Many of you will have heard of the famine ships that sailed between
Ireland and America and Canada in the
19th century. You will have heard tales of the dreadful state of many
of these ships many of which
floundered in the crossings. Many of you reading this will have had Irish
ancestors who came to America in the early, mid and late 19th century
before the metal hull liners and steam propulsion arrived.
Some of you claiming
Scots - Irish ancestory would have ancestors who sailed to America
in similar vessels in the
18th century. All were small vessels. The journey was always dangerous.
Like every mode of transport there were good and very bad quality ships. Many would have been used in the N. Atlantic wood and coal trade bringing these materials back to Ireland and in return they could be utilised as human cargo carriers. They simply fitted box like structures in the tween decks to accommodate the passengers and supplied them with a minimum of food and water for the journey.
Around 2000 it was decided by a consortium in the Co. Kerry area to reconstruct one of the much better class of vessel which had been originally built in Quebec and which sailed between Tralee Co. Kerry and the American east coast and Quebec. The original ship never lost a passenger either to the sea or to sickness quite a staggering achievement in the mid 19th century. This vessel was the Jeanie Johnston. A replica was built but had to comply with modern safety standards with radar satellite navigation etc. and allowed to do the journey to America and Canada and back which she did very successfully in 2003, calling at many east coast ports and into Canada and the Great Lakes.
I have followed the progress of the building of this fine vessel from the early days of its construction at Blennerville close to Tralee Co. Kerry in 2000 to its fitting out at Fenit Co. Kerry to its visit to Belfast in January 2003. Here are a few snapshots I have taken of the vessel during this period of construction. One good aspect about the construction of this vessel was young people from both aspirations from N. Ireland and those from the Republic of Ireland took part in the construction of the vessel and in the voyage to America and back.
Looking at the images below will give the viewer a feel of the small size of these vessels and the cramped quarters. Many of these vessels would probably take as many passengers as say a mid range passenger jet and we know how comfortable that is!. Couple this with six or seven weeks in the N. Atlantic in late autumn or winter.
The map above shows the town of Tralee and the small villages of Blennerville and Fenit on Tralee Bay mentioned on the Internet Jeanie Johnston website and in comments below. The bay is named Tralee bay after the town of Tralee. The county is Kerry. When the Jeanie Johnston sailed from the pier at Blennerville circa 1847 she would immediately sail out into the N.Atlantic and off to the "The Shores of Amerikay" a long and dangerous voyage of perhaps seven weeks. When she sailed in mid February 2003 she took the southern route via the Canary Isles and then westward across to the West Indies and then up the American east coast. .
This is the old original pier at Blennerville close to Tralee Co.Kerry where the original ship would have sailed from in Famine times circa 1847. This would be the last point of contact of emigrants with their homeland. Few would ever return. Many made good in the opening up United States, many would stay on its East coast, many would travel to the mid West and indeed the West coast, many would find work on the railways as they moved West, many would find their way south to Mexico as the railways opened to the south. Many would find their way to Argentina where their descendants still live, speak Spanish and still celebrate St. Patricks Day. Many would lay down their lives in the American Civil War fighting as so many Irish did for both the Union and Confederate Armies. Some old soldiers found their way into the Mexican army as the legion San Patricios. Many also failed.
The completed hull of the Jeanie Johnston was moved by multi-wheeled low loader on to this submersible floating barge at Blennerville and then barge towed downstream to Fenit where the masts, rigging and completion was carried out. Later in Cork the final sea trials and certification were carried out.
Many of us complain of discomfort of sitting for 6 or 7 hours flying the N. Atlantic.The above shows the cramped sleeping quarters of the Jeanie Johnston in which emigrants lived for perhaps six or seven weeks. At times some 180 emigrants would be billeted in the cramped quarters below deck and in bad weather had to stay below and live, cook and survive in what would be squalor conditions. This ship was perhaps one of the better vessels in the emigrant trade at the time others would be as described "coffin ships". Numerous ships floundered, thousands of crew and passengers would die from the conditions aboard and disease.
The above image of the vessel on preliminary seas trails prior to her departure for the United States and Canada in early 2003.The trip ended in Nov. and was a massive success. Vessel returned to her home port of Fenit Co.Kerry. On both the outward and return voyages the vessel had to sail through very bad Atlantic storms and handled very well. The Atlantic storm is a fearsome beast!.