Shadows on a Lighthouse

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by Neil Connelly

Over one hundred and fifty years ago, on a snowy night off the coast of the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada, many of the people I now love most came close to extinction.

When I make that dramatic claim, I’m thinking of my father and my sons, of my brother and my eight sisters, along with all my siblings’ children and their children’s children. That number itself runs to the dozens. These are the people I have in mind, but in truth the loss would’ve be far greater, extending through multitudes of cousins, second cousins. And really, “extinction” is probably not the most accurate term. To capture the real threat, I’d need to stretch for a term like “non-existence,” for that is what we truly faced. On that singular night, the actions of my great great grandfather, Cornelius O’Boyle, were responsible for the lives of hundreds of people in his bloodline. For any of us to ever be, he had to survive a disaster.

Like everyone else in my immediate family, I had no idea of Cornelius O’Boyle’s brush with death until a yellowed slip of newspaper (no date, no page number, no title) was discovered in our attic back in the 90’s. It read:

A monument has been erected for the Irish immigrants that were shipwrecked at Cape Rosiers, Gasp’e, Quebec, Canada, 1847.

The Brig “Carricks” of White Haven, England, with R. Thompson as its Master, was 87 ft. long, had beams of 26 ft., and was 16 ft. deep. The Carricks was built in 1812 and its burden was 244 tons.       

While on a voyage from Sligo, Ireland with 167 Irish immigrants bound for Quebec, Canada, she was caught in a northeast snowstorm while entering the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The Carricks was driven ashore and wrecked about a mile east of the present Cape Rosiers lighthouse and became a total loss on May 19, 1847.

Out of 167 passengers only 48 reached shore alive; all the crew were saved except one boy.      

The Carricks was seven weeks and four days at sea when wrecked.         

Cornelius O’Boyle and his brother Owen from Bangor Erris, County Mayo, Ireland were among those who were saved.

My father, named Neil O’Boyle Connelly just like me, knew of Cornelius, could tell us that he was the father of his own dear grandmother, Rose O’Boyle, who ran a boarding home during the Depression where my father spent most of his youth. But he’d never heard about the passage over or the wreck. This didn’t strike my father as unusual. I recall him shrugging and saying, “We didn’t talk about things like that.”

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