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
Shoes 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.
Like a huge herd of cattle they marched us and many of our neighbours, the Quinns, the Brennans, and Floods into Stokestown. Hundreds of people were gathering in front of the huge gates the estate and through the wide streets. I had never such a crowd in my life. Most carried bundles of whatever they could save from their cottages.
‘What is behind the gates?’ asks Catherine.
‘That is Strokestown Park House and demesne. In all my years, this is the closest I’ve ever got to seeing it seeing it,’ admitted mother. ‘Tenants are not let put a foot near the big house place or they are in right trouble with Major Mahon. Even the servants use a tunnel to go in and out of the place.’
Mr Robinson shouted out the long list of names of 275 families. Many of them, like us, with only a mother and children, for the strong and the sturdiest of men had not been evicted. We are lucky to have our uncle William Kelly with us.
‘We will walk along the Royal Canal and follow it all the way to Dublin,’ Mr Robinson told us. ‘We have a long journey of almost a hundred miles ahead and will stop only to eat and rest and sleep. There are over one thousand and four hundred of you and I am entrusted to get every man woman and child safely to Dublin where your ships to the new world await.’
‘How can the children make such a journey?’ gasps Mother as she holds little Bernard in her arms.
‘Better the road than the Poor house,’ Uncle William says, hoisting a complaining Maggie up on his back.
Off we went, by the Church and the Fever House, alongside my Da’s final resting place. It ached to leave him behind.
‘May the Lord look after you all,’ said Father McDermott, the parish priest who blessed the crowd as we left Strokestown.
History: The Assassination of Major Denis Mahon (November 2nd 1847) and the Choctaw Gift of Irish Famine Relief
ELPHIN ST, STROKESTOWN CHURCH
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1860 on the site of an earlier structure and was extensively modified in 1959/60. There is a stark contrast between the interior and exterior, the interior being spacious and bright with colonnaded nave and the beautiful rose window shining over the altar.
Before the Strokestown Union Workhouse was opened in February 1850, the poor of the town were served by a number of Fever Hospitals, one of which was situated to the right of the church, with its characteristic high walls to prevent escape. This hospital was also used during the 1832 Cholera epidemic when the Mahons left Strokestown for 10 months to avoid the infectious disease. This brings to mind the old adage ‘ The Cholera struck everyone, the Famine only struck the poor !’
The Church was built under the guidance of Fr Mc Dermott who was parish priest here from 1835 until his death. There is a plaque dedicated to Fr. Mc Dermott inside the church.
Although initially on good terms, Fr Mc Dermott’s relationship with Major Denis Mahon deteriorated as the Famine unfolded. At a September 1847 meeting of the local relief Committee, they had a blazing row. A barrage of Letters, some published in the media, followed, and this event would ultimately be forever bound to Major Mahon’s assassination.
Major Denis Mahon, the landlord of Strokestown Park House, was assassinated on November 2nd 1847. He was the first and most high profile Irish landlord to be murdered during the Great Famine.
The assassination of Major Denis Mahon is vividly recounted by Ciarán Reilly in Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine (2014):
The summer months of 1847 were relatively calm at Strokestown and there does not appear to have been any immediate backlash against the assisted emigration scheme [of the 1,490] or continued clearances. By the end of August though, relations between landlord and tenants were deteriorating rapidly. Moreover, once cordial relations between Major Denis Mahon and Revd Michael McDermott, parish priest of Strokestown, were irrevocably strained. The fallout was to have an immediate and lasting effect on the people of Roscommon. Although the facts surrounding the murder of Major Denis Mahon have been examined by a number of historians to date, it is necessary nonetheless to recount them briefly here. The murder plan had been hatched in several locations, but in the townlands of Dooherty, Leitrim, and Carnalasson there was particular antipathy towards Mahon for the eviction notices that were served in early Autumn 1847.
On 2 November 1847, as he returned from a meeting of the Roscommon Board of Guardians, where ironically he had gone to seek relief for his tenants, Major Denis Mahon was shot dead near the townland of Dooherty, an area quickly dubbed the “Khyber Pass”. Mahon’s murder was the most high-profile assassination of the Famine period and the political fallout from the murder made it the most sensational. Within days, the murder came to define the misgovernment of Ireland and the event was being discussed across the world. What followed was a long period of debate, accusation, and controversy largely played out on religious grounds. Strokestown became synonymous with eviction, and heated exchanges occurred within the House of Commons and in the provincial, national and international press. (79-80).
Ciarán Reilly also notes that when news trickled back to Strokestown about the devastating effects of the trans-Atlantic crossing and very high death toll amongst the 1,490 assisted emigrants on board the Virginius and Naomi, “Major Mahon’s fate was effectively sealed” (84). The disaster that befell the 1,490 was transmitted in press accounts from Canada to Ireland in the late summer and early autumn of 1847. More specifically, it was widely though incorrectly reported in a letter from Kingston, Ontario entitled “The Ship Fever in Canada” (August 10, 1847) that “of the crew of the Virginius but three are left, the captain and officers having died with the rest, and it is seriously contemplated to scuttle the ship and sink her for a while, as the only means of purifying her from the infection which she has absorbed – it is said that every one has abandoned her at Grosse Isle”. Indeed, in her classic study The Great Hunger, Ireland 1845-9 (1962), Cecil Woodham-Smith cites the fate of the Virginius passengers as a significant factor in Major Mahon’s assassination (225-226).
“The legend in the west of Ireland is that ‘coffin ships’ were chartered, when one foundered, and all aboard were lost, Major Mahon was shot by the lover of a girl who had been drowned. In fact the ship did not founder, although she was forced to put back to port in distress; both ships [Virginius and Naomi] eventually reached Quebec, but in a very bad state. In one vessel [Virginius] 268 persons were alleged to have died at sea. It must be remembered that the emigrants were poor, unsophisticated people, unaccustomed to observe any rules of hygiene, and typhus had raged during the voyage”.
Ultimately, Denis Mahon was shot in his carriage returning from a Famine relief meeting in the company of his physician Dr Terence Shanley. The most likely figure to have pulled the trigger was Andrew Connor, who was part of what Ciarán Reilly describes as “a notorious agrarian conspiracy from Graffogue at the foot of Sliabh Bawn mountain” (97). Major Mahon “was shot in the chest and died instantly”, Reilly adds. “The news of his death quickly spread across Roscommon and was widely celebrated: ‘bonfires were seen to be on the hills for many miles extent’”.
Several people were arrested, tried, and executed for the murder of Major Mahon. The most likely culprit, though, Andrew Connor, escaped to Canada. He followed in the footsteps of the 1,490 emigrants first to Montreal and then to Port Robinson, Ontario, where he was last sighted, in the Niagara region in which many Strokestown emigrants had resettled to help dig the Welland Canal. From there, Andrew Connor was tracked by Canadian and Irish sheriffs, but disappeared without a trace.
As for Major Denis Mahon, he was buried in the ruined mausoleum near Strokestown Park House. Yet his memory lived on in Irish folklore. Indeed, he was recalled decades later by name in the National Folklore Commission’s The Schools’ Collection (Volume 0253, p. 300), as a ghostly figure riding “in a coach drawn by four headless horses”.
You can read the folk memory here:
The Choctaw Gift of Irish Famine Relief in 1847
Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument in Midleton, County Cork
In 2019, the Choctaw author and scholar Professor LeAnne Howe (University of Georgia) traveled to Strokestown for the launch of the National Famine Way. She paid tribute to her ancestors’ generosity in contributing $170 to Irish Famine relief efforts in 1847 only sixteen years after they themselves were removed from their homeland in Mississippi and forced to embark on the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma.
In her own words: “I have always thought that the reason that this touched them so deeply is because of our own experience with going hungry, having to walk on the ‘Trail of Tears’. They had a strong empathy for what was happening to the Irish people in 1847. That story resonates still with the Choctaw people in Oklahoma. We still understand what that was like. As a consequence, the Choctaw people and the people of Ireland have a special relationship.”
Their generosity has never been forgotten in Ireland. The memory of their gift inspired thousands of Irish people to donate in turn to fundraising campaigns for the Native American Navajo Nation that suffered disproportionately at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Choctaw Nation member Professor LeAnne Howe (University of Georgia) reflects below on the legacy of the Choctaw Gift for Irish Famine relief in Strokestown Park House:
LeAnne Howe had also traveled to Strokestown for a musical performance of The Gift in the National Famine Museum which was based on her collaboration with the Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Singing, Still, Libretto for the 1847 Choctaw Gift to the Irish for Famine Relief (2017). You can watch clips from that performance in The Story of the Choctaw Gift at this link. Howe recites and sings several verses from Singing, Still below:
Please check ahead for opening hours as some are restricted / seasonal
Sliabh Bawn Mountain – Trails https://www.sliabhbawnwindfarm.ie/recreation/
Cruachan Ai – Rathcroghan Visitor Centre – neolithic Royal site – https://www.rathcroghan.ie/
Ninetenth-Century Windmill, Elphin
ARTS & LITERATURE CONNECT:
Rose Glass Window – Church of the Immaculate Conception, Strokestown
Percy French – one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers. French is also recognised f or his collectible watercolour paintings.