Wednesday 21 February 2018

Sleuth reunites family after solving 166-year-old riddle

Amateur historian John McKeon
Amateur historian John McKeon

Greg Harkin

AN amateur local historian has solved a 166-year-old riddle, reuniting a family hit by the Great Famine with their Sligo roots.

John McKeon employed 'Who Do You Think You Are?'-style investigation tactics to help the Kavanagh family trace their ancestors.

It's an epic tale of extraordinary suffering and personal tragedy which will finally have a happy ending this July when ancestors visit their old homestead in rural Sligo.

On April 5, 1847, Patrick Kaveney, with eight members of his family, left Sligo Port aboard the MV Carricks, bound for Quebec.

This family were tenants of Lord Palmerston, they came from Cross, south Sligo, and the Carricks was the first ship sent out by Palmerston that year with so-called assisted emigrants.


But 23 days later the ship ran aground in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada.

Most of the 173 passengers drowned. Patrick, his wife Sarah and son Martin survived. But five daughters were lost.

Patrick's great-great grand-daughter, Rose-Marie Stanley, a retired teacher in Orangeville, Ontario, returned to Sligo last year in the hope she could trace him.

But she returned home after a fruitless search, not knowing that her descendant's name was actually Kaveney.

But she was armed with one piece of information which would finally unravel the mystery – the phone number of Mullaghmore historian John McKeon.

"Rose-Marie contacted me and asked if I could help," said John, a former IDA executive director and an active member of a local historical society.

"I was intrigued by her story. She knew the history of the family because her great-grandfather had written some of it down in the 1960s.

"So I checked ship records in Southampton and found a Patrick Kaveney listed as a passenger with his wife and their six children.

"The records showed that must be Patrick Kavanagh as he became in Canada.

"It was a simple name change but until now had been enough to put the family off the trail."

For Rose-Marie it was the news she had been waiting for. "I just wanted to know where we came from," she told the Irish Independent.

"John is something of a hero to us now," she said.

Since then John has now found the home once occupied by the Kavanaghs before the Famine.

Rose-Marie said the family settled in the Gaspe area of Quebec where they were given the name Kavanagh.

They had four more children, but eight years later Patrick died in a snow storm.

This July 62-year-old Rose-Marie and six other family members will return to their homestead.

"I always felt a connection to Ireland and after a 20-year search, we've found where we're from," said Rose-Marie. I feel blessed to have come across John. He's become a real friend."

John is hopeful that he will have some surprises left for Rose-Marie when she comes 'home'.

"We plan to make them very welcome indeed and we might just have a few long lost cousins to meet them when they get here," he laughed.

Irish Independent

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