Nelson, British Columbia
4th July 2008
“Lambay Island – the Barings owned Lambay Island.”
Whether this piece of information was still correct or not, it gave Lord Revelstoke an interesting angle. How many people would connect a little island off the coast of Co Dublin with a town on the Canadian Pacific Railway?
Sitting in Revelstoke reading a history of the town by a wonderful local woman, thoughts of the Barings had not arisen, the search was for a long dead relative who had lived in the mining settlement of Illecilewaet in 1909. The search was not fruitful and scanning through the index Baring’s name appeared. Turning up the page there was a description of how he had supported the first Anglican chaplain who came to work in the lawless communities of the region in the 1880s.
The chaplain, who became a legend in British Columbia was the Revd Henry Irwin, otherwise known as “Father Pat”. Father Pat was a heroic figure, known more for the things he did than the things he said. He worked himself into a state of mental and physical exhaustion and was sent home to his native Co Wicklow.
Cathy English the wonderful curator of the Revelstoke Museum, told us that after his return from Ireland Father Pat was sent to work in the mining community at Rossland, some two hundred miles or more south of Revelstoke. “There is a memorial to him at Rossland”.
So after lunch today, we left Nelson to drive south for an hour or so to the beautiful town of Rossland. The memorial stands prominently at the corner of Columbia Street and the staff of the town library were exceedingly gracious in finding and photocopying everything they had on Father Pat – nowhere are people more warm and courteous than in this corner of the world.
Father Pat’s life was filled with sadness. His wife and firstborn child died during childbirth and he never came to terms with his grief. When his health finally collapsed completely, he was sent home on leave, but for some reason left the train in Montreal. He was found wandering the streets, very ill, and although being admitted to hospital, died there at the age of 42.
Why is Father Pat important? Because he was an old boy of our children’s school. Miriam said that for the past four years she has sat in the school chapel six mornings of the week and looked up at the stained glass window in Father Pat’s memory and never given him much thought. Standing in Rossland this afternoon the name engraved in the glass for the first time became a real person – and if someone had not mentioned Lambay Island we would never have found him.