September 2020 marked the culmination of years of work for everyone involved in the National Famine Way, as the long distance trail officially opened. The new initiative was immediately welcomed with open arms by the tourism media at home and abroad. Despite happening during the COVID19 pandemic, the trail caught the imagination of people everywhere and indeed is exactly the sort of outdoor tourism activity needed in this environment. As the icing on the cake, it’s a completely free attraction open all day, every day.
“The National Famine Way can be done by anyone, at any time, on foot or by bike,” explained Caroilín Callery, of the Irish Heritage Trust and National Famine Museum, at the launch.
RTE’s Ryan Tubridy was completely intrigued by the concept, declaring the National Famine Way the “best initiative for tourism since the Wild Atlantic Way.”, further commending it as, “A tourist initiative but also an important reminder of that part of our history… a beautiful, smart way of embracing history, embracing the country, embracing tourism, keeping the economy afloat”.
Pól O’Conghaile, Irish Independent Travel Editor immediately spotted the potential, saying, “As well as linking Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and Ireland’s Ancient East, the trail is topped and tailed by museums – the National Famine Museum in Strokestown and Epic and the Jeanie Johnston replica famine ship in Dublin… The trail has the potential to open up rural Ireland”.
The National Famine Way is a collaboration between the National Famine Museum, the Irish Heritage Trust, Waterways Ireland, EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum and County Councils along the route.
Between all parties, almost €3.5 million has been spent on the route over the past decade, from Royal Canal maintenance works to Greenway development, pathways, signage, markers, map and passport/guides.
John O’Driscoll, General Manager of the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, said that the National Famine Way is both thought-provoking and emotional, “We are delighted that we are now offering a Passport/Guide and OSI Trail Map to accompany this thought-provoking Trail where the #Missing1490 embarked on their journey,” John O’Driscoll said. “Walkers/cyclists are also given a ship ticket and information on one family whose footsteps they will follow, making the Trail especially evocative. As the Trail is over 165km long we envisage that many walkers and cyclists will wish to complete sections of the trail over time.”
As well as its health and cultural impact, the project could provide an economic benefit of up to €2 million for local communities through bike hire and business for shops, cafés, bars and accommodation along the way, according to Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust. “The trail has the potential to open up rural Ireland,” she said.
Further information on the 165km National Famine Way is available on the website www.nationalfamineway.ie