Did you know? – 20 interesting facts relating to the National Famine Way


The National Famine Way is a 165km trail that traces the footsteps of the Strokestown tenants – men, women and children – who were marched from Roscommon to Dublin in 1847 after they failed to pay their rent. In Dublin, they boarded a ship to Liverpool before journeying to North America on board some of the worst coffin ships of the time. Not all of them made it alive. They became known as the ‘Missing 1490’. The ‘Missing 1490’ made the 165km journey from Strokestown House in Roscommon to Dublin at the height of the Famine. During the course of the Famine, more than 80,000 people were ‘assisted’ in emigrating, meaning that their landlord paid for their passage and some provisions for the journey. As many as 6,000 people died onboard coffin ships travelling to British North America in 1847 alone.

Fact file:

• In October 1846, a land agency declared that it would be better to let the land of Strokestown lie waste for a year than let the paupers remain. This began a series of events which led to the mass evictions of 1847.

• In most cases tenants were given only one month to prepare for their forced eviction.

• The possessions of the 1490 were auctioned off, acquired by those who remained.

• Major Denis Mahon tumbled most of the tenant houses on his estate, so they couldn’t return.

• Prior to beginning the journey to Dublin a cobbler was brought to Strokestown, as many families were so poor they didn’t have shoes to walk the 165km route.

• The Missing 1490 were provided with rations for their voyage including: 6lb sugar, one dozen herrings, 10oz tea/coffee, 1.5lb soap, 8lb rice, 1 pint vinegar, 14lb oatmeal, pepper and salt

• Of the 271 families who decided to take up Major Mahon’s offer of ‘assisted emigration,’ there were over 900 children and teenagers among them, equating to about two thirds of the 1490, many of whom lost both their parents either on the coffin ships or after arrival in Canada.

• Daniel Tighe was a 12-year-old boy who travelled with his six family members from Strokestown to Canada via Liverpool.

• Local pipers used to play final farewells to emigrants passing through Mullingar via the banks of the canal.

• The port you sailed from and the ship you travelled on were all very much a lottery, but they significantly determined your chances of survival.

• Four ships carried the 1490 to Quebec, Canada: The Virginius, the John Munn, Erin’s Queen, and the Naomi.

• The transatlantic voyage generally was about 43 days at sea however the Virginius spent 63 days at sea. It is believed that the Virginius steered off course, with catastrophic consequences.

• Of the 467 passengers who sailed on the Virginius to Quebec, only 200 survived. 158 died during the journey, 19 more while anchored and a further 90 perished on the island. In total, 267 were dead which equated to just over 56% of the passengers dying on this journey.

• Of the 1490 who were forced from their home in Strokestown to emigrate, over 700 died.

• Only Daniel and Catherine Tighe survived out of their family of six who departed Ireland.

• A significant number (perhaps more than sixty) of the Strokestown emigrants were orphaned on Canadian shores. Irish orphans, like Catherine and Daniel Tighe, were adopted into French-Canadian families.

• Daniel Tighe was adopted by Mr and Mrs Coulombe. They decided to look after his sister, Catherine, while she was waiting for a new home however the children cried so much at the idea of being separated that they kept them both.

• Montreal received over 75,000 Irish migrants in 1847 when its population was less than 50,000.

• On the 2nd of November 1847, Major Denis Mahon of Strokestown was the first Irish landlord to be assassinated during the Famine.

• On the 2nd of November 1847, Major Denis Mahon was ambushed, shot and killed. To this day there is a debate over the real reason for his murder and the identity of those responsible.