Catherine, known as Ketty, was born in County Mayo, Ireland, to tenant farmers. She experienced the horrors of the Great Irish Hunger of 1847 and the death of a husband and two children before immigrating to Canada. She embarked on the perilous Atlantic crossing with her sister, brother-in-law, and their children. One by one, the family died, and Catherine, always a religious woman, bribed the sailors with biscuits to ensure they were allowed a small wake before being thrown into the sea. After making her way to Kingston, where she was quarantined, she joined a group of people walking the nearly 200 kilometres to Bytown (Ottawa), where she found work as a maid.
Through friends in Cantley, Catherine met and married another Irish immigrant, William Holmes. Thus began the second phase of Catherine’s life as a busy farm wife and mother of nine on an isolated farm in Wilson’s Corners. She worked the land, raised a large family, smoked a clay pipe, and never missed saying the rosary at night. Her faith saw her tramping through the bush with her two-week-old daughter, ferrying across the Gatineau River, and continuing the journey to St. Stephen’s Church in Chelsea on foot to have her baby baptized.
Catherine and William worked their piece of farm land for 14 years before receiving their land grant, and the farm has remained in the family ever since. Although Catherine received letters from Ireland, she never returned to her homeland.
To view video of Catherine’s life click HERE
[PHOTO: COURTESY OF AGATHA HOLMES DALY]