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
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.
We were all feeling better after the music and a night’s rest and Thomas and I and a few of the boys ran on ahead. We could see frog spawn at the water’s edge and soon heard a croaking in the rushes as we searched for frogs.
‘Daniel there’s two frogs,’ shouted Patrick Cox and Henry Holden, excited as we bent down at the water’s edge to try and catch one.
‘There’s another,’ shouted Patrick Sheridan.
Hugh Murray knelt at the water edge to try and reach one of them as it hopped on to a mossy stone.
I was trying to beat him to it, when suddenly I felt my foot slip in my new shoes and I stumbled into the cold water. Luckily it was shallow there near the rushes and all the boys laughed and teased me as I sat up and the water dripped off me.
‘What are you up to Daniel?’, smiled my uncle coming up to me, and seeing the wet state that I was in.
‘I took a swim in the canal,’ I grinned, pulling off my wet jacket.
‘Don’t’ let the bailiff and his men see you like that,’ he warned, passing me a bit of blanket to quickly dry myself with. ‘Stay hidden and walk in the middle.’
I was barely dry when it began to rain. The sky black and dark as it poured down on us.
The mood was quiet and somber now as the 1,490 marched on.
History: Emigration from the midlands and the Mullingar Workhouse during the Famine
Alongside Neads Bridge at this location is a Traditional Public House built c.1900. Check ahead for opening hours.
About 3 km further along the canal is Riverstown, a tiny ‘Village’’ with a quaint atmosphere comprising of a traditional pub, shop and much more. In the village can be found the rustic building of a long closed railway station.
Local historian Ruth Illingworth talks about emigration from the midlands and the Mullingar Workhouse during the Famine:
The late renowned Irish Poet Eavon Boland’s chilling Famine Poem “Quarantine” comes to mind in such landscapes.
Migration Then and Now:
The main national story in May 1847 was the death of Daniel O Connell. The Viceroy of Ireland also died that month. A General Election was about to be called. There were reports of major food riots in parts of England and Scotland and also in Spain. In Black ‘47, everything was becoming increasingly hopeless, for close to half of our population.
Emigration was desperately grasped at by hundreds of thousands which was to create what became known as ‘chain migration’ throughout the 1850’s to 1890’s, as generation after generation worked hard, saved and sent home ‘passage money’ or ship tickets to siblings, children etc. Eventually, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the end result was close to two million of our people leaving our shores.
In May 2015, on the second day of the very first commemorative walk, news reached the walkers that a ship had over turned in the Mediterranean Sea drowning almost 600 people.
The group walked on in silence, contemplating how close to 600 of our 1,490 would not survive their journey either and how they would meet a similar watery grave.
‘Our past was their present’ and it simply isn’t good enough. How can the mode of transport for ‘escape’ become almost more dangerous than what one is fleeing ?
The National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House has always connected with modern day Famine, as the Museum Founder Jim Callery stated: ‘there is no point in having a ‘dead’ museum. One must try to learn some lessons, shed some little light on current day conditions.’
This connection is important to us and we have run joint projects with the Refugee & Asylum Reception Centres in Ballaghadereen and Athlone. In 2019, a large group of asylum seekers joined us both at the National Famine Way Canadian Wake, the evening before we set off on the walk, and the again a few days later for a stretch of the National Famine Way around Mullingar.
New Horizons members on National Famine Way
Simmy Ndlovu, New Horizons, on the National Famine Way
We work, on an ongoing basis, with New Horizons – Athlone Refugee & Asylum Seekers Support Group and after the above event we received this email from one of their lead co-ordinators, Gerry Callaghan:
Wed, Jun 5, 2019
On behalf of my asylum-seeking friends, New Horizon volunteers and myself I’d like to say a very sincere thanks for the welcome to the National Famine way walk last week.
The Canadian wake was lovely, People came and talked and made us feel welcome. Asylum seekers suddenly saw their own stories reflected in the tales from 1847.
The Mullingar event was truly superb. Asylum seekers usually feel very isolated and marginalized in Irish society. To walk into a group and be greeted with music and applause was something that will be remembered for a very long time.
As for myself I’d like to say thanks for the memories, the stories and the blisters!
Refugee support is always difficult, in dark moments I think it’s impossible.
Then there are those occasional days when we ‘Walk in fields of gold’.
Last week brought five of these days.
Gerry and all the New Horizon gang
See the Famine Walkers below engaging with local school children from the Downs who have come out in costume to greet them.
Nead’s Bridge – Mary Lynchs traditional Pub built c. 1900 – check opening hours
Riverstown – Cunningham’s traditional Pub & Shop – check opening hours