Source: The City of Québec and the Défilé de la Saint-Patrick de Québec
According to certain sources, almost 40 % of the population of Quebec is of Irish descent. While it is almost impossible to confirm this figure, one thing is certain: the bonds between the city and its Irish population are close, deep and firmly rooted.
The Irish presence in Quebec is especially evident after 1816 when lots of Irish settled in the city. In the 1830s, they landed on the docks in their thousands. This massive immigration movement culminated in 1847, the worst year of the Great Famine that was raging throughout Ireland at the time. Over 90,000 immigrants, most of them Irish, subsequently made the Atlantic crossing to the port of Quebec. But about 17,000 of them were suffering from typhus, and they died at sea, at Grosse Île quarantine station or in the cities of Quebec and Montreal, where the epidemic was to spread.
In this period, the Irish found work in the lumber coves of the Québec City region, often loading ships departing for Britain. They settled in the areas of Cap Diamant, Prés-de-Ville (the part of Champlain Street below the Citadel), the Saint-Jean and Saint-Louis suburbs, in Beauport, Cap Rouge and especially in Sillery, where, in 1861, they formed the majority of the population.
The Irish of Québec City participated fully in the city’s development. In the fullness of time, they could be found in the commercial trades, trade unions, the press, the professions, the business world, politics, sports and cultural activities. There was also a lot of intermarriage with the local population: a mixing that profoundly changed the city’s social makeup. Today, many Quebecers have Irish roots, often hidden under French surnames.
Indeed, it goes without saying that the contribution of the Irish community to Quebec culture is significant. Therefore, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities are a great opportunity to come together and celebrate this longstanding friendship!
Some leading figures of Irish descent
First Catholic priest of St. Patrick’s Church, he immigrated to Quebec in 1817.It was only in 1833 that Quebec City’s English-speaking Catholics celebrated the first mass in the new church.
Dr Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan
Physician and politician, he arrived in Quebec in 1823. A fervent patriot, he was an activist together with Louis-Joseph Papineau until he went into exile in the US in 1837, as there was a price on his head.
A leading merchant of the Lower Town, he was city councillor, member of the provincial parliament and most importantly, a popular leader of the Irish community, whose interests he would defend throughout his whole life.
Charles Joseph Alleyn
A native of Cork, this lawyer was a municipal councillor and mayor of Quebec and finally Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. While he was mayor, he had to fight a cholera epidemic (1854) that mostly affected the thousands of immigrants who landed on the docks.
Richard Henry Leahey
An important labor activist and union organizer. More particularly he played an active role in the Quebec Ship Labourers’ Benevolent Society, one of the first Canadian unions. Founded in 1857, it brought together the many Irish longshoremen in the Quebec region.
Master mason, architect and politician, who played an important role in the organization of the social and religious life of the Irish in Quebec.
The son of a farmer in Stoneham, he worked in the field of insurance and railways before becoming mayor of Quebec, from 1874 to1878. He then went on to make a name for himself in provincial politics.
Born in Sillery, he was the great star player of the Quebec Bulldogs (Quebec Hockey Club). In particular he helped his team, the Quebec Bulldogs, to win the Stanley Cup twice (in the 1911-1912 and 1912-1913 seasons).
Journalist and publisher, in 1875, he founded the Daily Telegraph a one-penny newspaper for the working class and especially the Irish community; he defended their interests all his life.
An active member of St. Patrick’s parish, she took care of the orphans of St. Brigid’s Home in the 1940s. In 1968, she also founded St Brigid’s Guild, a voluntary association dedicated to serving the elderly.
Actress, director and TV host in the 1950s. She was also the first and only woman to head the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, between 1977 and 1989.
Physicist and professor at Laval University, he was the first lay person to become rector of the university. He also served as President of the National Research Council of Canada and first president of the Canadian Space Agency which he helped to found.
Founded Irish Heritage Quebec in 1973, an association that focuses on all aspects of Quebec’s Irish history and heritage. She wrote and published several books on the history of the Irish in Quebec.
Did you know?
The shamrock is the Irish symbol most often associated with St. Patrick’s Day festivities around the world?
According to legend, St. Patrick used it as image to convert the Irish people to Christianity, illustrating how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate but one at the same time.
Many families of French descent adopted Irish orphans in 1847?
In 2000, Ireland presented a Celtic cross to Quebec City, in recognition of the solidarity and hospitality which its people displayed toward the Irish at the time of the Great Famine in Ireland.
Quebec’s traditional music has borrowed a great deal from Irish folk traditions?
The addition of potatoes to the daily menu comes largely from the Irish community?
The first police force in the city, in the 19th century, was made up of a majority of Irish?
The Irish in the Quebec City region have long been renowned for raising horses?
Irish surnames were Frenchified, e.g. O’Brennan became Aubry?