Irish Republican News · August 18, 2006
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Famine tale uncovers common Irish ancestry

A little known shipping disaster which claimed the lives of almost 50 people from south Armagh during the Famine has inspired a new book.

April 29 1849 was a fateful day. Twenty-six long days earlier, the Hannah, carrying passengers fleeing the effects of the Famine in Co Armagh, had set sail from Newry for Quebec.

There were almost 200 people aboard and they all had good reason to leave south Armagh.

In the parish of Forkhill, for example, the population fell from 7,805 in 1841 to 5,743 by 1851.

But the journey to a new life in Canada was tragically interrupted early on April 29 when the Hannah struck an iceberg.

the passengers were asleep and woke in a distressed and disorientated state, rushing to the deck clad only in their night clothes.

Several feet of freezing water had already poured into the hold and more was rapidly gushing in through the gaping hole in the ship. Before the Hannah went down, its captain jumped ship, taking some of his crew with him in the only lifeboats.

In the panic, there maining crew tried to get the bewildered passengers onto the ice and off the doomed ship.

Many either did not make it off the Hannah or were crushed between the ship’s sides and the iceberg. Others perished in the cold while they clung onto the ice and waited to be rescued.

While there are conflicting reports of how many passengers were on the ship and exactly how many died, it is thought that at least 49 people lost their lives and almost 30 of these were children.

Those who survived were saved by the crew of a passing ship, the Nicarague, bound for Quebec.

Under the heroic guidance of its skipper, Captain Marshall, around 120 people were rescued and ferried to Quebec on the Nicarague.

Back in County Armagh, very little was known about the disaster.

Then, during the First World War, a Canadian soldier called Robert Kane decided to use his posting in England to explore his south Armagh roots.

His letters were later passed on to his grandnephew, Paddy Murphy, from North Crosby in Eastern Ontario.

Eager to locate his ancestors, Mr Murphy travelled to Forkhill and set about investigating the tragedy with Kevin Murphy and Una Walsh at the Mullaghabawn Community Centre.

It emerged that the small town of North Crosby has strong links with Forkhill and is known locally as “little south Armagh”.

It is thought a family called the McDermotts first settled there in the1820s and it proved to be the first port of call for survivors from the Hannah and other emigrants from south Armagh.

In their new book A Famine Link - The Hannah, Mr Murphy and Ms Walsh examine the fate of the ship and the links between south Armagh and Ontario.

Mr Murphy said he hopes the book will reinforce links between Forkhill and North Crosby.

“the family names in North Crosby are the same family names you see here in Forkhill.

“In fact some of the names over there are ones that have since died off here,” he said.

It is hoped that sales of the book in Canada will also help establish further links between south Armagh and North Crosby.

“We are hoping to get the book into outlets in Canada,” Mr Murphy said.

“We feel there might be an even greater interest over there.

“the next step is to try and establish a twinning between Forkhill and North Crosby.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News