A wreath-laying ceremony was held in Southern New Brunswick on Sunday. The ceremony was a tribute to the hundreds of Irish immigrants who landed and died on Partridge Island.

“When I arrived here in 1973, somehow or other, I felt drawn to that island,” said Helena Hook, a member of the Irish Cultural Association. “I didn’t know the history of it, but I felt a connection to it.”

In 1830, the city of Saint John established a quarantine station on the island.

In 1847, 2,000 Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine were quarantined on Partridge Island during a Typhus epidemic. 601 of those immigrants died, and were buried in a mass grave on the island.

“The quarantine station, it was initially established for sailors and mariners. Immigrants came later,” said historian Harold E. Wright.

The island also has a long-connection to the military.

“It was used in the war of 1812. It was used in the world wars,” said former chair of Partridge Island committee, Marijke Blok. “There were soldiers stationed there, which is one of the worries that the government has. Is there munitions there and various weaponry’s.”

There’s been talk for years of developing Partridge Island into a tourist site and capitalizing on the island’s rich history. Currently it remains off limits to the public.

“The natural environment of the island, the birds, the animals, the wild rose bushes that are now 10 feet high, wild strawberries,” said Wright. “That’s my first memory of the island, are the wild strawberries. I think we should be able to visit the island.”

“It’s such a potential money maker for the city of Saint John and for the area of New Brunswick,” said Blok. “It’s very disappointing that it hasn’t been moved further along.”

The only way to get to the island today is over the breakwater, or by boat. In 2016, cost estimates released indicated it would take between 30, to 40 million dollars to transform the breakwater into an access route.

"First and foremost, we need to open up access and that’s what I’m working on right now,” said Saint John/Rothesay MP Wayne Long.

“It would be lovely if we had a way to get out there, I think,” said Hook.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Lyall