Many passing on the 138A between Dewittville and Ormstown may have noticed a monument on the north side of the road. This marks the site of the area’s first Catholic church, the original St. Malachy, which was named for the first saint born in Ireland. The small chapel was built in 1828 on land given by James Finn. According to the church history, by 1840, when the Bishop of Montreal came to bless the chapel, there were 342 Irish Catholic and 167 French-Canadian attending.
The consecrated cemetery was begun in 1827, even before the church was built. It was closer to the gulley called Finn’s Creek, and under what is now a farmer’s field there are the unmarked graves of early – predominately Irish – settlers. Almost 100 people over the age of five and at least 52 children under that age are interred there. The history of the cemetery and all the names of those buried there can be found on the Find a Grave website: www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2572391/st-malachie-d’ormstown-(vieux%2Fold.
In 1861 the little church was demolished. The former parishioners were by then attending churches closer to their homes: St. Joseph’s in Huntingdon, St. Patrick’s in Hinchinbrooke, or the then newly built St. Malachy in Ormstown. The cemetery remained; however, through the years, the tombstones sadly were taken away and used for other purposes: walkways, cellar floors, etc.
In the 1960s the present monument was raised to commemorate the first church. When I learned about the cemetery and moreover that I had ancestors buried there, it became a mission to have the names memorialized. On the back of the monument there is now a sign with the names of those over five years of age who are buried there.
In the 1990s George McKell and Gerry Cavanagh planted the two rowan trees, also known as mountain ash, and an oak tree. Interestingly enough, both tree species are revered in Irish folklore, and so many of those laid to rest there were Irish. There is an Irish proverb which says that “There are three deaths: first is when the body ceases to function. Second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Why not stop by and speak the names of your ancestors once again?
Anyone interested in knowing more history about the site can consult the upcoming edition of the Chateauguay Valley Historical Society Annual Journal, in which there is a longer article. A shout out goes to those who helped: Sylvie Dumas of Enseignes Dumas, Ormstown, who made the beautiful sign; Monique Duchesne at the Saint Malachie rectory, for photocopies of the church history; Adele Brunet of Les Monuments B. Brunet, for advice concerning the stone; CVHS members who helped with the research at the center in Hinchinbrooke, and two members in particular: Hugh McColm, who was kind enough to remove the old tree stumps, and Carolyn Cameron, who donated some gorgeous daylilies for the site.