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.
We were all wet and miserable by the time we came to Killucan Riverstown and another big harbour called Thomastown.
Here there are more boats and barges and a public house where the sailors and locals had a pint of porter as they watch our huge caravan from Strokestown pass them.
Four barges are moored near us and they are laden with food and unguarded.
The temptation is too much and suddenly three older teenagers — led by Patrick again, jump onto the deck of a barge, and manage to grab a sack of oats and a round of cheese and some eggs and take off.
We all stay quiet and say nothing hoping that the Bailiff and his men have not noticed.
‘Thief,’ ‘Thief,’ shouts the red faced barge man.
Immediately, Bailiff Robinson and three of his men chase after them. They return the oats to the man but the eggs and cheese have already disappeared and as he waves his stick at them, he tells them it will be ‘the road or the work house’ for them if they steal again.
History: Famine Hero Reverend Henry Ferris who gave his life caring for Famine victims
Thomastown Harbour is home to the main Waterways Ireland Western Depot on the north bank and to Nanny Quinn’s Pub & Restaurant just 100 m from the south bank – check ahead for opening hours.
It is near the village of Killucan where the Church of Ireland Reverend Henry Ferris perished from typhus while caring for Famine victims in April, 1848. Henry Ferris was the curate of St. Etchen’s Church in Killucan, where he lies buried. On the base of a Celtic Cross which marks his grave is the inscription: “Loving Memory of / Henry Ferris / Died April 20 1848 / and / Maximiliana Sophia / His Wife”. An adjacent memorial stone reads: “Sacred/to/ The memory of / The Rev Henry Ferris / Curate / of the Parish of Killucan who departed this life / April 20th 1848 / Aged 45”.
The Reverend Ferris’s sacrifice is also commemorated in a handwritten poster inside the church which notes that he assumed his position as curate in 1840 and that he:
“Died in 1848 in typhus epidemic after nursing the village”.
During his life time, Henry Ferris was an esteemed author of Gothic fiction and ghost stories who contributed frequently (though under pseudonyms) to the Dublin University Magazine alongside fellow writers such Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and James Clarence Mangan (who also succumbed to disease during the Great Hunger).
Local historian Ruth Illingworth pays tribute to the Reverend Henry Ferris below:
Local historian Ruth Illingworth at the grave of the Reverend Henry Ferris in St Etchen’s Churchyard in Killucan, County Westmeath, where he gave his life caring for his parishioners in April, 1848.
UNSUNG HEROES of THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE
Some of the most significant heroes of the Great Famine were the Society of Friends or Quakers. Large numbers of Irish Quakers contributed their time, money and influence to alleviate the suffering of those around them. They set up a number of soup kitchens in distressed areas, saving thousands of people from starvation. Their kindness was renowned as was their lack of proselytising or the ‘changing faith’ requirement of other religious establishments, which led to the term ‘taking the soup’ or souperism.
Count Paul (Paweł) Edmund Strzelecki was a Polish humanitarian, who, as the main agent of the British Relief Association during the Great Famine, developed a visionary and exceptionally effective mode of assistance: feeding starving children directly through the schools. As a result of his efforts, approximately 200,000 children from all denominations were being fed and clad, many of whom would have otherwise perished from hunger and disease.
BISHOP MICHAEL POWER
The death of Bishop Michael Power in the fever shed of Toronto in 1847 provides a poignant reminder of how many clergy, religious, and lay persons put themselves in mortal danger to serve others. Toronto’s first bishop, he is a candidate for canonization as a martyr of charity.
THE GREY NUNS OF MONTREAL
The most detailed and evocative eye-witness accounts of the suffering of Irish famine emigrants in North America can be found in the annals of the Grey Nuns, or Sisters of Charity, who cared for them in the fever sheds of Montreal in 1847. Many of the Nuns lost their lives as they tended to ailing famine emigrants. Learn more and read their eye-witness accounts here.
ASENATH HATCH NICOLSON was an American vegan, social observer and philanthropist. She wrote at first hand about the Great Hunger in Ireland in the 1840s. She observed the famine as she distributed bibles, food, and clothing doing much to ease suffering. In 2019, Donnacha Dennehy’s opera The Hunger about her time spent in Ireland during the Famine was performed in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.
Also see John McKeown (Eastern Regional Manager, Waterways Ireland) on the National Famine Way along the Royal Canal:
Nanny Quinn’s Pub & Restaurant – check ahead for opening hours.