At the end of the National Famine Walk in 2017, the renowned author of The Hawthorn Tree Marita Conlon-McKenna reflected on their journey. In her own words:
Well done to The National Famine Way Walkers led by Caroilin Callery who completed their 165km long journey from Strokestown Park House to Dublin’s Eden Quay on Thursday 1st June. They were walking to commemorate the 1,490 evicted tenants of Strokestown Park House, who were being sent by their landlord on assisted passage to Canada in late May 1847.
These men, women and children led by the bailiff and his men followed the path of The Royal Canal as they walked all the long way to Dublin. Although tired and exhausted, I’m sure hope and excitement must have filled their hearts as they saw the River Liffey and boarded the ships that would take them to Liverpool. From there the group would begin the long sea voyage across the Atlantic to Canada.
Many already weak would not survive the poor conditions at sea; others on their arrival in Quebec would die in the crowded fever sheds of Grosse Isle. For those that survived, Canada offered an opportunity for new life, a new beginning and a freedom that they had not known before as they began to settle and create a new life away from Ireland.
As the walkers appeared wearing famine costume and crossed Dublin’s busy city street a hush fell among all of us gathered to greet them.
They walked slowly along the cobbles by Rowan Gillespie’s haunting bronze famine figures, real and imagined mingling, as they continued on to the Jeanie Johnson ship which is moored nearby on Spencer Dock on the quays. Crossing the gangplank on to the ship some gave a small wave as one by one they boarded. Their faces and movements symbolised all those that must have boarded such ships during the dark days of the Great Irish Famine.
Watching them it felt like the ghosts of the 1,490 had returned to Dublin and walked our streets once more.
Thank you to everyone involved for bringing this important part of our history to life
Dr Jason King is academic coordinator for the Irish Heritage Trust. He has previously taught at NUI Galway, the University of Limerick, the Université de Montréal, Concordia University, NUI Maynooth, and NUI Cork.
He specializes in Great Irish Famine digital content: