Walking in the Footsteps of Over 2,500 Irish Emigrants – A Review of Dublin’s Famine Ship, the Jeanie Johnston
The Jeanie Johnston is a tall ship and famine ship that was docked in Ireland during the Irish famine. It made 16 successful voyages from the Emerald Isle to North America between 1848 and 1855 with – quite impressively – not one life lost.
Today, an exact replica of the Jeanie Johnston sits in Dublin on the Liffey River in the heart of the capital. It’s open as a living history museum to tourists and Irish nationals keen to gain further insight into Irish history seldom forgotten.
The Jeanie Johnston is a three-masted barque tall ship that was built in Quebec, Canada in 1847 by a Scottish-born shipbuilder named John Munn. The original intention for the 408-tonne vessel was to be a cargo ship.
It was purchased by John Donovan and Sons of Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland with the sole intention of cargo voyages. However, when the full wrath of the famine wreaked havoc on the Irish community, the ship’s course changed.
A new purpose, which introduced an emigration path between Ireland and North America, became the ship’s primary function. The ship would also return to Irish shores with collected timber for use in the European market which meant the voyages served a dual purpose.
The Jeanie Johnston set sail on her maiden voyage on 24 April 1848 from Blennerville, Co. Kerry headed for Quebec. It completed a total of 16 round-trips between then and 1855, with not one loss of life – an absolute triumph in a time which was ravaged with typhoid and cholera.
The distinguishing quality of the Jeanie Johnston – in comparison to the many other famine ships of her time – was the captain and doctor team who prioritised the health, dignity and wellbeing of its poverty-stricken passengers. And, although these seem like basic privileges in modern-day western culture, during the famine, these were truly compassionate qualities for people of power and education to exercise.
It is through the work of captain, James Attridge and doctor, Richard Blennerhassett who worked endlessly to ensure the passenger’s day-to-day wellbeing and safety, that allowed for 2,500 Irish emigrants to cross the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of the “New World”. In fact, even a child was safely and successfully brought into the world aboard this famine ship.
The replica cost a whopping 14 million euros and was designed by Fred Walker, a former Chief Naval Architect with the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.
The project was first conceived in the 1980s but did not come into action until 1993 and was not finished until 2002. It is one of Dublin’s leading tourist attractions today, offering a bridge between history learned and history lived.
Utterly engaging, the team behind the Jeanie Johnston experience enable visitors to be submerged in the past with an experiential tour of this momentous famine ship.
The 50-minute tour all takes place on the ship, starting on the main deck with a quick overview before venturing to the dimly lit passengers quarters below deck.
The passenger’s quarters is the primary site of the tour and acts as an immersive museum space, filled with replica bunk beds and wildly realistic poverty-stricken life-size figures.
Contrary to what it would have been like during a transatlantic voyage to the “New World” – when there would have been up to 254 passengers on board – the space is not particularly claustrophobic for those concerned about breathing room below deck.
An informative and unbiased account of the Irish famine, contributing factors and its impact on Irish cultural identity is offered by an engaging and well-informed tour guide before visitors are encouraged to explore the space. The beauty of this tour is it’s not all talk; guests can inspect bunks and the life-like passengers, their clothes and model luggage.
Value for Money
At €10.50 per adult, this short and snappy tour is truly worth the money. Great attention has gone into this replica famine ship and whether you’re a history buff, maritime enthusiast, tourist or local looking to get a little further insight into Irish history, this is for you.
Tours run daily, year round, and seniors and students are charged at only €9.50, children (up to 14) at only €6 and a family of four at only €26.
The Jeanie Johnston is definitely worth a visit when in Dublin. Dynamic and well-appointed tour guides only enhance the experience and are brimming with knowledge and passion on the subject, elevating the already memorable experience to surpass all expectations.