Water And Ice: The Irish Victims

On Saturday, March 3 at 2 p.m., historian Art Mattson will tell the story of terrible shipwrecks in the 1830s that resulted in the deaths of over 200 immigrants just outside the port of New York. Most victims were Irish, many of them women and children drawn to the freedoms and expanding opportunities in America. They had chosen to cross the Atlantic during a treacherous sailing season. And they almost succeeded. This program will take place in the parish house of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street, in Manhattan. A reception will follow. Suggested donation: $5.

Wreck Of The Bristol

In the winter of 1836–37, two landmark events occurred when 215 people perished in shipwrecks off Long Beach and Rockaway Beach, within shouting distance of shore. Most victims were Irish immigrants and New York was their destination. Passengers on the ship Bristol drowned in minutes when it was stuck by a rogue wave. Those aboard the Mexico froze to death on the stranded ship after their captain and crew abandoned them. These shipwrecks are among the most important ones in U.S. maritime history, and among the most dramatic ever recorded. Sadly, the story was forgotten for 170 years.

But the details were uncovered when Art Mattson discovered a weather beaten obelisk in a tiny cemetery in Lynbrook, Long Island. Barely-legible wording said that this was the mass grave of 139 unclaimed bodies from two shipwrecks in the 1830s. With virtually nothing published about the events, research took Art to archives in New York City, Liverpool, and Dublin, and led to revelation of the full circumstances of callous disregard for the passengers’ lives. Seemingly, instead of being welcomed to America, such immigrants were referred to as “demoralized,” “degraded beings,” and “vagrants.” Today, thanks to Art Mattson’s work, their mass grave is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Art Mattson is the historian of the Village of Lynbrook, N.Y. and a registered historian of the State of New York. He is also a university lecturer and author of two books. These include Water and Ice: The Tragic Wrecks of the Bristol and the Mexico on the South Shore of Long Island, which received the Joseph F. Meany Award for Excellence in New York State Maritime History.

A Girl From Queens

On Saturday, May 12 at 2 p.m., author Eileen Markey will discuss the life—and death—of Sister Maura Clarke, M.M., whose brutal assault and murder at the hands of Salvadorian soldiers in 1980 became the source of international news and years of debate over America’s Cold War policy in Latin America. Who was Maura Clarke, and why was she in El Salvador? How significant for her endeavors were her youthful connections, through her parents, with the Irish? And what about the influences from her early encounters with the people of Latin America? This insightful program will be in the McCloskey meeting room in the parish house of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street, Manhattan. A reception will follow. Suggested donation: $5.

On December 2, 1980, Sister Maura Clarke and three other women were assaulted and killed by El Salvador’s National Guard. Prior to her death, Maura Clarke, during two decades of service in Central America, had come to support popular movements against dictatorial regimes, first in Nicaragua and then in El Salvador. Why?

The child of Irish immigrants, Maura Clarke was raised in Queens. She grew up in Rockaway during the l930s and 1940s. At home, she heard her father’s stories about the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Revolution, and the Irish Civil War. And she heard her mother’s tales of the discrimination and intimidation she had experienced growing up as a Catholic in County Antrim. How significant were these domestic experiences? And what about Sister Maura’s early work in Latin America? Were those experiences transformational for her? Living and working every day in poor communities could have changed her from an obedient young woman to a provocative critic of authority who pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be faithful to religious conviction—even if it meant challenging national regimes cruelly exploiting the poor people of their own countries. These and related issues will be the focus of Eileen Markey’s research-based discussion of Sister Maura Clark.

Eileen Markey is an investigative journalist. Her book, A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura, was published by Nation Books.

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