The National Famine Walk makes its way towards Brannigan Harbour in Ballymahon
County Longford welcomed the third biannual National Famine Walk 2019 last weekend, to mark the launch of the National Famine Way, which formally opened at a ceremony in Dublin on Thursday May 30 last.
The trail, nicknamed, ‘the Famino’, is a waymarked walking route, accredited by Sports Ireland, linking The National Famine Museum in Strokestown with the National Famine Memorial on the North Docks in Dublin, following the Royal Canal from its terminus at Richmond Harbour, Clondra.
“The National Famine Way is part of an ambitious outreach programme from the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, which brings the story of the Great Famine out from behind the museum walls and aims to reconnect people with their history in an innovative way from west to east – from Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands to Ireland’s Ancient East”, said Caroilin Callery of the Irish Heritage Trust and Strokestown Park & the National Famine Museum.
The walking route follows the path of 1,490 tenants of the Stokestown Park estate, then owned by landlord Denis Mahon, as they made their way from Roscommon to Canada, as part of an assisted emigration scheme at the height of the Great Famine.
The emigrants are remembered by 31 sculptures of shoes, at points along the route, and connect with an app on nationalfamineway.ie, where the stories of the 1490 are brought to life, with a different story being told at each marker.
The walkers set off from Stokestown Park on the morning of Saturday, May 25, in period costume, arriving at Richmond Harbour, Clondra that afternoon, where they gathered at the memorial that was unveiled by President Michael D Higgins in 2017, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Royal Canal.
Norman Goode of the Royal Canal Amenity Group welcomed the walkers and gave a talk on the Royal Canal in the Famine period.
On Sunday, the group was bolstered by the Longford Ramblers and Hikers walking group, and made their way to Abbeyshrule, making stops at Mosstown Harbour and Ballybrannigan Harbour.
On Monday the 27th, schoolchildren from Colehill NS and members of the local community, joined outgoing Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, Cllr Luie McEntire, Cllr Mick Cahill, CEO of Longford County Council, Paddy Mahon, Senior Planner Donall Mac An Bheatha, and Heritage Officer, Máiréad Ní Chonghaile, at the newly-erected waymarker at Abbeyshrule Harbour.
There, Caroilin talked about the National Famine Way and spoke movingly about the hardships endured by men, women and children as a result of the crisis.
She read a piece inspired by the story of 12-year-old Daniel Tighe, interpreting what the young boy would have seen in Abbeyshrule, on his way to a new life in Canada.
Outgoing Cathaoirleach, Cllr Luie McEntire congratulated those involved with the National Famine Way on their success in achieving the Sports Ireland accreditation for the trail.
He also thanked them for “bringing us all back in many, many years of history… it’s hair-raising what you have told us”.
He noted the similarities between the stories of those who fled the Great Famine, to those escaping extreme hardship around the world today.
The officials from Longford County Council then led the group through Abbeyshrule and accompanied the walkers over the Whitworth Aqueduct to the border with Co Westmeath, in memory of those from Co Longford who fled starvation and disease during the Famine.
The project was supported in County Longford by a number of organisations, including Longford County Council and Waterways Ireland.
There are six Famine Shoes markers in the county, located at Richmond Harbour Clondra, Aghnaskea, Mosstown Harbour, Ballybrannigan Harbour, Abbeyshrule and the Whitworth Aqueduct.
County Archivist, Martin Morris, provided historical information relating to Co Longford and the famine for each of these points.
This information will be available to view on the nationalfamineway.ie.
Images and video from the Longford section are available to view via @longfordheritagearchives and @strokestownpark on Facebook.