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Monday 16 September 2019

Minister to liaise with Canadian officials after scientists link human remains with Irish famine shipwreck

'Poignant reminder of the horror of that time'

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

The Government is set to liaise with Canadian authorities after scientists there linked discovered human remains with an Irish famine shipwreck.

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan said that she will make contact with authorities in Quebec, where the remains of 21 individuals were discovered over a five-year period.

The bones, which were discovered between 2011 and 2016, were analysed and have now been positively identified as belonging to victims of the 1847 Carricks shipwreck, where 150 passengers lost their lives.

Ms Madigan said that the new discovery brings to light the pain and suffering that Irish people faced during the Great Famine, which spanned from 1845 to 1851.

"This is a very poignant reminder, a matter of weeks after our annual famine commemoration in Sligo, of the horror and abject suffering of that time and of the fate that awaited some of those trying to escape from it," the minister told Independent.ie.

"I have asked my officials to liaise with their colleagues in Parks Canada on this discovery, to see in the context of our recent international twinning, what appropriate memorial and mark of respect can be organised."

Statues commemorating the Great Famine by the River Liffey in Dublin
Statues commemorating the Great Famine by the River Liffey in Dublin

Locals in Gaspé, Quebec have long-held the theory that the remains were linked to the Irish famine after the bones of three children washed up on shore in 2011, after a harsh storm.

In the five years that followed, the human remains of a further 18 individuals washed up.

A group of worshippers praying in a chapel in the town of Thurles, North Tipperary, Ireland, during the Great Famine, 1848. Original publication: Illustrated London News - pub 26th August 1848. Photo by Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
A group of worshippers praying in a chapel in the town of Thurles, North Tipperary, Ireland, during the Great Famine, 1848. Original publication: Illustrated London News - pub 26th August 1848. Photo by Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The remains have now been linked to the 1847 Carricks shipwreck, which saw a ship embarking from Sligo and carrying 180 passengers sink off the coast of Cap-des-Rosiers in Gaspé.

It is believed that around 120 to 150 of the famine-fleeing passengers died in the shipwreck, while forty-eight people survived. Of those who lost their lives, 87 bodies have been found.

Scientists at the Montreal University identified their origins by using samples of the bones to determine their chemical composition.

The analysis revealed that the remains belonged to people with chronic health problems like malnutrition. Their diets, low in protein, suggested a rural population dependent on agriculture, specifically potatoes.

In a statement, Diane Lebouthillier, MP for Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, mirrored the sentiment of Ms Madigan, while paying homage to the significance the period had in Canadian history.

"The tragic events of the Carricks shipwreck are a startling reminder of just how difficult the journey was for the travellers and that not everybody was lucky enough to reach their new home.

"Today's announcement is very significant for Irish families whose ancestors were Carricks passengers. This shipwreck reflects an important part of Canadian history."

DNA analysis was impossible because of the conditions of the bones, and only about 1pc of the individual skeletons were located. Scientists could reveal however that most of the bones belonged to women and children.

The remains will be removed to Forillon National Park, in the coming weeks, where a funeral service will be held.

A burial will take place near Cap-des-Rosiers Beach where an Irish Memorial was built in 1990 to remember those who died in the shipwreck.

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