The Ghost of Duffy’s Cut

1 x 52 min HD Docu-drama

It is the autumn of 2002 and in a dusty Pennsylvanian attic, William Watson, professor of history, and his brother Frank, Lutheran minister and historian, sift through their grandfather’s papers, chancing upon a remarkable file titled “DUFFY’S CUT”. Fascinated by the astonishing contents of the file, the brothers embark upon a passionate and dramatic investigation, uncovering events from the early 19th century and, in the process, revealing a shocking and tragic human story of abuse, oppression, exploitation and possibly murder…


  • Executive Producer – Dave Farrell
  • Executive Producer – Stephen Rooke
  • Producer – Dave Farrell
  • Director – Stephen Rooke
  • Director – Ruán Magan
  • Lighting Cameraman – Mick O’Rourke
RELEASE DATE:  February 2006
GENRES: Docudrama
SERIES FORMAT: 1 x 52 minute


  • BAI Sound and Vision Broadcasting Funding Scheme
  • RTÉ , Smithsonian Networks

On the  23rd June 1832 in the Port of Pennsylvania, USA: Philip Duffy, Irishman, Railway contractor and arch manipulator of his country men stood by the gangway of the ship ‘John Stamp’ out of Londonderry, Ireland. As the first of  the 160 passengers, young men and women from Donegal and Northern Ireland disembark he watches for the mark of the labourer and the familiar lilt of spoken Irish – the most vulnerable of this human cargo. Fifty seven are his, seduced by the promise of employment and a steady wage in this, the land of opportunity.

Their ‘American Dream’ lasts just 8 weeks and all 57 young men are dead buried in an unmarked grave.

The precise sequence of events leading up to their deaths is still clouded in mystery. Folklore had it that they were infected with cholera and were left to die and that some may have been murdered. Many people still believe their ghosts wander the valley where they died. What was clear was that their was a major cover up by the Philadelphia Columbian Railway company of what happened in the valley which has come to be know as Duffy’s Cut.

Following the discovery of the file  the Watson brothers together with their colleagues John Athes and Earl Schandelmieir set out to uncover who the men who died at Duffy’s Cut were, where they came from and what happened to them. After exhaustive research they identified who the young men were and mounted a major serch for their remains in the valley over a two year period. Whilst they never managed to find the remains they continued to search determined to give voice to those who died.

Duffy’s Cut is the dark side of the emigrant story gone wrong and one experienced by many groups across America. A powerful and poignant story. For two years Tile Films followed  the Watson Brothers, John Athes and Earl Schandelmieir in their passionate quest to find the graves of those who died and unlock the mystery of their deaths. This culminated in the production of the IFTA nominated docudrama The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut in 2006.


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