Marianna O’Gallagher dies at 81

Photo: QCT Archives

Marianna O'Gallagher was in bed at Laval Hospital, spending what would be her last days, but she was still busy, still planning and still maintaining her sense of humor.

"She told me a string of jokes that I went back and told my children," said former Chronicle-Telegraph Publisher Karen MacDonald.

MacDonald said Ms. O'Gallagher's energy was an important force in boosting Quebec's Irish community.

Ms. O'Gallagher passed away early Monday morning at Laval Hospital following a brief illness. She was 81.

Funeral services at press time were tentatively scheduled for next Monday at St. Patrick's Church on Rue Salaberry. While not unexpected, Ms. O'Gallagher's passing brought fond memories to those who spoke this week with the Chronicle-Telegraph.

"Marianna was one of my mentors," said former QCT Editor Michele Thibeau, who also spoke of Ms. O'Gallagher sense of humor.
"She had a great sense of humor," Thibeau said. "She told the best jokes."
Just as important, though, was the sound of music.
"She was always worried about the young people coming up," Thibeau said. "She always wanted people to be able to sing."

"It's a huge loss," said Captain Lieutenant Edward Gunn of the 78th Fraser Highlanders. "As the Irish historian, she's done so much. I'm sorry to hear that she's gone."
One of Ms. O'Gallagher's last official acts was serving as Grand Marshall at this year's revival of the city St. Patrick's Day Parade March 20.

"I couldn't think of anyone better to be the Grand Marshall of the first St. Pat's parade in a long time," said Gunn.

Prior to the parade, Ms. O'Gallagher said her responsibilities with the parade were quite simple.
All she was supposed to do, she said, was smile.
"She did an amazing job," said City Councilwoman Michele Morin Doyle. "She had all the answers."

When the subject of who would be the Grand Marshall arose, Morin Doyle said, Ms. O'Gallagher "Was the first name that came to mind."

"She was our leading authority on Irish history," Morin Doyle said.

For her part, Ms. O'Gallagher was impressed with the city's response to the parade.

"It was heart-warming to see the number of store fronts decorated with shamrocks and green balloons," she wrote in the Chronicle-Telegraph in March.

Marianna O'Gallagher was born in Sainte-Foy in 1929 to parents of Irish descent: Norma O'Neil and land-surveyor Dermot O'Gallagher. She taught for many years at St. Patrick's High School, where she acquired a reputation for her infectious enthusiasm, wit and passion for community history.

She also served for many years as a nun with the Sisters of Charity in Halifax.

While employed as a teacher, O'Gallagher obtained first a B.A. then a Master's degree in history. The subject of her Master's thesis was St. Patrick's Church in Old Quebec, and her interest in the history of Quebec City's Irish population later inspired a number of scholarly and popular works, including "Grosse île: Gateway to Canada 1832-1957" and "Eyewitness Grosse île 1847".

Through these writings O'Gallagher helped raise public awareness of the tragic history of the island quarantine station, where an estimated 6,000 immigrants from famine-ravished Ireland died.

"She was single-handedly responsible for making Grosse Isle a national historical site," MacDonald said. "Her enthusiasm is why there is so much interest in the Irish in Quebec."

In 1973, O'Gallagher founded a community organization called Irish Heritage Quebec, which seeks to preserve and promote local Irish history through popular activities such as lectures.

"She was the heart and soul of Irish Heritage Quebec, which she founded in 1973," said the organization's current president, Joseph Lonergan. "Everybody enjoyed her company."
"We're shocked at her passing," Lonergan said.
"She was a kind person," said IHQ Secretary Treasurer John Connor, "and she was always willing to help with the history of Irish Heritage Quebec. I've been working with her for over 10 years. She was respected worldwide."
Connor remembered first connecting with her back in the early 1980s.

"My job was mainly to drive her to meetings at Grosse Isle," he said.

In 1981, she launched her own publishing company, Carraig Books, specializing in works from Quebec with an Irish connection. During the 1980s and 1990s, she served on a government advisory committee, working to commemorate the Irish famine and its consequences for Quebec and Canadian history.

In addition to her duties as president of Irish Heritage Quebec, she was a member of the Historical Society of Quebec and served on the organizing committee for Quebec City's 400th anniversary.

Ms. O'Gallagher was deeply involved in preserving the memories of those who died at Grosse Isle.
"It is a thing which one does not forget. But with time, the memory of it begins to soften", she had said.
For those she touched here and wherever she went, the memories are fond ones.

"She was still laughing," said Thibeau. "She was still dreaming."

"It's a sad day for the city," said Morin Doyle, who passed along the condolences of City Hall.