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. www.nationalfamineway.ie
As we neared Mullingar, we soon saw big gangs of men with their spades and shovels and picks laying miles of heavy train tracks for the railway from Dublin. The clang of their shovels rang out as they worked.
‘That is the future they are building,’ said Uncle William, watching them. ‘Forget barges and horse and coaches. It will be Mister Dargan’s Railway and the like that will change this country.’
All along the banks of the canal there were encampments of mud huts and rough shelters where the railway workers and those who had come to the town in desperate need of food and work lived.
Mother told us to keep well away from the men and their filthy camp because of the sickness.
After we passed the lock, there was a small gate with the name Paradise Gate the led up to the back of the town’s cathedral.
Mr Robinson told us that we would rest here for the night for the women were exhausted and told him they would not walk another step of the Canal Way without food and sleep, as they all sat down on the ground feeling safe in the shadow of the Cathedral.
History: Mullingar Harbour - Railway
At our half way mark, Mullingar is a large and vibrant Midlands town with lots to see and do.
The Canal loops around Mullingar in almost a horseshoe shape, with a number of entry points to the town.
In 1847, the railway was being completed to reach here. The turnstile to the right of the Bronze Shoes leads to the Cathedral via Paradise Gate, where there is a 200m path to Mullingar Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Christ the King is constructed in the form of a basilica. It has twin towers and a dome. The Renaissance style Cathedral opened in 1936, and is the seat of the Bishop of Meath. Inside, visitors can pass through a museum that contains many historical artefacts and models of the area’s church buildings from the seventeenth century to the present day.
Also worth visiting is the Greville Arms Hotel which is immortalised by James Joyce in his book Ulysses. Mullingar is the only other place in Ireland that James Joyce lived in, outside of Dublin, and his book Ulysses features the Greville Arms, Mullingar’s longest established hotel.
Belvedere House Gardens & Park, on the outskirts of Mullingaar, consists of The Victorian Walled Garden, The Enchanted Glen and The Parklands with woodland trials through the ancient wood. The estate comprises one hundred and sixty acres of parkland with six kilometres of magnificent woodland and lakeshore walks, including the Narnia Trail. Several follies adorn the landscape including Ireland’s largest folly, The Jealous Wall.
Suggested Detour from Mullingar Harbour:
Mullingar Workhouse & Famine Graveyard Loop
Please note a small section of this loop is on a busy road, so do take care.
An essential 3 km detour takes you by the remains of a large-scale former union workhouse complex, one of the best surviving examples of its type in Ireland. This workhouse built c. 1841 is largely intact, complete with its foreboding original entrance door.
It was built on the site of a quarry, in order that the unfortunate ‘inmates’ could work long days breaking stones.
Due to severe overcrowding, an auxiliary workhouse was built further along the canal for old Women and Children.
Part of the complex is still in use as St Mary’s Hospital.
Increasing numbers of destitute people preferred to camp along the canal towpaths instead of trying to access the overcrowded workhouses. The “Westmeath Guardian” newspaper urged the Canal Company to remove “these abandoned wretches” from the area because they were performing “unmentionable abominations”.
A little further on is the Workhouse Famine Graveyard, one of the best preserved in the country with its cut stone entrance and wrought iron gates. It is believed that the Graveyard site was much larger in the nineteenth century, as bodies were found when the nearby commercial park was being built. It is a highly evocative site now in the care of a local committee which holds an annual devotion there each June.
Professor Christine Kinealy reflects on the legacy of the Great Hunger in the Mullingar Famine Graveyard.
The Graveyard is on the Canal Feeder or Supply line. Mullingar is the highest point on the canal and this 3.6 km supply line leads directly from Lough Owel, being its main supply of water. There are sometimes issues with the water level in the canal due to the increased demand for the town water supply, as well as the growing fish farm that draws its water supply from the supply line. It can make boating on the canal difficult and Waterways Ireland and Westmeath County Council are engaged in addressing this issue.
After visiting the Graveyard the loop follows the supply line directly back onto the Canal, where you follow the North Bank to the next bridge, and then cross back over to rejoin the main trail.
There were reports of large encampments along the banks, of people pouring in from the Western Counties, desperately looking for work on the Railways. Local folklore speaks of 14 or 15 people in some mud huts and occasions when mud huts simply collapsed around whole Families, effectively becoming their Graves.
Mullingar Jail was reputedly overcrowded at this time with people committing crimes in order to be jailed and to get food and shelter.
The Meal Reports record the rows that raged between Mullingar and Longford in relation to the location of the Meal Depot.
MULLINGAR HARBOUR – RAILWAY
The canal harbour complex at Mullingar is extensive with two harbours, divided by Scanlan’s Bridge, a dry dock for barges built in 1806, a boat slipway and associated corn store. In 1848, in the midst of the Great Famine, the canal’s importance as a transport route was challenged by the arrival of the first trains to Mullingar. Passenger traffic on the canal ceased immediately but freight trade continued until the mid twentieth century.
Prior to 1848 the terminus of the Midland Great Western Railway from Dublin was at the Hill of Down near the Meath/Westmeath border. The construction of the railway line to Mullingar between 1846 and 1848 was a god-send for the inhabitants of the Killucan and Kinnegad area, as it provided work for up to 2000 labourers. This manifested itself in a relative lack of demand for famine relief in the eastern part of Mullingar Union during those years, despite the failure of the potato crops there. It is not surprising that reports of the arrival of the first train into Mullingar on 2nd October 1848, also note the general indifference displayed by the townspeople, despite presence of two local landlords GA Boyd Rochfort and Sir Percy Nugent MP on the train, as it marked the end of these vital works. In June 1849 work commenced on the railway line from Mullingar to Athlone.
These works, which continued until 1851, had the immediate effect of enabling 1000 able-bodied paupers to leave the workhouse. This coincided with a relatively better potato harvest in that year so that by August 1849 there were no able-bodied paupers left in the workhouse and the auxiliary workhouses had been closed.
The Mullingar to Athlone Railway has recently been repurposed as a walking trail – The Old Rail Trail.
Please check ahead for opening hours as some are restricted / seasonal.
Note: The Tourist Office is located at the Market Square in the centre of the town. Market Square is also the location of a Statue dedicated to Joe Dolan, a Mullingar native and beloved Irish entertainer and pop singer for over six decades from the late 1950’s until his death in 2007.
- The Cathedral of Christ the King
- Belvedere House Gardens & Park
- Greville Arms Hotel
- The Old Rail Trail
ARTS & LITERATURE CONNECT:
Joe Dolan Statue
Ulysses – James Joyce