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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.

The day was warm as the huge crowd of us began to fold up our blankets and throw water on our heads and faces to wake up and stretch ourselves for the next stage of our long journey to Dublin.

We were surprised to suddenly hear music. Much to our delight as we got ready to leave Mullingar a piper appeared down the lane, and sat by the edge of the bank and began to play the pipes for us.

The sound of the pipes filled the morning air. Their music lifted our hearts. Everyone listened, even Bailiff Robinson and his men, as he played his tunes. Reels and jigs and favourite tunes lightened our spirits. Catherine and Brigid Quinn and some of the other girls did a little dance for them. We were glad to get such a kind farewell from the Mullingar Piper.


Pipers Boreen – Encampment and auxiliary workhouses

In 1831 Mullingar Poor Law Union had a population of 70,000 with 7000 living in Mullingar. While there was an overall decline of 21% decline in the population of the union between 1841 and 1851, the population of Mullingar actually increased by 32%. This increase was due in great part to a large influx of country people into the cabin suburb of Cabbage Street and 1500 paupers in the workhouses. And in what must have resembled a pitiful site, many impoverished people fleeing the impoverished western districts crowded into temporary encampments along the canal bank. Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and starvation facilitated the spread of diseases. The two deadliest diseases in the town were dysentery, caused by the change in diet from potatoes to raw turnips and maize, and two forms of fever, relapsing or yellow fever and black or typhus fever, both spread by lice. April 1849 saw the return of cholera, a fatal bacterial infection spread through contaminated water sources. In 1848 with Mullingar Union facing bankruptcy, the union administrators decided to discontinue outdoor relief and reserve the workhouse for able bodied paupers. A series of auxiliary buildings were sourced for women, children and the infirm. These included a corn store near Moran’s Bridge (the Dublin Bridge) into which 100 infirm females were placed; Hevey’s disused brewery on Linen Street which housed 1000 children in December 1848. Rathconnell House and its converted stables, two miles from the town was acquired for infirm males, as was an overcrowded byre-type farmhouse at Irishtown. For most entry into the workhouse was a last resort. When the new regime was introduced, 600 able bodied paupers refused to enter the main workhouse and thereafter nearly all who entered did so in a ‘dying state’. Mullingar Gaol, became a workhouse in all but name with reports of some people committing petty crime in order to access the better rations available there – built for 150 it housed over 300 after 1848. 

Also see Uilleann Piper Colgan sending out Strokestown’s 1,490 Famine emigrants from Piper’s Boreen:



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