March 09 2012

The remains of five Irish immigrants killed while building a Pennsylvania railroad in 1832 have been re-interred in a cemetery in a Philadelphia suburb.

The immigrants were among 57 hired to help build a stretch of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad known as Duffy’s Cut. They lived in a shantytown by the rails in current day Malvern, about 20 miles west of Philadelphia.

Researchers say the workers were first buried in unmarked graves after they were murdered by prejudiced local vigilantes. Their skeletons were found only recently. Historians Bill and Frank Watson and their team worked for years to find, identify and properly re-inter the remains.

They were re-interred during a funeral at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.

Kevin Conmy, deputy ambassador for the Irish embassy, said there was a sense that “justice has been done”.

The burials took place more than 3,000 miles from their homeland and nearly two centuries after their first anonymous burials.

People lined up to pay their respects before five wooden caskets at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. The sounds of bagpipes and gunshot salutes filled the air as dozens of mourners paid tribute.

“What this does is it just reminds us that the story of Irish in America has many strands,” Mr Conmy said. “You do get a sense that justice has been done to these people.”

The Watson brothers led a team that set out nearly a decade ago to find out what happened to the workers from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry. They believe many died of cholera and were dumped in a mass grave at Duffy’s Cut.

But they also theorised – based on mortality statistics, newspaper accounts and internal railroad company documents – that some were killed. Railroad officials never notified the workers’ relatives of their deaths, and they later burned the shantytown.