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Irish history is part of the bedrock of Windsor Locks

It’s a story of hard work and determination, often at the hands of new immigrants who took jobs, others would not.

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — It’s a classic New England town, built along the water and beautiful from a bird’s eye view.

“The story of Windsor Locks is the story of America,” said Chris Kervick with the Irish Canal Laborer Celebration Committee.

It’s a story of hard work and determination, often at the hands of new immigrants who took jobs, others would not.

“Between 1827 and 1829, 400 Irish immigrant laborers came here to Windsor Locks to build the canal that bypasses the Enfield Rapids right here on the river,” said Kervick.

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The 4.5-mile canal was key to transporting essentials before cargo planes and Amazon trucks it also powered industry along the Connecticut River.

“Their work here was significant because it led to the establishment of the section Windsor which became part of Windsor Locks, the mills that popped up here on the river and the waves of immigrants that came to (the) United States to work in those mills that were all possible by the water power that came from the canal,” said Kervick.

Building the canal was no easy task. Kervick is part of an effort to honor the laborers and estimates some 50 people died here during construction.

“It was brutal they worked dawn to dusk often working wet conditions, using really nothing more than shovels pics wheelbarrows,” he said.

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Teaming up with Hartford’s Ancient Order of Hibernians those sacrifices are now being honored.

“So few people know about this yet it’s so important,” said Hibernians member, Michael Enright.

The group is focused on charity and service. It raised more than 6-thousand dollars to build a memorial to these lives lost. It will sit overlooking the canal and what is thought to be the site of their unmarked graves.

“I think during the time of the pandemic it was actually kind of appropriate to reflect back to a time when people were hand digging canals and lives were lost and it became important is because obviously they were from Ireland and we’re an Irish group,” said Enright.

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Today the area is home to businesses, apartments and a revitalized Main Street, something those leading the effort to say thank you say would not have been possible without those who made this canal a reality.

“I want the laborers to know is that we remember them and then at least one day a year we’re going to take the time to remember the work that they did hardships they suffered and the legacy that they left for the town of Windsor Locks,” said Kervick.

The memorial dedication at the canal is taking place on Sunday, March 20 at 1 p.m. The canal park is open to the public.

Keith McGilvery is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at kmcgilvery@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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