The club sponsored a long awaited trip to visit the
replica ship which carried so many
Irish emigrants to the North East United States and Canada.
Stark choice… emigrate or starve
When disease hit the potato crop – the staple diet of the Irish people –
during consecutive seasons from 1845 to 1848, disaster struck. Every family in
the country was touched in one way or another.
For many people, it came down to a stark choice between risking the fearful
transatlantic voyage on an emigrant ship or remaining in Ireland to starve.
This is where the famed Jeanie Johnston entered the picture to dramatic
effect. A square-sterned, three-masted barque, constructed of Quebec oak and
pine, the 408 tonne ship was built in Quebec, Canada by noted Scottish-born
shipbuilder, John Munn in 1847.
A year later, the prominent Tralee, Co. Kerry hardware merchant, Nicholas
Donovan, purchased the ship in Liverpool and originally intended to use it on
the North Atlantic route as a cargo vessel.
New beginning for over
The dire circumstances of the starving Irish soon altered his plans and
the ship made its maiden voyage to Quebec on April 24, 1848, with 193 emigrants
on board who were searching for a new life as the effects of the Famine ravaged
Over the next seven years, the sturdy wooden sailing vessel made 16 heroic
voyages in all to North America, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore and New York. From
1848 – 1855, the ship carried over 2,500 Irish people across the Atlantic on the
first step in a brave new adventure.
In the process, the Jeanie Johnston accomplished a remarkable feat. Under the
direction of its kind-hearted owner, Nicholas Donovan, its caring captain,
Captain James Attridge and a highly experienced resident medical doctor, Dr.
Richard Blennerhassett, no lives were lost on board.
The "Jeanie Johnston" sailed triumphantly into Fenit Harbour, under the command of
Captain Tom McCarthy, at lunchtime on Thursday, two weeks after leaving St Johns,
Newfoundland and after enduring some very severe weather conditions on the way. Since leaving
Ireland in February the replica famine ship has travelled 12,000 miles, visited 21 ports in
North America, and received over 90,000 visitors. The success of the trip has led to optimistic
comments about the vessel's future. Hugh Friel, chairman of the Jeanie Johnston company, is
confident that new structures can be put in place to ensure the ship remains in Irish hands,
with a North-South dimension, providing sail training and promoting tourism.