Stories from beneath the shores of the North West

Felicity mcCall pictured with Geoff Millar and Brogan Wakeley. (0903SL27)
Felicity mcCall pictured with Geoff Millar and Brogan Wakeley. (0903SL27)

Human stories hundreds of years old are about to be unearthed as part of an exciting film project by a North West based film company. More Pies Production, made up of of local teacher Steven Wakely and his son Brogan, a film maker, intend to trace the story of the SS Carthaginian- the ship that brought thousands of emigrant children to Canada more than a century ago.

Together with North West diver Geoff Millar and author Felicity McCall, the ‘More Pies’ team are set to explore the area off the coast of Malin Head where the Carthaginian was sunk by a U boat in 1917. The controversial ship was dubbed the ‘Ship of Shame’ for its role in the now disgraced Home Children scheme which operated from the late nineteenth century.

‘We believe the project is timely given the ongoing enquiries into state sanctioned child abuse in Ireland,’ says Brogan.

“We aim to record not only the day to day diving operation-which will in itself be dramatic and compelling - but to uncover the stories of some of the children who sailed from Derry Quay. It’s estimated that one in three Canadian families can trace its roots to child migrant ships like the SS Carthaginian and interest in tracing those roots has never been stronger.’

‘We really want to hear from anyone who has stories passed down in their family or who has relatives in Canada who can trace their roots to the Home Children scheme. We will of course treat everything with respect and confidentiality. We feel this is a story that should and must be told,’ he added.

Currently steeped in research for the project, well known local author Felicity McCall says the idea has the potential to touch thousands of people whose descendants may have travelled to Canada as children from these shores.

“100,000 child emigrants were taken to Canada from the UK up until 1917,” says Felicity.

“The Carthaginian would have sailed from Liverpool and Queenstown in Cork. An awful lot of children went to Canada and there are stories there waiting to be told. We’ve uncovered evidence which suggests some of these children were as young as four. You had situations where one parent had died and orphaned children in an era where there was no social services provision.

“There was a genuine belief that in sending these children to Canada they would have a much better life. Canada was made to look a very attractive place and people saw it as a God given solution to problems they couldn’t deal with at home. We know of one family from the city and we’ve had contact from a woman who can trace her family back to here.

“The story is so far reaching and we’re just at the beginning in terms of tracing the families who were sent out in the 1800s.”

As they trace the stories of lives changed forever by the journey on the Carthaginian, More Pies Productions will also be diving and filming two U boats also in the water near Malin Head, together with Geoff Millar.

‘They’re U boat 218, which is a very rare sub - only five of them were ever made- which sank last ship in WW11 and we will also be diving nearby on U boat 1009, the U boat that gave the surrender to Max Horton at Lisahally at the end of the war. They’re only a couple of miles apart.’ ‘Over the spring and summer, we are also going to be diving new wrecks that have been located off Malin Head,’ says Geoff.

“ These ‘virgin’ wrecks have lain undisturbed since they sank. We’ll be the first people to begin to piece together how, when and why they ended up on the sea bed. It’s a tremendous challenge and opens up all sorts of possible discoveries- and stories to be told.”