Saint Paddy’s Day is not all about funny hats, leprechauns or copious amounts of green beer. Don’t get me wrong, those are a staple element of the worldwide festivities, but there’s an age old saying that is repeated every March 17th: “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish!”
In light of the coming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, join me as I shed light on South Eastern Ontario’s important Celtic heritage. We’ll also take a look at some fun-filled cultural events and festivals, as well as a few suggestions for authentic Irish food.
A Piece Of Our History
The famed Rideau Canal itself was built by thousands of Irish workers and Scottish stonemasons. They faced some of the most challenging working conditions imaginable; facing a gauntlet of dangers including deadly plagues, horrible work accidents, and unforgiving winters as they laboured tirelessly to build a crucial supply line for Upper Canada. An estimated one thousand (or more) of these workers are buried along the Rideau Canal. Some of them in unmarked graves.
Chaffey’s Lock Cemetery
Located a short walk from Chaffey’s Lock is a small cemetery that is the resting place of many unfortunate souls who met their end while building Chaffeys Lock. The cemetery comprises a half-acre of space and marks one of several portions of the canal that was devastated by a terrible outbreak of malaria. In the late summers of 1828-1832, an estimated 95 percent of the workforce were infected with the disease.
The majority of Irish immigrants had no family in the area, and records in Ireland indicate that many who made the journey to Canada were never heard from again. Sadly, many of these perished souls lay in unmarked gravesites that span the entire canal.
McGuigan Cemetery, located near Merrickville was restored in 1981 by the Merrickville and District Historical Society and is situated in an area across the river from Clowes Lock. The earliest known grave is that of Samuel McCrea who died on November 15, 1806. The cemetery operated until the early 1890’s before being left to the elements. It is among the earliest known cemeteries in South Eastern Ontario.
For a short period (1841-1844) Kingston was the first Capital of the Province of Canada. Naturally, it was a major destination for immigrants. Driven away from their homeland by the Great Famine, an estimated 1.5 – 2 million desperate and starving Irish men, women and children came to British North America. Kingston is home to a number of monuments and historic sites that honour the countless Irish-Canadians who never experienced the life they set out to build in a new world.
Celtic Cross At McBurney Park: In memoriam of over 10,000 Irish and Scottish immigrants still buried beneath what is now a city park. An Gorta Mor Park: Commemorates over 1500 Irish immigrants who perished in the fever sheds of typhus infection.Memorial Drinking Fountain: An ornate water fountain located near City Hall, commemorating those who died while building the Rideau Canal. Douglas Fluhrer Park: An impressive edification to those who died in the extreme working conditions while constructing the Rideau Canal.
History Thrives Through Song And Dance
It can be said with certainty that the massive influx of Irish and Scottish people to South Eastern Ontario; brought with it a vibrant and beautiful culture that thrives to this very day. Celtic heritage celebrations flourish throughout South Eastern Ontario at this time of year, with brilliance and jubilation to be heard the world over.
Below is a collection of pubs and eateries where you can taste the classic comfort foods that put Ireland and Scotland on the map. Raise a toast, and experience Celtic culinary fare at it’s finest.
Kemptville & Prescott
O’Heaphy’s Irish Pub
O’Heaphy’s Irish pub(s) bring an authentic Irish flare to South Eastern Ontario with two locations in Kemptville & Prescott. Either of O’Heaphy’s locations makes for a fantastic stopover while exploring the Celtic heritage locales in the area. Here you’ll find a good selection of craft beer, and a hearty menu of traditional Irish favourites with some interesting modern twists.
Tir Nan Og
Located beneath the historic Prince George Hotel is Tir nan Og; an iconic Irish pub in beautiful Downtown Kingston. Visitors can expect a great menu consisting of fantastic Irish favourites (steak and Guinness pie!), live music each weekend, and a particularly famous Karaoke night every Thursday!
The Toucan & Kirkpatrick’s
Tucked away in Kingston’s historic Rochleau Court is a pair of bonnie pubs that are well known to both locals and travellers alike. The Toucan and Kirkpatrick’s have been serving up delicious pub fare and crisp pints of ale since March 17, 1986. Coincidence? Probably not.
There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate St. Patrick’s day and Celtic heritage. As you spend it in good company with fine food and drink, you’re doing it right. I hope that this article has provided some inspiration to try something different this year. Céad míle fáilte! (Gaelic: “A thousand welcomes!”)