The Irishness of Newfoundland

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jan 04, 2023 11:38 AM

By Kim Ploughman

Two hundred and fifty million years is a long time to be separated, but when destiny insists, nothing can stop the forces that bind. Patrick Noel Daly knows all about those strong connections, especially as it relates to places and people, and the pull of reconnecting to his heritage - geographically, historically and culturally. Originally from the seaside town of Garryvoe in county Cork, Ireland, Patrick has made Newfoundland and Labrador his home for the past year. In some ways, it feels like he never left his native country. Not surprising, given that the Emerald Isle and The Rock go quite a ways back.

Ancient and recent ties
It is theorised that 250 million years ago the islands of Newfoundland and Ireland both occupied the central portion of a supercontinent called Pangaea. This extraordinary landmass splintered, leaving the two separated by the modern Atlantic Ocean. Sometime in the past 500 or so years, that connection was reformed. Fishermen from ports such as Cork, Ireland, were lured to these shores by the legendary cod fishery from 1675 to 1850. These migratory workers, and later immigrants, brought not just their bloodlines to Newfoundland, but also their language, stories, music and traditions, which have endured to modern day, especially on the Southern and Cape Shores. The connectivity is so deep and intrinsic that Newfoundland has been nicknamed “the most Irish island in the world.” Indeed, it is the only Irish place outside of Ireland tagged with an Irish name: Newfoundland, in Irish/Gaelic, is Talamh an Eisc (Land of the Fish).
Patrick follows a long line of Irish folks who drifted to the island. He explains that in July 2021, a weekend trip to the province changed his globetrotting trajectory. “For a reason which I could not understand back then, I immediately felt at home.” It began right at the airport. “The airport taxi driver said to me, ‘How’s it going b’y?’” It’s the exact same greeting they use back in Cork.
While Patrick didn’t come for the fish, his background as an inventor, founder, investor, mentor and world traveller are all trailblazing characteristics of his hardy ancestors, including Saint Brendan, an Irish monk and seafarer who is thought to have crossed the Atlantic to Newfoundland in the 6th century in a hide-sewn vessel. Patrick credits drive, tenacity and hard work for his own business successes; and these same traits forged the new world here in “the Land of The Fish.”

Gobsmacked by the Irishness
After landing in this Irish subculture, the familiarity and comfort continued to provide balm for Patrick’s soul. He recalls his first night’s stay at a B& B, still under COVID quarantine, where the owner offered to deliver him Mary Browns and beer. “I couldn’t believe the generosity of that lady. I had never met this woman before, yet she specifically went out to get me some food and drink. That kindness and generosity is a stand-out trait,” he says.
Similarly he was affected by his experience at the Caplin Inn in Calvert. “I was gobsmacked by the Irishness of the Newfoundland-born and raised owner, Kevin Walsh, who is as proud of his Irish heritage as I’ve ever seen in all of my global travels,” Patrick says, adding the way and the accents of the Southern Shore residents are virtually the same as folks born and raised in Ireland, particularly the Cork inflections.
After living here for over a year, this Come From Away who stayed observes, “When I take what I have read, heard, seen and learned, I believe that there is very little difference, or distinction, between the place I was born and raised, and Newfoundland.”
He’s also impressed with the work that societies here have been doing to encourage and foster the Ireland-Newfoundland linkage. “The Benevolent Irish Society, for example, was founded over 200 years ago, and they have made significant charitable contributions, both at home and abroad over those years.”
A self-confessed storyteller and the 1999 Entrepreneur of the Year in Ireland, Patrick has published a book, Just Start Up: A Guide to Building Startups, sharing his entrepreneurial experience so others can sidestep the pitfalls he fell into over the past 20 years. He also plans to start Entrepreneurship Academies. It stems from one of his prime motivations, that more Irelanders and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should be serving in leadership roles. “We have the smarts, we have the brains, so why not go up and take the lead? We can talk. We can articulate. We can write, so why don't we lead?” he poses.
Another thing his old and new homes have in common? Work ethic. “Sure, we party hard, sing, dance and tell stories until all hours, but even if the party goes on until late, we go to work and work hard. The work ethic is clear and bred in us… it’s a large part of the Irish gene.”

Mannion Collection - Tracing the Irish
Not surprisingly, Patrick was in the audience for a recent lecture on the Irish-Newfoundland genealogical connection held in Torbay, NL. It was a celebration of the Mannion Collection: Irish Immigration and Settlement in Newfoundland, 1750-1850. This unique archival information was collected over a span of 40 years on approximately 87,000 handwritten index cards by retired historical geographer, Dr. John Mannion, and his wife and research partner, Maura. The work traced Irish immigrants, including merchants, ships and sea captains, from the southeast of Ireland around Waterford city and a 30-kilometre radius. By 1800, Irish settlers had made up half of Newfoundland’s population.  
John is a native of Galway, Ireland, and one of Canada’s leading cultural geographers. In a recent phone call, he explains that even before coming to Newfoundland in 1969, as part of his work at the University of Toronto he traced Irish family history of first settlers to Newfoundland in places such as Logy Bay, Middle Cove and Outer Cove. After arriving at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, he engaged his students in gathering data on family trees, as a way for the university to connect with communities.
Torbay History House and Museum recently adopted the Mannions’ massive collection, as well as the digitized version of over 160,000 scanned images. John is quick to stress that “a big team” created the project through the decades, including students and dedicated typists. He also credits expert technical staff at The NL Statistical Agency, including Aldon Hollett and Terry Quinlan, as well as Eamonn Murphy with the Ireland Newfoundland Connections (INC) and MUN advisor, Dr. Sean Caddigan, with superb work. “Torbay House has also been very supportive and we are very impressed with them,” he says.
John admits that while he and Maura gathered the data, they never envisioned where, and how, it would all unfold. “We’re very, very lucky and pleased to have it presented, cited and read,” he says, noting that academic data can sometimes disappear in Robin Hood Bay. Calling it “a happy circumstance” for the collection to be online, digitalized and in circulation,” John says he and his wife are “over the moon.”
From many angles, the collection is quite significant, notes John. For one thing, there is “nothing quite like it for any other ethnic group in the 19th-century English Canada,” he says, adding, “From a provincial historical and heritage side, this is perhaps the most notable event of the past year.”
For the Town of Torbay, John points out that the preservation for future generations is a valuable asset, making the community a destination for cultural research and “genealogical tourism” between Ireland and Newfoundland. “ It’s a revolution,” he remarks, adding that, “It is a free shortcut to one’s family history at the click of a mouse, anywhere in the world.”
The prolific Mannion project (with over 450,000 names now online and searchable) is indeed a testimony to innovation, where a lifelong and scholarly labour of love has been transformed into a public good. In time, this work is envisioned to also serve genetic research related to the Irish-NL population, parlaying into medical benefits for both.
In addition to the event at Torbay House this past summer, the collection was also celebrated and launched by Newfoundland-Labrador Irish Connection’s (NLIC) sister board, INC, in Cork, Ireland on September 5. There, the Taoiseach of Ireland, Mayor of Cork, Patrick Mannion (the Mannions’ son), Eamonn Murphy, Alton Hollett and Torbay councillor Ralph Tapper (also of the NLIC) all spoke at the event.
The Canadian Ambassador, Nancy Smyth, also attended the Ireland event and acknowledged that “there is simply no denying that Newfoundland’s connection to Ireland is unrivalled within Canada.” The Ambassador also congratulated Dr. Mannion on his recently published book, chronicling a Waterford sea captain’s voyages in the 1750s, Waterford’s Maritime World: The Ledger of Walter Butler, 1750-1757.
“To see, hear, read, and somewhat feel, the thoughts of those Irish people who initially started travelling as fishermen from Southern Ireland aboard the ships from the English West country  was thought-provoking, to say the least,” says Patrick about the Mannion collection.
As Patrick continues to embrace the kinship he has been blessed with since arriving, his wish is see more of the Irish diaspora and culture acknowledged and celebrated to strengthen his country’s connection to these shores. “This is a great part of the world, and when it comes to having a good time, with good people, in a shared culture and heritage, both Ireland and Newfoundland are two places I enjoy to my core,” he confesses.

The two Irishmen’s experiences and ties to this province prove that not even volatile geological forces back 250 million years ago can obstruct the pull between Ireland and Newfoundland. Already bonded in geology and a wild and rugged landscape, the two have reunited through a shared intangible culture, with stories, songs, sayings, accents, humour and lifestyle - all well preserved by the salty Atlantic air.