They Came to Work – #WATWB

This week was the final week for the ‘We Are The World Blogfest.’ That’s sad, but the blogfest was originally set to run for one year, and this weekend marks the end of the fifth year. Sadly, it also marks the end of the blogfest. Kudos to the creators, Damyanti Biswas and Belinda McGrath Witzenhausen and to the co-hosts and the various contributors throughout the past five years.

I am late, as I have been, often in recent years. Running the Thursday Doors challenge has kept me busy, and I have been reluctant to bury that post, since the challenge runs through Saturday. Still, the co-hosts and others involved with WATWB have always welcomed my entry, late as it may have been. That’s because they are kind and gracious people.

I thank them for that, and I thank them for starting this blogfest at a time when the world needed it. The world still needs good stories, and I will continue to look for them and I will try to highlight them here.

The final story I want to share is a local story and one that is long overdue. The little town that I live in has finally honored the Irish Immigrants who built the Windsor Locks Canal almost 200 years ago. I am including a the photo and a few bits of text from The Journal-Inquirer article (I hope you will read it, but the links don’t always work if you’re not a subscriber). I commend this paper for their coverage of this important event.

“Today has special meaning because we finally pay tribute to men who devoted their lives, and many of them gave their lives,… the brave, stalwart laborers opened a world of commerce in the state by building the canal, which allowed ships to bypass the Enfield rapids on the Connecticut River and bring goods to towns downstream such as Hartford.”

U.S. Sen. From Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal

Our current First Selectman, Paul Harrington said that the idea to honor the canal workers came from former selectman Chris Kervick, who spent two decades researching them after discovering from an article that their names were unknown.

“That description just rattled me,” Kervick said. Kervick also discovered that when the Irish canal workers arrived in America, they were not welcomed.

“We feared them, we isolated them, and when they suffered, we ignored them.”

Chris Kervick

Kervick added that he had learned of one incident when a past first selectman refused to allow one of the canal workers who had been killed during construction to be buried in a town cemetery, only relenting when the worker’s body was dropped off on his front door.

Today, the canal supplies water to a gas co-generation plant. In exchange for the water, the owners of the plant have agreed to maintain the canal. The Canal and the mule path are now part of a Connecticut State Park. Our family has ridden bikes and walked along the canal for decades. It is a treasure to have, and we owe it to the brave men who built it with their bare hands.

Other than the last photo, the pictures in the gallery were taken along the Windsor Locks Canal over many years.

72 comments

  1. It is amazing that Irish Navies have been used and abused all over the world. They did amazing work on roads and canals and more. Sadly like many poorer immigrants they were not welcome. It seems that the immigrant was so often scorned as much as indigenous peoples were too.
    That said it is great that finally these people were honoured.
    Thanks Dan such an interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, Dan. I love stories like this one; they have to be kept alive. They are so prone to be lost and we are the poorer for it. I often feel history is overly concerned with the so called great events of humanity’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Don. It’s true, the richness of these events are often reduced to dates and facts (length, depth, etc.) while these stories are lost or covered over. I’m glad this story has been told and that at least there’s a memorial that will stand alongside their remarkable work. Thanks for reading and for leaving your thoughts.

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  3. “No Irish need apply” has many forms, doesn’t it? What beauty in your photos — walking or biking there must be a real joy. Yes, I can see how you might stop at that one particular reflection for a long while. This is a lovely tribute to the Anonymous Unwelcome. Exactly right for “We Are The World,” and much needed right now. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you understand, Maureen. WATWB was necessary when it began. I am sad to see it end, but all things do, I suppose. This was a great event to highlight in the last “official” post. New England owes much to the Irish immigrants, who were not welcome, even when we brought them here to do jobs no one else would do. I am glad we’ve made the canal a State Park, but it’s only still here because of how well those men built it. It’s more than fitting that we recognize them. Thanks for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dan – thanks for joining in the last # WATWB – it’s been an amazing journey started by intrepid bloggers back 5 years. The navvies were an integral part of our early industrial heritage – building, living on site, ‘taken for granted’ … there were British/English ones too – it seems that quite a lot of the Irish went over to build your canals too. I’m glad the town has remembered them … and their history will be part of the towns. They lived and worked in fairly monstrous situations … a great tribute for today.

    Loved the photos and tour along a tiny part of the canal – the towpaths and canals today are fantastic leisure places – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Hilary. I couldn’t let WATWB go without honoring it, and it’s founders. It has been a wonderful journey and I’ve met so many bloggers along the way. I think I met you one of the months I was a co-host. So, in many ways, the spirit will survive,

      Honoring these men has been long overdue, and bringing this story to a wider audience was something I felt I should do – this was the perfect place to feature the story. At least now, people enjoying the beauty along this canal will know who made it possible.

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  5. Great post Dan. Long overdue recognition to these men who sacrificed so much to build the Windsor Locks Canal. This was quite a feat of engineering during a time when their main tools would have been their hands and backs and mules.

    It seems to be the history of this country to treat the very people who build it as though they were low lifes. Yet we brag at the top of our lungs how we’re the “melting pot” of the world…..a land of immigrants.

    Nice images. I love the turtles and the lone heron enjoying the warm sun and each other’s company. All your photos of the canal really bring it to life. I hope the canal stays well-maintained and that folks appreciate how it got there.

    Very nice tribute. WATWB has had a nice run. I’ve enjoyed the stories you’ve presented over the years highlighting the good in our midst. If we forget the history of our country, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we won’t know who we are.
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful comment Ginger. You are right, these people were treated badly, and shamefully considering the claims we make. It’s time we truly recognize that we are a country of immigrants and that that is what has made us strong.

      WATWB lasted four years beyond its goal, due to the hard work of the supporters, not to mention the need.

      I hope you have a great week.

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    • It’s a beautiful ride, as you know. The canal remains viable because of how well it was constructed. I hope it remains useful for many years to come, and I’m glad people will know about its history.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a powerful story, Dan! I knew nothing of the Irish canal workers. Thank you for sharing as you have and for posting the photos. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gwen. New England is laced with canals built for shipping and to bring water power to growing industries. We talk/learn about the rich industrial heritage, but little is said about the men who made it possible. I’m glad you enjoyed this.

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  7. My ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the 1700s and I have found paperwork documenting their struggles of acceptance and their denial of payments and benefits due to them. This story hits home for me. I read the linked article and could not help but think about what a lesser country we would be had it not been for the nameless and faceless people who contributed so much to build our infrastructures. I am glad you will continue the work of #WATWB by sharing uplifting stories. I will do the same. Thank you, Dan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Maggie. I know this story hits closer to home for some people. New England thrived during the industrial revolution on the backs of immigrant labor, but people were very slow to accept those immigrants into society. It’s a sad story. I will try to keep putting some good news out here. I’m glad you will, too. We needed these stories when WAWB began, and I think we still do.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dan, thanks for being part of the WATWB family and sharing history of the Windsor Locks. That was quite the achievement by the Irish immigrants, and I’m glad they were finally recognized by your community. I hope you have many more years of enjoying walks along the canal and the beauty of what it created. Happy Monday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mary. The canal path is one of the few places I can still ride my bike. It’s not that long (the extended ride is only a 12 mile round trip) and I’m off the bike often enough to look around that my shoulder/neck doesn’t have a chance to bother me. I am so glad these men finally have been recognized.

      Thanks for your contributions and posts in support of WATWB during its 5-year run.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. That is so true of history throughout the world: those that actually build the foundations are never recognized. It’s nice to see that is not happening here. It looks like it would be a wonderful place to walk or bike. Thanks for the great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a delightful place to walk and ride, Pam. It’s one of the few places around here we can see wildlife enjoying a protected habitat. It took too long to acknowledge their contribution, but I’m glad it has been done ans I give credit to Chris Kervic for making it happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, that’s an impressive run. Congratulations to the founders of the blog fest and all the participants.
    Thanks for the extraordinary story about the worker. (Shakes head…) The gallery is beautiful as always. Hugs on the wing.
    PS: I’ve just reblogged the bar visit from Saturday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Teagan for reading and commenting over the years. I didn’t make every month, but I managed to be here a lot. I will continue to try to find stories, like this one, that are worth sharing. Thanks for the reblog.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks Dan, an important story to tell. Your photos are beautiful. Thanks for being such a staunch supporter of #WATWB over the years – even if sometimes late – and this particular one was not be missed. Here, better late than never also applies :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Susan. I do appreciate accepting my frequent late arrival. I also appreciate the work you and others have put in to keep this challenge going. I hope to continue to share good stories, to bring light in to displace the darkness.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Having the canal to hike and bike on is a great benefit. I’m so glad these men finally got the recognition they deserve. I think you know that’s one of my favorite bridges.

      Like

  12. I think there are a lot of people who don’t know how many immigrants suffered prejudice and violence in those days. It warms my heart to see these hard working men honored at last. I love all your pics and agree about that yellow autumn trees shot. Beautiful! I’m sad the blogfest will end. I haven’t participated in a long time but always appreciate the posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As someone mentioned earlier, lots of people talk about this country being a great melting pot, but they fail to understand how many people weren’t welcome when they arrived – even people we brought here to work. The canal is the most beautiful place we have around here to walk and bike, and it’s only here because of the skill and hard work of these men. I love being on the canal in the spring and fall. I know you always supported my posts, and others. Thanks for that.

      Like

  13. Great post! Being of Irish descent I was moved by your post. It is great to know that the contributions of Irish immigrants are being acknowledged. Also love the photos, they are stunning.
    A huge heartfelt THANK YOU for being a part of #WATWB we couldn’t have done it without all of the talented bloggers such as yourself. It has been a honour and a privilege. I hope many of us will continue to share a little positivity where we can. It has definitely been an amazing journey for me and such a wonderful experience. Thanks again!🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Boy, did you title this blog post perfectly. I loved this story! I learned about the Ancient Order of Hibernians from our wonderful daughter-in-law. Of course she and her family are members. The important thing is values and hard work. This should be a standard motto! Super photo gallery, especially the flag at half-staff for Madeleine Albright. Do you know about her pin collection?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. HI Dan, I know from various books I’ve read that the Irish who came to America were largely very badly treated. I do believe Irish labour also contributed hugely to the building of the railways. I read on another blog that this blogfest was finishing. It’s a pity. Thanks for the great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are correct, Robbie. As the railroads and steam engines were putting the canals out of business, the Irish immigrants helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. They were not treated well, and their effort was not recognized. Nor was the effort of Chinese immigrants who were brought here to build the railroads heading east from the west coast cities. America might be a great melting pot, but we had trouble stirring the soup, as it were.

      WATWB has ended, but I think the spirit will continue. I will try to find at least one good story a month to share.

      Liked by 1 person

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