Thursday 18 July 2019

Keash family's plight recalled in docu-film

The Kaveney family's story told through new film documentary 'lost children of the Carricks'.

A delegation from the Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee travelled to Montreal last week for the launch of a film documentary 'Lost Children of the Carricks'.

The film documents the story of the Kaveney family of Keash from departure in 1847, to shipwreck, to folk memory of the family to the return of their descendants to Sligo in 2017.

Present for the launch were the Kavanagh family, the producer Gearóid Óhállmhurain (anthropologist at the School of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University in Montreal), and Jim Kelly, Irish Ambasador to Canada. A copy of the republished Sligo Famine book was presented to the Ambassador.

Also presented, on behalf of Sligo Co. Council, to Georges Kavanagh, Gearóid and Cecilia McDonnell (Executive Director) were presentation medals newly minted by Sligo County Council. In fact they are the first recipients of this new Council award.

The film will be shown at upcoming film festivals and will be on general release in Ireland next year.

The famine book was originally published by the Co. Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee on the occasion of the erection of the famine memorials in Sligo in 1997.

It was republished by Sligo County Council as part of the National Famine Commemoration event held in Sligo recently.

Copies are available from Sligo County Council and will be distributed to national schools and available in the shops soon. There is additional material in the republished book detailing the story of the Kavanaghs.

Bringing the past firmly into the present, the arrival of Georges Kavanagh and his family in Sligo in May 2015 brought the historical wheel full circle.

After an absence of 168 years, the francophone descendants of Patrick Kaveney and Sarah McDonald from Keash crossed the Atlantic to visit the homestead their forbears had to leave during the height of An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine of the mid 19th century.

This came about as part of the documentary film project funded by the Quebec government. Interestingly, while most famine emigrants from the West of Ireland left home as Irish speakers in the 1840s and integrated into life in the New World as anglophones, the Irish-speaking Kaveneys left Sligo to become French-speaking farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers in Quebec's Gaspé peninsula-without ever learning English.

A retired civil servant, Kavanagh is an historian and a gifted storyteller with an astute sense of the past.

Now in his seventies and a fourth-generation Quebecois of Irish origin, he has devoted over fifty years to preserving his family history-a story of diaspora that began in Sligo in April 1847, yet one that never found its way into official narratives of the famine tragedy.

In March 1847, the Kaveney family were tenants of Henry John Temple, III Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), one of the most powerful British politicians of his time.

Serving twice as Prime Minister, Palmerston was in political office almost continuously from 1807 until 1865.

As Foreign Secretary, he dealt with political crises in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America-most notably, the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the establishment of a British colony in Hong Kong (1842).

As Home Secretary (1852-1855) and then Prime Minister (1855-1858), he stage-managed Britain's involvement in the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Second Opium War (1856-1860) and the Indian Mutiny (1857).

In the midst of all this diplomatic action, the tenants on his estates in Ireland-20,000 acres and some 14,000 tenants were pretty much left to his solicitors in Dublin and his land agents in Sligo.

Casualties of the mass evictions of 1847 by Lord Palmerston's agents, Patrick Kaveney and his family left Cross, near Keash, on a morning early in April 1847, and walked the twenty miles to the port of Sligo.

Now, their direct descendant, Georges Kavanagh, arrived to see what was left of the old homestead and find out for himself what remained of the culture his great-great grandparents brought with them to the New World.

On Saturday, May 15 2016, the Kavanaghs visited the ancestral home in Cross and later attended a music session at the Fox and Hounds pub owned by their cousin Pat Ward.

On Sunday, May 16, they visited the port of Sligo from where the Carricks (ships) sailed and the old workhouse where thousands of famine victims lie buried in mass graves.

They also visited Mullaghmore to see-from a distance-Palmerston's mansion, Classiebawn, where the ghosts of royalty and famine still preside in a world far removed from Keash, the small towns of Sligo and the fishing villages of Gaspé.

Sligo Champion