The 'Jennie Johnson' docked this week in Galway Harbour. A replica of a 19th century sailing ship, she is truly a thing of beauty. With majestic masts & sails dominating the skyline, ornately carved metal fittings gleaming in the sun & a hull gently creaking as its lolls in the water, one could almost imagine the ship's Victorian-era crew happily singing a sea shanty in unison as they unfurled its rigging.
However this stunning creature is a representation of something much more sinister from one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.
The Jennie Johnson is a replica of the infamous 'coffin ships' that transported hundreds of thousands of starving Irish to the shores of America during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Thousands died in the Atlantic crossings as a result of the unsanitary conditions on the ships. Unscrupulous ship owners decided to make a killing out of the desperate peasants that poured into the ports of Ireland seeking escape from a famine that left one million dead. Once they paid their fare, the passengers were squeezed into cramped holds, given subsistence in the form of rotting food & contaminated water and provided with little if any onboard medical assistance. Dysentery and typhus killed many while others drowned as overcrowded ships capsized in the violent oceanic storms. The transatlantic voyages normally took 3 months to complete. Sadly too many emigrants never had a chance to fulfil the dream of a life in the United States or Canada as they were tossed overboard to a watery grave.