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The coast of the 1847 Carricks shipwreck at Cap-Des-Rosiers beach in Quebec. Source: Amqui / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Child Remains From Tragic Irish Shipwreck Washed Up On Canadian Beach

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The Canadian government has confirmed that a collection of human remains has been washed up on a beach, belonging to victims of a ship that sunk with a boatload of people fleeing the ravages of the Irish Famine.

The Irish Famine Led to the Carricks Shipwreck

If you were to look up the definition of the word ‘ famine’ you would discover that it means “an extreme scarcity of food”, but a little further digging and it also refers to ‘deficiency’ and ‘ extreme poverty ’. These two concepts are very difficult for us to even begin to understand in today’s cushioned western world and most of us will never know anyone who starved to death . But imagine being so hungry that you have to flee not only your village or town, but your country.

This is precisely what experts claim a ship called the Carricks was doing in 1847 when it sailed from County Sligo in Ireland. It was fleeing a famine that was to kill more than a million Irish people and a potato blight that drove over a million more abroad. Carrying 180 emigrants, it was shipwrecked off the coast of Cap-des-Rosiers in route to the Port of Quebec.

Famine Memorial in Dublin. (Béka~commonswiki / Public Domain)

Famine Memorial in Dublin. (Béka~commonswiki / Public Domain )

According to a BBC article about the Canadian government announcement, local historical accounts record “87 bodies recovered from the shipwreck were buried on the beach” and that “Only 48 people survived the accident.” It was 2011 when the bones of three children washed up on a beach at Cap-des-Rosiers following a storm and in 2016 archaeologists excavated the “remains of 18 others, mostly women and children.”

Science Answers The Final Questions

A complete analysis of the bones was conducted by the bioarcheology laboratory at Montreal University and scientists said that the location of the remains, combined with laboratory analysis, confirmed the theory that they were from the Carricks shipwreck. Speaking on behalf of the lab, Parks Canada told CBC News that the study indicated “the 21 individuals dieted mainly on potatoes and had suffered from diseases associated with malnutrition.”

1849 depiction of Bridget O'Donnell and her two children during the Irish famine. (Chris 73 / Public Domain)

1849 depiction of Bridget O'Donnell and her two children during the Irish famine. (Chris 73 / Public Domain )

Also speaking to the CBC, Isabelle Ribot, associate professor of bioarchaeology at Montreal University, said “Our skeletons reflect what we eat,” and she added, “Knowing the context and knowing there are descendants of the people who survived, it is very emotional and very sensitive.” With the greater meaning of the shipwreck in mind, Isabelle Ribot said her team feel “very blessed” to have analyzed the bodies. This sentiment that was supported by Canada's National Revenue Minister, Diane Lebouthillier, who said the discovery was “very significant for Irish families whose ancestors were Carricks passengers.”

The Legacy Of The Irish Canadians

According to Bruce Elliot’s 2004 book, “Irish Migrants in the Canadas: A New Approach, between 1825 and 1970 it is estimated that “1.2 million Irish immigrants have settled in Canada,” and at least half of those between 1831 and 1850. Before the famine years of the late 1840s more Catholics than Protestants arrived in Canada but after the famine a vast majority of the Irish immigrants were Protestant and Catholics headed southwards towards the United States and Australia.

The Irish Memorial on Cap-des-Rosiers Beach was erected in 1990 in honor of the people who died during the Carricks shipwreck. (Parks Canada / Fair Use)

The Irish Memorial on Cap-des-Rosiers Beach was erected in 1990 in honor of the people who died during the Carricks shipwreck. (Parks Canada / Fair Use )

With Canada receiving so many starving, desperate Irish folk it is easy to understand why such a high emotional charge lies behind the discovery of the beach burials . It is almost inconceivable that a boatload of diseased starving people got so close to food, and to freedom, for nature to throw a final sting in sinking their ship. The sinking of the Carricks, according to Isabelle Ribot, “is a reminder of just how difficult the journey was for the travelers and that not everybody was lucky enough to reach their new home .”

The human remains will be respectfully reburied at a ceremony this summer near the Irish Memorial that was erected on Cap-des-Rosiers beach in 1910.

Top image: The coast of the 1847 Carricks shipwreck at Cap-Des-Rosiers beach in Quebec. Source: Amqui /  CC BY-SA 2.0 .

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Crasslee's picture

To put things into perspective. The current legal definition of a famine is this. That at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

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