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‘Cut’ clock is ticking

Duffy’s cut is an unremarkable looking place – on the surface. It is believed that remains are buried under this ruined stone structure just yards from the railroad track.

By Ray O’Hanlon

The Duffy’s Cut project in Malvern Pennsylvania has been ongoing since 2002.

But the latest phase of the grand excavation of remains – and the revealing of a tragic tale of immigrant Irish railroad workers from the 1830s - does not have the luxury of quite so many future years.

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Work is being carried out at the site this week, specifically the taking of measurements. Full scale excavation work will follow in a matter of weeks.

“The first thing we will do is get another round of Ground Penetrating Radar coordinates to make sure things match up with GPR readings we obtained last summer,” Dr. William Watson of nearby Immaculata University, a leader of the project since the very start, told the Echo.

“There appear to be ‘stopping voids,’ or indications of burials on the northern side of the 1832 fill. The first seven graves we excavated 2004-2012 were on a line at the base of the southern side of the 1832 fill,” Watson explained.

“We have exactly one year to finish this up according to our agreement with the homeowners. We will have to move a lot more soil for this phase. We might have double the number of railroaders buried within the fill.

By one year Dr. Watson was referring to the end of July, 2019.

“We expect yet more to be buried around the stone monument up near the tracks, and we will approach that area once we are done in the valley.”

Duffy’s Cut adjoins a mainline train track and is just a few miles from Philadelphia.

The Duffy’s Cut work, mostly carried out during the year’s warmer months, is piecing together the story of Irish railroad workers who died on the site from Cholera, or were murdered by anti-immigrant vigilantes, more than a decade before the start of the Great Hunger in Ireland.

The project was originated by Dr. Watson and his brother, Rev. Frank Watson, back in 2002. In the following years, the research and on-site excavations have been led by the Watsons and Earl Schadnelmeier. The three, together with John Eates, combined to write a book, “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut,” which was published in 2006.

Duffy’s Cut covers roughly an acre. The exact whereabouts of the remains of the Irish workers within the boundaries of the site, or just beyond its borders, had been a mystery for more than a century and a half.

But the excavation work uncovered the remains of a number of immigrants. Shipping records and DNA testing allowed for the identification of two, a man and a woman, John Ruddy and Catherine Burns. Their remains have been reinterred in Ireland.

Other remains have been interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery which is close to Duffy’s Cut.

Watson believes that some of the Irish workers at Duffy’s Cut might have been buried alive during the stage of cholera known as cold cholera. At this point in the disease’s lethal progress, it is possible to appear dead, though the individual is still alive.

Watson’s team has uncovered records for the arrivals of eight ships in Philadelphia at the time, all carrying immigrants from Ireland. Most of them were natives of counties Tyrone, Catherine Burns’ home county, Derry, and John Ruddy’s native Donegal.