s Cut were executed.
Mr Mitchell was responding to the paper’s recent coverage of the repatriation to Tyrone of Catherine Burns, one of the dozens of labourers who died at Duffy’s Cut weeks after she arrived in America.
Miss Burns was laid to rest in the parish of Clonoe and was carried to her resting place by members of the Duffy’s Cut Project who had travelled from the United States especially for the funeral.
Historians believe that the 29-year-old was killed by American railroad workers after a cholera epidemic swept through their shanty camp. While some of the 57 workers did succumb to the disease, it is believed many more were murdered amid fears that the local Irish community was the source of the deadly epidemic.
All those who lost their lives had arrived in America aboard the John Stamp ship and went to work for Strabane man Philip Duffy.
Despite knowing of the deaths, Duffy took the grisly story of the massacre that now bears his name to his grave.
In a fascinating sidebar to the story of Duffy’s Cut, Mark Mitchell, a native of Philadelphia where the tragedies occurred, has suggested that rather than mass murder, the story is actually an attempt by the media and others to sully the reputation of America.
Mr Mitchell says, “It has been fashionable for the last 40 years or so for academia and the news media to take swipes at America and to make her look bad.
“Cholera in 1832 was the ebola of its day. No one is alive today who knew exactly what happened there. No one can prove today if actual murder took place there or not. Can we be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that certain injuries came about after death? Would these accusations of murder hold up in court?
“It is all speculation, and dredging these events from 1832 strikes me as being part of the trend over the last 40 years to make America look bad, particularly by members of the press and academia.”
Mr Mitchell’s claims though have been rejected by Rev Dr Frank Watson.
Along with his brother, history professor William Watson, Frank has been at the heart of the Duffy’s Cut Project for almost a decade.
He said this week that physical evidence existed proving that murders had been carried out along the railroad site.
He also said it was “shocking” that the opinion of historians and scientists was being called into question.
Frank Watson said there was clear evidence that victims had been both axed and shot and that skulls exhumed proved this. These have been examined by archaeologists and forensic anthropologists who agreed that those who died had suffered severe trauma, Mr Watson said.
“As this individual never examined the remains, it is astonishing to me that they would claim to know something better than one of the top world renowned experts in the field.
“As the one who discovered this man who was shot in the head, I can only speculate on the motives behind such a denial of the obvious facts of this murder from 1832.
“The Tile Films/PBS/RTE documentary ‘Death on the Railroad’ shows my excavation of this body and forensic anthropologist Dr Janet Monge’s examination of the skull. It is there for free on the PBS website for anyone to see.
“It is somewhat shocking that anyone who has not even examined the evidence would claim to know better than the historians and scientists who have uncovered the truth of the matter.”