Ballad of James Collins pays homage to Irish doctor who died on Partridge Island in N.B.
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- The tragic tale of a 19th century Irish doctor who made it his mission to help sick and suffering immigrants stranded on Partridge Island's quarantine station during the typhus epidemic, has been immortalized in a new song written by a musician from the Emerald Island.
The musician, by the name of Danny Dineen, has written a song about the doomed doctor, who would contract and die from typhus not long after arriving to help. The song is called The Ballad of James Collins.
"(Dr. James Collins) he was really wanting to help his fellow Irish over there, so he was going to Partridge Island to help out," says president of the Saint John chapter of the Irish Canadian Cultural Association, who is also named Danny Dineen.
"His wife begged him not go, she was pregnant for their first child, but feeling the way he did, he figured he had to go and help and that makes him a real hero. You're willing to give your life up to help others."
The song was written after Dineen of Saint John, himself a big fan of traditional Irish music, travelled to Ireland on a family trip back in July of 2019.
They met with the musician's family in Cork – and although Danny was away at the time playing music – the two were able to connect online later on, and it was then that they started to discuss writing a song about Partridge Island.
"The pandemic hit, and I was kind of stuck at home with nothing to do, so I said alright, we're in a pandemic now, I'm going to write about a pandemic that was nearly 200 years ago," says Dineen in an interview over Zoom from Limerick, Ireland.
Partridge Island is connected to the west side of Saint John by breakwater, and is off-limits to visitors.
It is a designated National Historic Site of Canada, due to its role in immigration to Canada, and specifically New Brunswick – along with the quarantine station that was established on the island in 1830, to try and prevent the spread of disease to the mainland.
According to local historian Harold E. Wright, over 33,000 immigrants arrived in New Brunswick between the years of 1840 to 1845 with 88 per cent of those being Irish. In 1938 it was scaled down and formally closed in 1942 – it's estimated that nearly 3-million people were subject to quarantine inspection.
For the performer of the song – the experience of researching and writing The Ballad of James Collins – was a meaningful experience.
"Where I live in Cork, it wouldn't be far from Cobh which would have been where an awful lot, if not most, of the immigrants who left during the famine would have sailed out from," says Dineen.
"To learn about the experience of what happened to the people when they got to the other side … and they were kind of met, fleeing from famine at the other side of the ocean, being planted in an island in the middle of another epidemic."