ALMOST 200 years after his family was forced to leave Ireland on a coffin ship, the great-grandson of an Irish Famine orphan has been given a hero's welcome at his ancestral home.
Richard Tye (76), from the village of Lotbiniere, near Quebec City in Canada, was reunited with his distant cousins from Co Roscommon as part of the International Famine Conference at Strokestown Park House at the weekend.
Mr Tye's great-grandfather, Daniel Tighe, and his sister Catherine were the only members of the Tighe family from Lisnonuffy, outside Strokestown, Co Roscommon, to survive the perilous journey in a coffin ship in 1847 that claimed the lives of his mother and three other siblings whose bodies they witnessed being thrown overboard after they succumbed to starvation and disease.
Now, 166 years later, Mr Tye had an emotional homecoming as the first descendant of close to 1,400 people from Strokestown who emigrated to Quebec during the Famine to return to his native soil as part of The Gathering.
Mr Tye, who speaks only French, spoke of the rush of emotion when he returned to his ancestral home and met members of the Tighe families in Strokestown, whom researchers believe are distant cousins.
"I had a rush of emotion and it just leapt out of my heart," he said through an interpreter.
Meanwhile, another Canadian descendant of Famine-era emigrants who also sailed to Quebec in 1847 from Sligo had a tearful reunion with her own ancestors yesterday.
Frances Kilbride (89) and her daughters Rose-Marie and Joan toured the ruins of their ancestral home in Keash, Co Sligo, which their ancestors Patrick and Sarah Kaveney abandoned during the Famine.
Like the Tighes, the eight-member Kaveney family emigrated to eastern Quebec to escape death and starvation in 1847. Yet only Patrick, his wife Sarah and their son Martin survived after their ship ran aground, drowning 173 passengers.
They ended up settling in the Gaspe area of Quebec, also near Quebec City.
Patrick Ward, a distant relative of Patrick Kaveney, took his new-found cousins on an emotional tour of the former family home.
"I was very sentimental about it. When you know you are related to someone you find a gra for them. I felt that," he said.