The Jeanie Johnston is a replica of a famine ship -- a three-masted barque that was used to transport emigrants from Ireland to Canada, from where the majority went on to the United States. She is moored off Custom House Quay, Dublin and shows visitors what her desperate passengers endured during their search for a new life in a different country.
What were Famine Ships?
The Jeannie Johnston was one of many famine ships that left Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine (1845 - 1952), when around one million people died of hunger and disease, and an additional million emigrated to escape the terrible conditions. The vessels were nicknamed coffin ships because so many of the Irish paupers who boarded them did not survive the journey to North America, which lasted anywhere between six weeks and three months, depending on the captain's skill and the weather conditions. The famine ships were crowded and rife with disease such as typhus and dysentery. Passengers, many of whom were already starving upon boarding, had little access to food or clean water. Around one-fifth of passengers did not reach their destination alive. According to some accounts, sharks trailed the ships, to feast on the corpses thrown overboard.
Why was the Jeanie Johnston Special?
Passengers aboard the Jeannie Johnston chose well, for they chose the only famine ship that never suffered any fatalities during her many voyages to Canada. That the Jeanie Johnston avoided the mortalities that plagued the other ships was attributed to three main factors:
- A well-planned design by John Munn, a master shipbuilder in Quebec, who made sure the cramped conditions of other famine ships were avoided
- An extremely capable and organized captain, James Attridge, who was meticulous in his care and direction and took care never to overload the ship
- Excellent medical care, under the supervision of the ship's physician James Blennerhassett, who kept disease at bay against all odds
The Original Ship
The maiden voyage of the original Jeanie Johnston departed from Blennerville, County Kerry on April 24, 1848 with almost 200 emigrants on board. The ship made 16 voyages to North America between 1848 and 1855, with no loss of life. On the maiden voyage to North America, a baby boy was safely born. Conditions were considered better than most, and this is evident at the onboard museum, which describes the living space occupied by the passengers in great detail. The original ship was owned by Tralee, County Kerry merchants John Donovan & Sons. The vessel traded between Tralee in County Kerry and Quebec in Canada, bringing emigrants to North America and taking timber back to Europe. In all, the ship is credited with saving over 2500 people from certain starvation in Ireland. In 1855, the ship was sold to William Johnston of England. On a trip to Quebec to deliver timber, the ship became waterlogged and sank. Once again, no one was lost -- all passengers were rescued.
The idea of a replica Jeanie Johnston was conceived to remind people of the darker parts of Irish history. The ship had become an icon of the devastation of the potato famine and also the symbol of hope for a new and better life in North America. The replica was designed by Fred Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. It took nine years to complete and was launched from Fenit on 6 May 2000. She now performs as an ocean-going, sail-training vessel at sea, and a museum depicting the historical 19th century emigration from Ireland when in port.
Visiting the Jeanie Johnston
The ship/museum is open daily and the tour takes under an hour. Visitors who make the walk to the docks of the River Liffey from Custom House Quay see the Famine sculpture with its sad, haunted, and gaunt figures of the emigrants, much like the passengers on the ship’s voyages.
Restaurant and Bar
The Jeanie Johnston also serves as an evening venue. The new Jeanie Johnston is reduced in size from the original by 30% and is only licensed to carry 40 people.