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Lost Children of the Carricks

Lost Children of The Carricks | Defying the Great Irish Famine to Create a Canadian Legacy

‘Lost Children of the Carricks’ presents a timeless story of emigration, from exodus and tragedy to acceptance and integration. However, this story has a happy ending and after 168 years away, a joyful reunion.

The film tells the story of:
• The mass clearances of 28 Irish-speaking families from the Irish estates of British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston at the height of the Great Irish Famine of 1847
• The exodus of 173 famine Irish to Canada aboard the ill-fated ship Carricks of Whitehaven and
• The homecoming of Carricks descendants to rekindle the home fires back in Ireland and reunite with long lost relatives

A 3,000 Mile Voyage to the Far Side of the Atlantic
Lord Palmerston’s tenants departed a Gaelic world in rural Sligo for a Francophone world in rural Québec, carrying their music and folklore, language and religion to an emerging Canadian nation.

One of nine coffin ships hired by Palmerston to transport 2000 of his surplus tenants to Canada, The Carricks would wreck off the frozen Gaspé coast on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in May 1847. Only 48 of the 173 passengers would reach the shore alive.

The film opens with a haunting sean nós lament and re-enacts an old tradition of leave-taking in the West of Ireland. Before departing home and clachán, emigrants brought their fire to the fire of a neighbour hoping that one day they would return home to reclaim it and, with it their place in the Old World. For Patrick Kaveney and Sarah MacDonald’s family from Lord Palmerston’s estate in south Sligo, those embers would flicker in waiting for 168 years.

Filmed on location in the Canada's Gaspé region and Ireland, Lost Children of the Carricks traces the extraordinary journey of Patrick Kaveney, Sarah MacDonald and their six children from their clachán in Cross, near Ballymote to Québec’s Gaspé peninsula, and the remarkable return of their francophone descendants to Ireland five generations and 168 years later.

The film follows Québécois-Irish historian Georges Kavanagh as he walks in the footsteps of his ‘grandfather’s grandfather’— through the landmarks and seamarks of The Carricks tragedy and finally with his wife and children returns down the narrow country road to his ancestral village to meet a community of cousins who had assumed that their relatives had all perished in the wreck of The Carricks.


This trilingual film is produced by Canada’s leading Irish diaspora academic Professor Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin and enriched by family oral history from Carricks' descendant Georges Kavanagh expert testimony from leading Irish historian Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh (NUI Galway), Sligo historian Joe McGowan (Sligo Heritage); Patrick Duffy and Gerard Moran (NUI, Maynooth) and university lecturer Kate Bligh on the experience of women emigrants PLUS rare archival material of cultural life in rural Québec during the 1930s and extraordinary drone footage of Québec winters.

Narrated by Irish poet and playwright Vincent Woods (Dublin, Ireland)
Emotional soundtracks are performed by Canadian grand master fiddler Pierre Schryer, Inis Oírr flute player Mícheál Ó hAlmhain, Clare fiddler and composer Joan Hanrahan, Prince Edward Island violinist and composer Kate Bevan-Baker, award-winning Connemara singer Áine Meenaghan, and Clare concertina player and uilleann piper Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin.


• Lost Children of the Carricks is the first trilingual documentary film to deal with the Great Irish Famine (English | Irish | French)

• This story focuses on an Irish-speaking community that transitioned directly to a French-speaking world.

• Great Famine research has focused mainly on the lifeworlds of Irish immigrants in English-speaking urban North America.


• The story of the Lost Children of the Carricks and the Kavanagh family was passed from generation to generation and, finally, entrusted to 80 year-old Quebecois-Irish oral historian, Georges Kavanagh.
• Kavanagh’s ancestors, Patrick Kaveney and Sarah MacDonald would eventually lose their Gaelic family name.
• Over time, their surname Kaveney (from the Irish Ó Géibheannaigh, ‘descendant of Géibheannach,’ literal translation, ‘the hostage’), evolved to Kavanagh in rural Québec.
This alias would hinder genealogical search for an ancestral home in Ireland five generations later.
• Most Irish arriving in Canada were processed at Quebec's immigration station on Grosse Isle. Those who stayed locally after the shipwreck were not registered.


As with displaced and exiled people in the 21st century, the Irish exodus resulted in:
• cultural cleansing
• linguistic isolation
• oppression of religion
• inability to return home
• prejudice and xenophobia
• loss of identity through name change
• stark landscape and environmental changes
• break-up of families separated in quarantine stations and orphanages worldwide


In June 2019, Canadian scientists confirmed that human remains found in 2011 and 2016 on the Gaspé shores are Irish famine shipwreck victims, ‘Lost Children of the Carricks’.

On July 4, the crew will attend the funeral ceremony and re-internment of 21 of the victims.

Written and directed by Professor Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin | Johnson Chair in Québec and Canadian Irish Studies, Concordia University (Montréal, Québec, Canada)

Produced by Celtic Crossings Productions (Montréal, Québec)
Executive Producer Cecilia McDonnell

  • Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
  • Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
  • Celtic Crossings Productions
  • Cecilia McDonnell
  • Georges Kavanagh
    Key Cast
    "As himself"
  • Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh (NUI Galway)
    Key Cast
    "Expert witness"
  • Joe McGowan (Sligo Heritage)
    Key Cast
    "Expert witness"
  • Gerard Moran (NUI, Maynooth)
    Key Cast
    "Expert witness"
  • Vincent Woods (RTE host, Irish poet and playwright)
    Key Cast
    "Narrator "
  • Francis Cunningham
    Key Cast
    "Patrick Kavaney"
  • Caitríona Ní Almhain
    Key Cast
  • Pierre Schryer (Canada)
  • Joan Hanrahan (Ireland)
  • Michael OhAlmhain (Ireland)
  • Kate Bevan-Baker (Canada)
  • Áine Meenaghan (USA)
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Historical Documentary, diaspora, irish heritage, immigration, Canadian Irish history
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 13 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 29, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, Ireland, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    HD video
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Ciné Gael Montréal Irish Film Series
    January 24, 2020
    Canadian premiere
    2020 Gala launch film
  • Irish Film Festival Ottawa
    April 5, 2020
  • Ethnografilm Paris
    European Premiere
    Official Selection
  • IRL Irish Festival
    Kitchener, ON
    March 15, 2020
    Regional screening
  • 2020 Yofi MicroFest Irish Cinema Showcase
    Yonkers, NY
    United States
    July 19, 2020
    Online Showcase Film Series
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

Irish and American Writer / Director Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin is a leading Irish ethnomusicologist, author, cultural historian and award-winning traditional musician.

An endowed professor, Ó hAllmhuráin holds the bilingual Johnson Chair in Québec and Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University, Montreal and directs the research of several graduate and post-doctoral scholars. He previously held the Jefferson Smurfit Chair of Irish Studies and was Professor of Music at University of Missouri-St. Louis (2000-09).

A prolific writer, Ó hAllmhuráin is the author of Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape (Oxford University Press, 2016) and the best-selling Short History of Irish Traditional Music (Dublin, O’Brien Press, 2017).

In addition to hundreds of publications, performances and recordings on Irish music and folklife, Ó hAllmhuráin has lectured in Irish, English and French at European and North American universities, at The Library of Congress (Washington DC) and is a North American correspondent for Ireland’s RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Funded by the Québec government, Professor Ó hAllmhuráin’s current research investigates Irish cultural memory, lifeworlds and soundscapes in Québec and Canada since the fall of New France.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement


For a tiny country that lived for so long in the tailwind of Great Britain, the people of Ireland know intimately what it means for a nation’s food source to dry up, to be dislocated from land, family and community, to be unwelcome in new countries, to be feared and chastised for wanting to preserve their language, religion and heritage.

We know what ordinary people face when their country is stripped of its natural resources to feed the engine of an insatiable global power. Ireland’s history shares the horrific death or deportation paradigm that continues to mark the lives of countless thousands. The 70 million strong Irish diaspora scattered around the world testifies to this reality.

Today in Honduras, farmers are watching helplessly as crops fail for a fifth straight year. With nothing to sell and no food supplies to feed their families, they’ve entered this growing season without any reserves. This scenario is painfully familiar to the Irish.

The Great Irish Famine of 1847 triggered a global migration of over one million Irish as a result of political expediency and repetitive crop failure. We know intimately what it is like for nature to fail, leaving families without food and safety, and vulnerable to disease and opportunists who take advantage of the plight of the powerless.

I wanted to make a film through the eyes of a single family to help people understand that history ties us all together and—above all—to see the inter-connectedness of events in a broader context. Millions of Irish experienced exactly what we are witnessing on borders in Europe, Asia and the US today. Separation of families, abuse for speaking in our mother tongue, violent attacks from ‘nativists’ who want to keep their country isolated, xenophobic and unblemished.

Even today, I have personally experienced ‘anti-other’ sentiment and have personally been told on more than one occasion NOT to speak Irish to my son. This, despite my long career holding two distinguished university chairs in Irish Studies in North America.

Over the past 175 years, the Irish experienced the overwhelming social isolation that precedes integration. They too were locked in a parallel universe through no fault of their own. They too were desperate to do whatever was necessary to transition into a new life and bring their families out of danger to a safe haven.

A key theme and inspiration for the title ‘Lost Children’ focuses on how migration breaks families apart indefinitely. We follow the journey of the Kaveney’s from Sligo, Ireland who came to North America in 1847—for a fresh start during the darkest year of the famine. Their journey across the Atlantic aboard the Carricks of Whitehaven was fraught with danger and ended in shipwreck. Five of their 6 children, aged 2 to 10, drowned in the Gulf of St. Lawrence—within sight of the shore. Their bodies were never recovered.

Imagine the wrenching despair felt by the one surviving child, Martin (12) at the loss of his sisters and watching the anguish of his parents. Imagine having to help bury the 87 bodies that washed ashore into a mass grave. Imagine not being able to communicate with the kind people who were trying to help you because you didn’t speak their language (in this case, French). Imagine arriving with minimal possessions, or even basic clothing.

Imagine watching other surviving kids from the boat being whisked away from you, scooped up for informal fostering and disappearing into the unknown. Imagine watching the few other surviving families leave you behind, as they continued their way toward ‘legal processing’ at the quarantine station up river on Grosse-Île.

When news of the wreck of the Carricks reached Ireland, loved ones left behind assumed there were no survivors and that part of their family tree was severed forever. This heartbreak passed from generation to generation for 168 years until finally, a Québec family returned to Ireland looking for their roots and for healing.

It is impossible for me to disregard the similarities to the horrors being reported on the southern border of the US today.

Ireland’s greatest export has always been our people. Everyone loves ‘all things Irish’ as is manifested every St Patrick’s Day. Everyone wants to be Irish in the moment but they barely understand their true history. After spending 30 years teaching in high schools and universities in Europe and North America and presenting over 1000 concerts and music workshops throughout the world, I witness each generation either softening their origin story, rationalizing, or radicalizing it—perhaps, looking for someone to blame.

In making Lost Children, I wanted to focus on the tremendous strength and resilience Irish families had, imagining a future for themselves and their country. It was also important for me to balance the true historic devastation of the famine with the incredible hope and joy of the survivors, and what they accomplished as immigrants in their new country.

To keep our story rooted in its defining cultural elements, our soundtrack showcases well-known traditional musicians from Canada and Ireland. In Irish, we say music and story are one. The film concludes with a family reunion in Ireland and powerful exchanges of music, song and dance. Throughout the film, music embodies the narrative like an unbroken spiritual voice linking the past and the present.

We were constricted by a tight budget and challenged by filming in isolated locations in Ireland, Canada, and the US. Fortunately, several leading Irish and Canadian historians and musicians lent their talents to this extraordinary story. As well as being an anthropologist and cultural historian, I’m fluent in Irish, French and English. As a result, I was able to access multilingual source materials, ship manifests, news archives, parish records, etc. We also obtained rare archival footage showing life in rural Québec during the 1920s that has never been used in modern film.

Unlike most shipwrecks, there is no official list of survivors from the Carricks final journey in 1847. There is a movement unfolding on Facebook and in genealogy forums to ‘crowd source’ a list, and I hope the film will contribute to that effort in reuniting families and healing broken family trees on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
Writer & Director: Lost Children of the Carricks
Montréal (July 2020)