Descendants from the historic Irish Block came from as far as San Francisco to celebrate their community at the St. Michael’s Irish Block Cemetery Saturday.
About 250 people attended the event to commemorate their ancestors settling in the area in 1840s and to mark the completion of a new iron fence at the cemetery.
“It’s a celebration,” said Mike Traynor, chair of the St. Michael’s Cemetery Project Committee. “It’s a celebration of a project we started about a year and a half ago to build an iron fence, so we had to raise the money. Then when we were building the fence we learned that there were a lot of stories that the community wanted to tell and so we wrote a book and that’s being launched today at the homestead.”
Traynor and his wife are among a few descendant families who still live on the block. The couple live in a restored Victorian home, which was the first brick home ever built in the block.
“We were a very close-knit community in the 30s, 40s and 50s. And then of course they married off and then the families farms started being sold off. So there’s only one or two families that own any existing property, myself included,” Traynor said.
The Irish Block was a settlement northeast of Owen Sound of 41 Irish families who arrived in 1846. The block had its own school, post office, church and cemetery.
The cemetery was getting worn down, with horses running among the tombstones and bikers camping behind the grotto, according to Traynor. The St. Michael’s Cemetery Project Committee was formed to rehabilitate and restore the cemetery.
The iron fence was a year and a half in the making and the money to build it was raised creatively. Traynor said the committee made a database and got in contact with as many descendants as they could, had local business support and were able to raise $45,000 in less than five months. Donations ranged from $25 to $5,000.
At the event Saturday, Mass was celebrated by the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, Bishop of Hamilton Diocese, along with a Knights of Columbus Honour Guard.
The religious ceremony featured song, reading and communion. Crosby concluded the event by blessing the graves, the grotto, the bell cairn and the new fence after which the project committee cut the ribbon to conclude the fence building.
The Mass was followed by a reception at the Traynor homestead where the book, “Down the Irish Block Road” was launched. The book draws its title from the symbolism of driving down the Irish Block road where the families lived. The 250 copies from the first run of the book were presold.
Traynor said the project committee will continue to improve the cemetery. A preservation fund has been set aside for just the cemetery and three people asked Traynor who to give a cheque to in order to donate before Mass.
Traynor hoped the attendees would reminisce with each other during the events.
“I hope they reacquaint and just see how good it was and what they remember . . . and the other thing I think is people still want to give,” Traynor said.