Ireland’s official Famine Heritage Trail is an adventurous 165 km cross country pilgrim walk layered with history, art and culture. It weaves through country lanes, villages, towns and Dublin city mostly along the banks of the Royal Canal. It can be done in sections or all at once – as you choose. Follow the story of Strokestown’s Famine Emigrants whose journey is marked by bronze shoe sculptures along the route. The trail is topped and tailed by iconic museums – “The National Famine Museum” at Strokestown Park in Co Roscommon and “The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship” and “ EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum” at the Dublin end.
Download our App now to hear little twelve year old Daniel Tighe tell his story from Black ‘47 and also learn all the interesting local history around you in this area. Better still why not become an Official Walker with our Passport Guide, Ship Ticket and Certificate of completion. Learn more at www.nationalfamineway.ie
THE STORY OF THE SHOES
The children’s bound shoes that are cast in bronze along the National Famine Way were discovered by a local farmer, in the roof of a ruined nineteenth-century cottage. He donated them to the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park. We know nothing of the child they belonged to, but local folklore holds, that such offerings were made to invoke good luck. These evocative shoes symbolise the hopeful journey that our 1,490 emigrants embarked on, especially taking in the fact that two thirds of them were children. The binding evokes the difficulties they encountered and the eternal bind, to the place they were leaving.
TIGHE / TYE FAMILY STORY
At the height of the Great Famine in 1847, Mary Tighe was left a widow with five children to feed. In a desperate attempt to save her family, she availed of the ‘Assisted Emigration Scheme’ offered by Major Denis Mahon in Strokestown. She succeeded in her mission to save her family, but paid a high price. Mary Tighe, her brother, and three of her children, lost their lives on board the Ship Naomi that sailed from Liverpool to Quebec.
Daniel, aged twelve and his nine-year-old sister, Catherine were the only family members who survived the transatlantic voyage on the Naomi. Daniel himself recounted the horror of watching the bodies of his mother and brothers being thrown overboard and buried at sea.
Taken into the care of the Coulomb family in Lotbinière, Quebec, these two small children found themselves on a 168 acre farm, a world away from a half acre in Lisonuffy and a world away from everything they had ever known or loved.
In 2013, the Strokestown Community invited Daniel’s great grandson, Richard Tye (changed from Tighe), back home. And so, 166 years after little Daniel left, his descendants again set foot on Irish soil, a community celebrated, long-separated cousins embraced, and the family was again bound together.
The National Famine Way intertwines History through the Arts: not only in sculpture but also in literature and music. Daniel’s Tighe’s story reimagines each of the spaces and locations he passed through in May 1847. It is a digital storybook written by renowned and beloved Irish author Marita Conlon-McKenna.
The Anthem for the National Famine Way is by well known folk singer Declan O Rourke a beautiful song Go Domhanin i do chumhnie from his Album Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine.
Cuir tús le do shiúilóid ag an Bhalla Cuimhneacháin Ghloine ag Musaem an Ghorta Mhóir i bPáirc Bhéal na mBuillí i Ros Comáin agus siúil go Cluain Dá Rath agus as sin cois canála go Baile Átha Cliath, turas 165 cilimeadar. Tá ceann scríbe d’aistir ag dealbha an Ghorta Mhóir taobh leis an Jeannie Johnston, ar ancaire ag Cé Theach an Chustaim, san áit dheireanach ar leag an 1,490 duine as Ros Comáin cos ar thalamh na hÉireann i mí na Bealtaine 1847.
Thug a dtiarna talaimh an Maor Denis Mahon rogha an dá dhíogha dóibh, ‘imirce chuidithe’, ocras sa bhaile lena ngort de phrátaí lofa nó dul isteach i dteach scanrúil na mbocht.
Réamhrá don Chosán
Faoi shúil ghéar bháile an eastáit, John Robinson, cuireadh na fir, mná agus páistí seo ag siúil cois na Canála Ríoga go duganna Bhaile Átha Cliath áit a raibh galtáin ag fanacht chun iad a bhreith go Learpholl. As sin chuaigh siad ar bord loinge, ‘longa galaracha an bháis’, ina measc an Virginius agus an Naomi a d’iompair iad ar thuras scafár go Quebec i gCeanada. Fuair beagnach leath na n-imirceach ar bord an dá long seo bás ar an turas, ach d’éirigh rud beag níos fearr leo sin ar an Erin’s Queen agus ar an John Munn.
Aimsíodh ainmneacha an ‘1,490 Caillte’ i gCartlann an Ghorta Mhóir i bPáirc Theach Bhéal na mBuillí. Tá a gcuid ainmneacha agus a mbailte fearainn greanta ar an Bhalla Cuimhneacáin Ghloine ag Páirc Bhéal na mBuillí – teistiméireacht dá scéal.
SHOE STORIES – Daniel’s Story – Black ‘47″
Shoe Stories by Marita Conlon-McKenna:
My name is Daniel Tighe. 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 which is marked by over 30 pairs of Bronze Shoes along the National Famine Way – now a 165 km accredited trail.
As we walk along by the canal we pass prosperous looking fields and lands and a high stone walls. We stop at Pikes Bridge where Bailiff Robinson warns us that we are at the entrance gates to Carton House, the vast Estate of The Fitzgerald’s, and we must not trespass there.
In the distance we see a group of men and boys working. An old man on the towpath tells us they are employed by the Duke of Leinster to build a memorial tower on the estate as part of the Relief Works – Tyrconnell Tower they are going to call it.
Uncle William says the place reminds him of Strokestown Park House. He says that things will be different for us when we get to Canada. He is full of plans for there we will have land of our own to farm and to raise crops and a few animals.
Mam worries how she will manage. But Uncle William tells her that she has two fine strong boys in me and Martin to help her and even little Bernard Og coming up after us.
‘We will all help each other,’ he promises.
History: Queen Victoria “the Famine Queen’s” visit to Carton House in 1849 and Charity
PIKE BRIDGE, CARTON HARBOUR BY CARTON HOUSE GATES
When the Canal was first proposed in 1789, it was never intended that it would run through Maynooth, but much further to the north. However, the 3 rd Duke of Leinster, a director of the canal company, had the canal rerouted through the town and past his house and Demesne at Carton.
Carton House, which you heard about in the Maynooth local history, and the entrance gates of which you are now across from, is not the Fitzgerald’s only claim to architectural fame. Robert Fitzgerald’s son James, the 20th Earl of Kildare, and first Duke of Leinster, chose a site for his new ‘townhouse’ on Coote Lane, in Moleswoth fields, on what was then the ‘unfashionable’ south side of Dublin. The new house was named Kildare House, and was completed in 1745. Within a few years, residential development began in the area and soon Coote Lane was widened and renamed Kildare Street. In 1761, James was created Marquis of Kildare, and, in 1766, first Duke of Leinster. At that stage, Kildare House was renamed ‘Leinster House’. Like Strokestown Park and Carton House, it too was designed by Richard Cassels.
The Fitzgerald family sold Carton in 1949 and in recent times it was developed as a hotel and golf course.
The Fitzgeralds entertained many notable guests over the decades in their beautiful reception and dining room. It is renowned for its amazing ornamental plaster -work ceilings which are considered to be masterpieces of the Lafranchini brothers.
The fascinating Shell House, built in 1750, is decorated with thousands of tropical shells of every size. The cottage was also the home of Marianne Faithful for a time and has welcomed guests such as Princess Grace of Monaco, Peter Sellers and perhaps their most famous guest, Queen Victoria who visited during the Great Irish Famine when she was 30 years old.
Learn more about her visit below.
The next bridge past Pike Bridge is Deey Bridge at the 13 th Lock. This lock had the reputation among the old Royal Canal boatmen of being haunted and they would never moor there for the night. So be careful if you pass this spot after dusk!
The Connolly Folly , a.k.a. The Obelisk , is an impressive obelisk structure or folly and a National Monument , located near Maynooth . It is quite a sight to behold and is a few kilometers from Deey Bridge at the 13 th Lock. It was built at a cost of £400 to provide employment for the poor of Celbridge when the eighteenth-century famine of 1740–41 was at its worst. It was commissioned by Katherine Conolly , the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly , who also commissioned The Wonderful Barn which you will learn of at Leixlip. Quite a creative Lady!
The National Famine Way passes the entrance to the Carton House estate of Lord Leinster near Maynooth in County Kildare, where the “Famine Queen” Victoria and Prince Albert visited in 1849.
Professor Christine Kinealy, founding Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, writes about Queen Victoria’s visit to Carton House:
Queen Victoria remains a controversial figure for her role during the Great Famine. The widespread belief that she made no financial contribution to assist her starving subjects in Ireland meant that she is widely remembered as ‘the Famine Queen’. The reality is more complex as Victoria did intervene in a number of ways to assist Ireland between 1846 and 1852, mostly though, at the prompting of the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell.
In 1845, when the potato blight first appeared in Ireland, Queen Victoria was aged only 26, married with four young children. She had never visited Ireland and showed little interest in doing so, which was in strong contrast with her love for Scotland. The second failure of the potato crop in 1846 meant that Ireland became a major concern of the British government and its nominal head, the monarch. This was evident in the Queen’s Speech marking the opening of parliament in January 1847, when she stated that ‘the loss of the usual food of the people has been the cause of severe sufferings, of disease, and of greatly increased mortality among the poorer classes’. In the same month, she issued a ‘Queen’s Letter’ calling on Anglican churches throughout the United Kingdom to donate to Ireland, and to observe a day of special religious services to pray for forgiveness. The latter action reinforced the idea that the potato blight was a punishment from God. This providentialist interpretation of the potato failure was prevalent amongst a number of politicians and relief officials, notably Charles Trevelyan of the Treasury. Privately, however, the Queen believed such actions to be irrational and had only called for a day of fast at the request of her Prime Minister.
On a more practical level, at the beginning of 1847 Victoria donated £2,000 to the newly formed British Relief Association, with a promise of more if necessary. Other members of the Royal family also donated to the Association. Additionally, the appeal by the Queen to the Anglican churches had been successful, raising almost £172,000. A small portion of this money was used to help the poor in Scotland who had also lost their potato crop. In October 1847, when it was evident that a third year of famine was inevitable, a second Queen’s Letter was issued, but it raised only £30,000, indicative of the onset of compassion fatigue in regard to helping Ireland.
In 1848, the potato crop was again struck by blight, although it was most severe in the west. At the beginning of the following year, the British government made a small grant to Ireland on the understanding that it would be the final one, regardless of the suffering still evident in the country. In June, as disease and death were showing no signs of abating, the Queen and a number of her ministers made small donations, but the amount raised was pathetically inadequate given the extent of the distress. Around the same time, it was announced that Victoria was going to undertake her first visit to Ireland.
The Queen’s visit in early August 1849, was carefully choreographed. She, accompanied by her husband, Prince Albert, and their children, only visited the east of the country, and they travelled from Cork to Dublin, and Dublin to Belfast, by yacht. For the most part, her public reception was warm, but it also proved divisive, with the Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale refusing to put his name to a welcome address from the Catholic Church hierarchy. The Queen, however, seemed genuinely pleased with how she was welcomed, writing to the uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, ‘Everything here has gone beautifully since we arrived in Ireland, and our entrance to Dublin was really a magnificent thing … Our visit to Cork was very successful … the enthusiasm is immense.’
Victoria’s only inland visit came when she was in Dublin, staying in the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, the home of the Lord Lieutenant. On Saturday 11 August, she visited Carton House and Estate, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Leinster. Wearing a dress trimmed with Limerick Lace, she travelled there in an open barouche, along the banks of the Liffey. People, included large numbers of the ‘Irish peasantry’ lined the route. When she reached Maynooth, the students of the seminary lined the streets, dressed in their college regalia and cheered as she passed. Thousands of other people had come to the town by train, carriage or on foot.
The Queen entered the estate through Kellystown Gate. Shortly afterwards the royal party and about 40 guests, including the President of Maynooth College, the Rev. Renehan, sat down to ‘partake of a magnificent dejeuner’. While they ate about 160 people were given refreshments ‘of the most varied and costly kind’ in tents erected in the grounds of the estate. At the Queen’s request, a large number of locals including ‘numbers of peasantry’ had been invited to observe her walking about estate. Following the walk, the guests were shown ‘a real Irish jig, which was danced to the music of an Irish piper by a number of the Duke’s tenants and their wives and daughters’. The bagpiper was Sheridan from Kilcock. The press reported that the Queen ‘laughed most heartily at the performers and the royal party seemed to be highly pleased with them’. After visiting a thatched cottage on the estate, the Royal party left for Dublin. Contrary to popular lore, she did not spend the night in Carton House.
Tenants in Costume Perform for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Carton House
Victoria arrived back in the Phoenix Park shortly after 5.00pm, only staying for about thirty minutes. When she left, she travelled to the railway station in Westland Row, taking the train to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) where the royal yacht was docked. Again, the route was packed with people, and the bay was filled with vessels, with everybody appearing delighted to catch a glimpse of the Queen. Any disgruntlement that existed was eclipsed by the cordiality of the majority of the people. John Mitchel, who at that stage was thousands of miles away, on a prison ship and therefore unable to witness the occasion in person, nonetheless wrote about the royal visit and attributed the warmth of the welcome to the natural kind-heartedness of the Irish people, together with the Lord Lieutenant’s careful precautions to render any dissent invisible.
The Queen’s visit to Carton House in 1849, and the feasting and festivity that accompanied it, gave no indication that, simultaneously, a famine was still raging in parts of the country. Regardless of her interactions with Ireland during these years, Queen Victoria reigned over a government that increasingly turned its back on Ireland, which resulted in the most lethal and devastating event in Irish history that continues to have repercussions today. In that sense, she truly was the Famine Queen.
Tyrconnell Tower below was refurbished in the nineteenth century, in folk memory, as a famine relief project.
Professor Christine Kinealy (Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University) reflects on Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland and Carton House in 1849 on the grounds of the Carton House Estate:
Please check ahead for opening hours as some are restricted / seasonal.
St Patrick’s Seminary
Carton House Hotel & Golf Club
Connolly Folly and Obelisk