Searching for descendants of the Great Famine in Quebec

Compiled by Marie White from articles and press releases in Irish media

The "Gathering Ireland 2013" is inviting back the tens of millions of descendants of daughters and sons who have left Ireland since the Great Famine in the mid-1800s. It is common knowledge that one of Ireland's greatest exports is its people, and many have never returned to the land of their ancestors.

In 2013, Ireland is calling them home for celebrations throughout the country in cities, towns, and villages during the entire year. Strokestown, a town that was devastated by the Great Famine, will host wide-ranging Gathering events as it celebrates the return of one long-lost family and continues the search for others.

The so-called "famine ships" sailed to Canada carrying over 1,400 people from Strokestown, many of whom died on the journey. The Naomi, Virginus, Erin's Queen and John Munn were among the filthy, infected ships that landed on Canada's shores. Of Ireland's four provinces, Connacht was badly affected by the Famine. Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, Connacht, was the most devastated of the county's many towns and villages.

The group is now looking to connect with the descendants of the Famine survivors. For their Gathering festival, Strokestown has located and invited home the descendants of an Irish emigrant orphan who arrived at Grosse Île 167 years ago.

Daniel Tighe was a 12-year-old boy forced to leave Ireland in July 1847 under horrific circumstances. After his father's death, Daniel's mother, Mary Kelly, left with her five children in a desperate attempt to save her family from extinction. She joined her younger brother on an "assisted passage" (the landlord paid their fare) - in reality, a forced emigration scheme - and boarded the Naomi, destination Quebec. Kelly's attempt to save her family did not fail entirely, but she and three of her children died - another example of why these transatlantic ships also became known as "coffin ships."

Decades later, Daniel's grandson Leo Tighe (the spelling became Tye in the New World) would recount the story as told by his grandfather: "The voyage was a long nightmare of eight weeks. Drinking water ran low and food was reduced to one meal a day. Comfort and hygiene were non-existent. Typhus broke out on board, and the ship was ordered to stop at Grosse Île. When my grandfather left the ship with his 9-year-old-sister, Catherine, they never saw their other family members again."

At that time a local farmer, François Coulombe, was looking for a boy to help out on his farm on Rang Saint-Eustache, in Lotbinière outside Quebec City, and he chose Daniel. Nine-year-old Catherine became hysterical and clung to her brother's leg, sobbing. The Coulombes said, "We'll take them both." Daniel's descendants still live on that farm today.
On July 19, at the Gathering Ireland 2013 opening ceremony in Strokestown, Daniel's great-grandson Richard will be the first member of the Tighe family to set foot in the town since the Famine separated them from their homeland.

Strokestown is also searching for descendants of the following 46 families: Beirne, Bowens, Brennan, Burke, Casserly, Conneally, Conry, Cox, Dempsey, Doherty, Donegan, Donnelly, Doyle, Duffy, Dwyer, Egan, Fahey, Fallon, Feeney, Finnegan, Fitzsimons, Flannigan, Freeman, Gannon, Gibbons, Glancy, Goodman, Hanly, Healy, Higgins, Hogan, Hunt, Kelly, Kenny, Lannon, Madden, McCormick, McGuire, McLaughlin, Moore, Moran, Murray, Murtagh, Quinn, Rush, and Tighe.

"So many Canadians with Irish roots have no idea where their families are from in Ireland," said Brian G. Andersson, a genealogist. "The Gathering events provide a unique opportunity to reconnect them to their heritage, rooted in a heartbreaking past, but like most Irish stories, with potential for a happy ending."

If you have any information on these families, please email the Archives at [email protected].

If you are trying to trace your family, you can link directly on under the Strokestown Parish where you can send family information requests, or contact the Roscommon Genealogy Centre in Strokestown at