Remains of 19th century Irish immigrants laid to rest

Friday, March 09, 2012

It is a story of Irish history and murder - the remains of five Irish immigrants, who arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1800's were finally buried Friday.

The skeletal remains of 5 people - four men and one woman - were laid to rest in five small coffins in a Christian funeral at the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.

They were among 57 Irish immigrants who came to Chester County in 1832 to work on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad between Malvern and Frazier. It's a site that became known as "Duffy's Cut," named after the man who brought them here.

"They died building something of great consequence and it's still being used today," said Dr. William Watson.

The mystery surrounding their deaths has been a focus of Dr. Watson for nearly a decade. He has led an excavation team at the site since 2003.

In 2009, the team discovered the human bones of five of the Irish workers and concluded that many of them were murdered after contracting cholera.

"There's a lot of context for violence done to cholera victims at this time. You've got a disease that no one understands for a full 50 years later. They don't know how its spread and they are blamed for the introduction of the disease into the community," said Dr. Watson.

Watson and his team discovered holes in some of the skulls, indicative of gunshot wounds and cranial fractures.

"It was clear from all of them that they had suffered damage that was associated with being murdered," said Janet Monge and anthropologist with the project.

The remains of the immigrants were packed up earlier this week at Penn Museum and taken to West Laurel Hill for Friday's funeral service.

All 57 immigrants were honored during the service.

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