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An adventurous 165 km cross country trail that follows the Royal Canal as it weaves through country lanes, villages, towns and city – can be done in sections over time or all at once – as you choose. Follow the story of Strokestown’s Famine Emigrants as our interactive bronze shoe sculptures creates a thought provoking experience, on this commemorative cross country walk. The trail is topped and tailed by two iconic museums – “The National Famine Museum” at Strokestown Park and “The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship” / “ EPIC – Irish Emigration Museum” at the Dublin end.

SHOE STORIES - Daniel’s Story – Black ‘47

My name is Daniel Tighe / Tye, I am 12 years old, in May 1847 the worst year of the Great Irish Famine, I walked this path from Strokestown to Dublin heading for a Ship and in hope of a new life in North America. Follow in the footsteps of my story through the 30 pairs of Bronze Shoes along the National Famine Way.

We settled down close to a big Workhouse and a graveyard overlooking the waters of the canal. It was terrible to see a large crowd of starving and sick people queing for the Workhouse is a little way off, some sitting on the ground waiting to be admitted.

Mam, what is that place Mam?’ asked Catherine curious staring over at a poor sick woman and two little scrawny girls.

‘It’s the Mullingar workhouse for the hungry and the sick where those in desperate need, can get food and shelter and a bed.’ She explains.

‘I’d like to sleep in a bed’ wished Catherine.

‘Not in the workhouse, you wouldn’t, for they are full of sickness and diseases.’ Mam explained stroking her dark hair ‘Besides you would be taken from me and put in a big ward with the other girls. Families, mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers are all separated in the union workhouse and life there is fierce hard.

‘I’ll not go to there.’ said John, sticking out his chin ‘Mam, I want to stay with you and Catherine.’

‘They put you to work for your keep there, some young boys making those coffins I told you of’ Uncle William whispered in my ear.

I was so glad that Mam had made the brave decision for us to take passage to a new life far from ‘the hunger’.

Lough Owel Feeder – Workhouse and graveyard

Mullingar Poor Law Union was created in November 1839 following the passing of the 1838 Poor Law Act. Covering an area of circa 400 square miles with 70,000 inhabitants, it stretched twelve miles around Mullingar, being the distance a labourer was expected to walk in a day to a workhouse. Mullingar Workhouse, which was opened in October 1842, was sited on the periphery of the town adjacent to a stone quarry to provide work for inmates. It consisted of an entrance block, a three storey accommodation block for males and females, a bakehouse, a washhouse and infirmary. During the Famine a fever hospital was added and ‘sleeping galleries’ were erected to increase capacity. It was designed to accommodate 900 inmates and was only one third full in September 1845 when blight attacked the potato crop, after which it soon exceeded capacity. The union was initially administered by elected board of guardians but facing insolvency in 1848, control was handed over to two paid administrators whose primary objective was reducing costs. These administrators discontinued soup kitchens providing outdoor relief and rigorously enforced the ‘workhouse rule’ whereby relief was only provided inside the workhouse walls. 600 able-bodied paupers were struck off and thereafter the main workhouse was reserved for only able bodied paupers who were expected to work for their rations. Women, children and the infirm were relocated to a series of temporary auxiliary workhouses in the town including a former corn store and a disused brewery. Tellingly in the workhouse carpenters shop, inmates turned out 616 coffins between Jan-Sep 1849 and at the newly acquired graveyard at Robinstown one mile from the house which was opened in March 1849, 16 paupers were employed full time burying the dead with instructions to always have one grave ready.

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