In The News

Remains are returned to Donegal after 180 years

Remains are returned to Donegal after 180 years

THE remains of a young Donegal man have been returned to his home town 180 years after he emigrated to America.

John Ruddy was 18 when he left Ardara in 1832 to work on the building of a railroad in Pennsylvania. He joined 56 other Irish immigrants who were employed to build part of the railroad at Duffy’s Cut near Philadelpha.

But only weeks after beginning work at the site, all 57 had disappeared. It would eventually be claimed they had died of cholera, but now evidence has been uncovered which raises the prospect that at least some of those who disappeared may have been murdered.

John Ruddy’s remains were uncovered, along with those of six other people at Duffy’s Cut, after two brothers decided to investigate what had happened to the Irish workers.

Bill and Frank Watson, who are twins, had always been told by their grandfather that the ghosts of Irishmen haunted the Duffy’s Cut area. Their grandfather, who had been a railroad worker, also had paperwork from his former employer which stated that information about what happened in 1832 should remain confidential.

A newspaper report from the time only stated that 9 Irish workers had died from cholera. Bill Watson, a history professor, and brother Frank, a clergyman, brought together a number of experts to help in their search for the truth. 

The seven remains which were found were examined by forensic scientists, but only those of John Ruddy could be identified using DNA testing.

After the identification was confirmed, Bill Watson said: “John Ruddy was younger than a lot of the others. He was coming over here to look for the American dream.”

But the remains appear to bear the marks which may have been caused by gunshots or axes.

Forensic scientist Janet Monge, who examined the remains, said: “If they had cholera, it didn’t kill them. I would say something else killed them, but they might have had cholera, too.”

One theory now being examined is that following the outbreak of cholera the workers may have been killed to prevent them leaving the Duffy’s Cut area and spreading the disease.

John Ruddy’s remains have now been interred in the cemetery of  The Church of The Holy Family, in Ardara, Co. Donegal.

The remains of the six other people were reinterred in Pennsylvania following a Funeral Service.

To view a short film about Duffy’s Cut, click here.

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