Tuesday 16 July 2019

Push for memorial for Irish Famine victims

There have been calls for a memorial after scientists confirmed human remains found on a Canadian beach belonged to Sligo shipwreck victims who were fleeing the Irish Famine.

"The Carrick" a coffin-ship from Sligo under the command of Captain R. Thompson. had come within four miles of the Canadian coastline before it was sunk by a violent storm on April 28, 1847.

The locals buried the dead in a mass gravesite near the shore. Three Irish boys remains were found eroding from the shoreline in 2011 on the Cap-des-Rosiers beach in Gaspé, Quebec.

Following this discovery, the remains of 18 others - mostly women and children - were uncovered on the beach by archaeologists in 2016.

Experts have now confirmed that the remains of the 21 people were from the Carricks ship. The vessel was carrying 180 people and sank off the Gaspé coast.

It's estimated that between 120 and 150 people died as a result, and those who survived had extremely plucky local fisherman to thank, who braved the storm, rowing out to save them.

Scientists at University of Montreal analysed the bones discovered on the beach, CBC in Canada has reported, and found that the fragile remains belonged to people whose diets were typical of a rural population dependent on agriculture, specifically potatoes - and low in protein. Scientists said chronic health problems such as malnutrition were also evident.

"This is like the end of the story for people who were interested in this," said Mathieu Côté, a resource conservation manager at Forillon National Park.

"We were suspicious of where [the remains] were from, and we had a good idea where they were from, but now we have evidence that those people were from Ireland.

"They were old bones, and they were very fragile," Cote said, adding that 160 years of saltwater exposure worsened their condition.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jospeha Madigan has confirmed that her department will now liaise with Canadian authorities with regards a memorial to the victims.

"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."

"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."

One million people died during the Great Famine (1845-1849) and almost a million more were forced to emigrate following a potato blight which devastated crops.

Sligo Champion