THE IRISH CATHOLICS OF KINGS COUNTY (September 11/07)

Family lore has it that when my great grandfather left County Cork with his family, they immigrated as Catholics and arrived here as Protestants. The speculation is that Catholics may not have been openly welcome here at one time, even as late as the mid 19th century.

There is some evidence that this may be so. Kentville historian Louis Comeau tells me that in the early days here in Kings County, some of his Catholic ancestors had to keep a low profile because of their religion. Such was the prejudice, Comeau said in effect, that one ancestor who operated a business in Kentville was careful to keep his religious leanings to himself.

It’s also part of Kings County lore that Catholics settling in Kings County after the Planters were literally ostracized and had to live in outlying areas away from villages and towns. This is difficult to believe. However, there is a curious paragraph in a church history that suggests there may be some truth in this story.

Around 1930, The Advertiser published a history of the churches of Kentville. In the history of St. Joseph’s Parish, Dr. A. R. Donahoe writes that after the dispersion of the Acadians in 1755 “it was many years before other Catholics came into the Valley. During the time of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1849) a considerable number of families from that country, forced to leave their native land, settled on the North and South Mountains, and the present parish is made up of their descendants.”

Having no church, Dr. Donahoe writes, “their spiritual needs were attended to by a priest sent out once or twice a year from Halifax who celebrated Mass in different houses here and there ….”

Such was the prejudice against Catholics following the expulsion of the Acadians that in 1758 the government passed an act forcing every “every popish person” and “every popish priest” to leave the province by March of the following year. Restrictions against Catholics remained until 1827 when in that year they were formally removed. In Kings County, the first Catholic Church was built just outside Kentville sometime between 1850 and 1853.

But prejudice against Catholics still remained. Louis Comeau tells me that according to local lore, the Catholics were literally forbidden to build their church, St. Joseph’s Parish, inside the Kentville town limits. At the time the town’s northern border apparently was the Cornwallis River.

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