Clann Mhór


The Blue Ridge

Railroad Project

Clann Mhór is a small non-profit organization that is studying the history of the Blue Ridge Railroad in Central Virginia. During the 1850's this seventeen-mile section of the railroad was built under the direction of Claudius Crozet, a brilliant French engineer, who took on the challenge of getting the railroad over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The work involved preparing the track through steep terrain, building tall embankments across deep ravines, constructing many stone culverts at the mountain streams, and blasting four tunnels through the mountains.

The contractors for this work hired hundreds of Irish immigrants and rented slaves to do this difficult work.  Clann Mhór - which in Gaelic means the Great Family - wishes to honor the history of these forgotten railroad workers.  We want to learn more about the work they did, and their lives in the shanties built along the mountain tracks.  The work was physically hard for the Irish and slaves who labored with drill bits, sledge- hammers, pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows.  Blasting the rock with black powder was dangerous and slow.  Workers died from accidents and diseases.

We are searching through railroad correspondence, actual payroll ledgers and purchase records, church marriage and death records, old newspapers, citizenship records and the 1850 Census for the three Virginia counties of Albemarle, Nelson and Augusta.  We have now collected over 2,000 names of Irish immigrants and over 100 names of slaves.  We are engaged in educational outreach to the communities involved so that more of the public is aware of their story. There are plans now for an archaeological field school dig in the summer of 2012. We are raising funds for a memorial sculpture to honor the workers and their eight-year effort in building this railroad.

We encourage anyone who has additional information about the Blue Ridge Railroad history to contact us.  Further, if you are doing genealogical research of your own families please review our Master List of Workers under the Research section of this website, and let us know of any of your ancestors who may have worked on the construction of this railroad.

Clann Mhór researchers are Kevin Donleavy, Dan Burke, Rhonda Roebuck,  Michael Brittingham and Marjorie Maxey

Image by Rhonda Roebuck


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As a small nonprofit group, we could use your support for continuing our research, printing materials, and spreading the word. Any help you could give would be much appreciated.


Updated February 23, 2016