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Community & Business

16 November, 2022

Clifton Cemetery’s historic link to Irish Potato Famine

Cliftonites strolling through the Clifton Cemetery might walk past the grave of Irish immigrant Patrick Kilmartin and his wife Bridget unaware how these hundred year old graves are a historic link to one of the most tragic events in European history and ultimately influenced history in Australia and the USA.

These nine ladies, all descendants of Patrick and Bridget Kilmartin, were on a mini pilgrimage to the Clifton Cemetery on Friday morning.

When the Irish potato crop was wiped out by disease in the 1840s it resulted in starvation on a massive scale to the point where more than one million poor Irish land-holders died. 

Another two million Irish men and women immigrated to other nations, mainly USA and Australia.

The failure of the potato crop over a number of years caused the landowning gentry to evict landholders from their small holdings resulting in widespread poverty. 

Patrick Kilmartin’s was one such family evicted from their land on the Gerrard Estate, Ballinlass in County Galway in 1844 when Patrick was 14 years of age.

After working in the English coal mines for many years  Patrick and his wife Bridget decided to emigrate to the USA, unaware that they had been tricked as the ship they were on brought them to Australia.

Further tragedy struck as their ship was crossing the Great Australian Bight when their three year old son died.

Patrick was not the only family member to escape Ireland as several brothers and sisters settled in Iowa in the USA.

Ultimately Patrick and Bridget found their way to Clifton where Patrick worked on the railways.

Today Clifton has numerous branches of the Kilmartin family tree as Irish heritage evolved into Australian heritage.

On 11th November 2022, ten members of various branches of the Kilmartin family tree came to the Clifton Cemetery to honour their distant relative who they acknowledge as having begun the Australian branch of the family after surviving the starvation and misery of the Irish Potato famine.

An Irish relative had sent several rocks from their original home in Ireland to be placed on the graves of Patrick and Bridget.

Gloria Collins, the 101 years old family matriarch placed the rocks on the grave stone and as she looked around at Patrick Kilmartin’s family descendants remarked, “After all the suffering they endured something positive did come from it.”

After a few photos the group retired to Clifton’s O’Shanley’s Irish Pub to no doubt have a Guinness or two in memory of Patrick and Bridget; survivors of the Irish Potato famine.

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