Duffy's Cut

Image of Duffy's Cut Mass Grave headstone
Image courtesy of Duffys Cut Project, Immaculata University, Malvern

As so many Irish have and will continue to do, eighteen year old John Ruddy said goodbye to his family and home in Inishowen to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Destination was the United States, in the year of 1832 and young Mr. Ruddy was about to find work and make a better life for himself.  He was among 57 Irishmen from Donegal, Derry and Tyrone hired by Philip Duffy to build a stretch of Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad known as Duffy’s Cut. 

Tragedy struck and these hardworking, hopeful immigrants died within weeks of arriving at the Pennsylvania site. Many died of cholera and were dumped in a mass grave. Yet forensic evidence shows that several of the immigrants were murdered, possibly because of vigilante hatred or fear of the cholera epidemic. Those immigrants, including Ruddy, were found buried separately.

Tragically, their families were never told of the terrible loss.

Four years ago, a team of U.S. historians unearthed the bones of 18-year-old John near train tracks in suburban Philadelphia. On Saturday 2nd March, that team attended a re-interment for the railway worker more than 3,000 miles away at a cemetery in Ardara County Donegal. The grave John has now been buried in was donated by Vincent Gallagher of the Commodore Barry Irish Centre in Philadelphia, and originally from Loughros Point near Ardara.

"We can't help but think he would prefer to be buried there," said Bill Watson, a lead researcher on the team that found the remains.

Watson and his twin brother Frank, also a historian, discovered the mass grave through the personal papers of their late grandfather who had worked on the rails long after the 57 men were killed. After ten years research, the Watson team tentatively identified Ruddy based on a passenger list from the ship on which the immigrants travelled, and his small bone size. There was only one 18-year-old worker listed in railroad archives, Watson said.

Ruddy's jaw also had a genetic dental abnormality — a missing molar. It's a trait that still runs in his family, according to Watson, who said modern-day Ruddys in Ireland contacted him after reading about the discovery. 

Ruddy’s remains were the first-found set of remains from Duffy’s Cut in 2009 which were positively identified.

They have now been accompanied to Donegal by Bill and Frank Watson, along with Earl Schandelmeir, another of the original Duffy’s Cut researchers. 

The Mayor of Donegal,Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jnr, paid tribute to John Ruddy and his 56 co-workers who, like so many other people left their homes to find a better life, only to have their hopes and dreams shattered shortly after they arrived in Pennsylvania.  Speaking at the burial, the Mayor said “This is a time to reflect on the short life of John Ruddy, to remember his co-workers, to remember the hardships that many Irish people faced when emigrating from their homeland and to appreciate the sacrifices that these people made so that we could continue to survive and indeed thrive in our country today”. 

He added “I would also like to acknowledge the great work done by both Bill and Frank Watson and by Earl Shandelmeir and their team of historians in uncovering this remarkable story and in bringing John Ruddy’s remains home to rest in Co. Donegal.  We owe an untold gratitude to these people for their determination and painstaking work in uncovering the story of these railway workers”.

Rest in Peace John Ruddy. 

Click below to hear Christy Moore performing 'Duffy's Cut' from his album 'The Patriot Game'