seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Londonderry Tragedy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most tragic events of the Great Famine occurs on December 1, 1848 when 72 people suffocate in the small aft cabin of the paddle steamer Londonderry, which often sails between Sligo and Liverpool.

One hundred seventy-two men, women, and children, mostly impoverished farmers from County Mayo and County Sligo, and their families, fleeing the ravages of the Great Famine, board the Londonderry in Sligo in late November. As the steamer is approaching Derry on the first leg of its journey to England, a sudden storm prompts Captain Alexander Johnstone to order his crew to force all the passengers into a small aft cabin, measuring about eighteen feet in length and, at most, twelve feet wide. The situation is exacerbated when the only ventilation available is covered with a tarpaulin to ensure that water does not get into the cabin. As a result, many of the passengers begin to suffocate.

The captain seeks refuge from the storm in the harbour at Derry on December 1. When the hatches of the Londonderry are opened it reveals a horrific scene. The corpses of 31 women, 23 men and 18 children are found in the grossly overcrowded hold. Soldiers are called to the docks as public rage intensifies. The public outcry that follows belatedly forces the British government to publish guidelines for the safe transport of Irish Immigrants, too late unfortunately for the victims of the coffin ship Londonderry.

After the tragic voyage, the master and two mates are arrested. During an inquest, survivors accuse the Scottish crew of being cruel and savage. The captain says that he had given orders for the decks to be cleared for the passengers’ safety while the storm raged.

The coroner’s jury returns a verdict of manslaughter, commenting that more consideration was shown to the cattle than the passengers entrusted to their care.

In 1996 six coffins are found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry, in grounds close to the former workhouse. They are believed to be the remains of some of the poverty-stricken travelers from the ill-fated paddle steamer.

(Pictured: The Great Hunger Plaque, Derry, near Derry County Borough, Derry, Clooney Park, Creggan and Boom Hall)

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The Forest of Dunbrody

forest-of-dunbrodyIn tribute to emigrants who sailed to the New World on coffin ships, Coillte, a state-sponsored company in Ireland, announces on October 29, 1998 plans for the establishment of a forest plantation, the Forest of Dunbrody, on the outskirts of New Ross, County Wexford. The public, and particularly Irish Americans, are invited to buy a tree in the name of their loved ones. A total of 25,000 trees are planted, comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir.

The purpose of the plantation is to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the Famine emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s. The ship, which weighs 458 tonnes, is the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, the inspiration of the JFK Trust.

The ship is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody which operated out of New Ross, in all but its electrical and navigational equipment. It immediately proves to be a tourist attraction with over 30,000 visitors witnessing the traditional skills of 19th-century shipbuilding being carried out by a team of 30 trainees of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), the Irish National Training and Employment Authority, and an international team of shipwrights.

One of the trainee shipwrights, James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Grennan is also one of the crew of the Dunbrody.

Coillte, which had up to this point already sponsored much of the timber for the project, decides to establish a plantation of the same name as the ship after members of the building crew express an interest and as a demonstration of wood as a renewable resource.

After years of tireless effort the Dunbrody is finally ready to launch. Early on the morning of February 11, 2001 the gates of the dry dock are opened and the Dunbrody floats to her lines, ready to take her pace at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony is attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former United States Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.


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The Jeanie Johnston Begins 4-Month Voyage Around Ireland

jeanie-johnstonThe Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a three-masted barque that was originally built in 1847 in Quebec, Canada, by the Scottish-born shipbuilder John Munn, begins a four-month voyage around Ireland on June 9, 2004.

The original Jeanie Johnston makes her maiden emigrant voyage on April 24, 1848, from Blennerville, County Kerry to Quebec with 193 emigrants on board who are fleeing the effects of the Great Famine that is ravaging Ireland. Between 1848 and 1855, the Jeanie Johnston makes sixteen voyages to North America, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore, and New York. Ships that transport emigrants out of Ireland during this period become known as “famine ships” or “coffin ships.”

The project to build a replica is conceived in the late 1980s, but does not become a reality until November 1993 when a feasibility study is completed. In May 1995, The Jeanie Johnston (Ireland) Company Ltd. is incorporated. The ship is designed by Fred Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

The original plans are to launch the ship from her shipyard in Blennerville, but a 19th-century shipwreck is discovered by marine archaeologists while a channel is being dredged. To preserve the find, on April 19, 2000 the hull of the Jeanie Johnston is hauled to the shore and loaded onto a shallow-draft barge. There she is fitted with masts and sails, and on May 4 is transported to Fenit, a short distance away. On May 6 the barge is submerged and the Jeanie Johnston takes to the water for the first time. The next day she is officially christened by President Mary McAleese.

In 2003, the replica Jeanie Johnston sails from Tralee to Canada and the United States visiting 32 U.S. and Canadian cities and attracting over 100,000 visitors.

The replica is currently owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority who bought it in 2005 for a reported 2.7 million Euro, which were used to clear outstanding loans on the vessel guaranteed by Tralee Town Council and Kerry County Council. It is docked at Custom House Quay in the centre of Dublin.