Irish Language Speakers in the Ottawa, Canada, area at the time of the 1901 Census

April 28, 2011:

Dear Al,  

Carol McCuaig suggested that I contact you so I hope you don't mind. I am an Irish academic based in Mary Immaculate College, 
County Limerick, who is currently on a research trip to St. Michael's College Toronto until 29th April. I am working on a project 
tracing the use of the Irish language in the Ottawa Valley during the 19th Century through a detailed examination of the 
1901 census (it was the first to include a question on Mother Tongue).  

My project is proving to be very interesting and it has thrown up some unexpected findings. For example, in Renfrew, South 
I found a total of 196 speakers, 91 of whom were born in Ontario. Of the 196, 21 were Protestant while the rest were Catholic. 
In Renfrew, North, however, the findings were even more interesting. Of the total of 135 Irish speakers, 90 were born in 
Ontario and 94 were Protestant while only 41 were Catholic. In Russell County I found 74 speakers, 63 of whom were
born in Ontario. Of the 74 speakers 44 were Protestant. 

My question is whether any work on the Irish like that done by Carol has been done for Russell, Carleton or any of 
the surrounding counties or could you recommend some good local histories that I should read? Carol has helped me to 
trace a number of the speakers that I found (or their descendants) back to their county of origin in Ireland and this 
is what I am most interested in. 

I would be most grateful for any advice or if you ever come across references to the Irish language if you would be 
willing to pass them on to me and of course I would gratefully acknowledge it in any future publications. 

I'm making my way through the 1901 census for Ottawa at the moment. I'm finding some Irish speakers there but have 
found that in many many cases Irish was recorded as Mother Tongue and then overwritten with English (possibly in another hand) 
so I find that very interesting. This is a phenomenon I have found in other counties also - it is prevalent in some
more than others.

Kind regards,

Lesa Ní Mhunghaile 

Dr Lesa Ní Mhunghaile
Dept of Irish
Mary Immaculate College
South Circular Rd

part of my reply to Dr Lesa Ní Mhunghaile:

Growing up in the 1950's, the Irish accent was widespread in the rural areas, less so in the City of Ottawa. I believe that most of 
the Irish labourers who worked on the Rideau Canal construction in the 1820's, spoke Irish as their primary language and many of 
these families spoke only Irish. These persons, many of whom became urban dwellers lost their Irish language beginning with about the third 
generation. About the only Irish language to be heard in the city of Ottawa now are among some Irish groups and the occasional high-school 
Gaelic night class. 

My Grandmother and her family, originally, from County Waterford, Ireland, came to the urban area of Ottawa in 1933 from an almost exclusive Irish corner 
of then rural Osgoode Township. She spoke with strong traces of the Irish language.
However, in the records which you are using (from the 1901 census), there will be a higher percentage of Irish speakers because of the 
families who came here at the time of the famine, especially those who came from the west of Ireland. 
Most of the children who arrived with their parents c. 1847, would likely still speak Irish or would at least be enumerated 
as persons whose Mother Tongue was Irish.
There is a google search engine at the bottom of all of my individual web pages, and if you enter, for example, the word Kilkenny, you will 
get a list of immigrants to Canada in the 1800's from County Kilkenny. The same with all other counties. Some pages are dedicated to 
immigrants from a particular County. For example the page at gives background information on the 
emigrants from the Coolattin Estate at the time of the famine. This page uses Jim Rees' book, Surplus People as it's basis and 
a tremendous job has been done by Anne Burgess for this area. Again, the Irish language was probably held onto by these later emigrants 
from the rural area of western Ireland who came to the rural areas in the Ottawa area.
If you have some time, look around my web site. Use the Google site-dedicated search engine at the bottom of this page to find names or 
geographical information. I think that it may be useful for your work.

I will try and put together a list of relevant books and articles for you.

Good Luck with this project!

... Al Lewis
Ottawa, Canada
May 9, 2011:
Source: Forkhill Protestants and Forkhill Catholics, page 64, (see also County Armagh, Ireland to the Ottawa, Canada area). Source: Forkhill Protestants and Forkhill Catholics, page 64

New December 4, 2016: "The unadulterated Irish language": Irish Speakers in Nineteenth Century New York", an article in the June 13, 1857, issue of Harper's Weekly. A very interesting article. My grandmother, 1885-1957, spoke English with a strong Gaelic accent. She was third generation in Canada. Her grandparents, my GGGrandparents, both spoke Irish Gaelic on arrival in Ottawa in 1833. Here is a map showing the distribution of Gaelic speakers in Ireland in 1911. The farther west we go, the higher the percentage of Irish Gaelic speakers. ... Al

E-mail Lesa Ní Mhunghaile and Al Lewis

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