The Hannah: An Irish Odyssey
The story of The Hannah, an Irish famine ship that hit an iceberg in 1849, is now a documentary. John Kernaghan explains how it happened and how Irish America played a part.
He said one account claimed that Shaw ordered the ship’s carpenter to nail down the hatch to the passengers’ quarters when the ship’s hull caved in. But the man refused, allowing people out on to the ice.
Sharon and Padraig met up with Jane and Paddy Murphy and their son Tom last spring. Paddy was by then too ill to travel. The party and filmmaking crew boarded a fishing vessel in Prince Edward Island and made their way to the site where the Hannah was caught in pack ice and her hull crushed.
At McKenna’s request, Tom Murphy ventured out on to the shifting ice tethered to the ship.
Tom knew the story, but nothing prepared him for the emotional wallop of trying to move on the ice as outgoing tides began to break it up.
“My leg went down to my knee in a hole, the ice was moving, and the ship was bobbing up and down. Then I got it, the truth of the story. My relatives had been on this in the dark for many hours with little clothing. It just overwhelmed me.”
On the fishing boat, Jane watched her son struggling with his footing and connected emotionally with John and Bridget Murphy, who saw two of their four children fade into the night on a patch of ice.
Meanwhile, Alun Evans said it was eerie that the sea that day was similar to what William Marshall recalled in his memoirs.
“If on the 30th of April, 1849 [and the day after], even normal conditions had occurred, let alone the stormy weather that had prevailed for several days before, surely others would have drawn closer to death or even died aboard,” Evans said.
“But as it was, the weather had become dead calm, as Marshall indicates. Without the about turn in wind direction that had pushed the Nicaragua out of the treacherous ice at dawn, and then the stilling of the sea for the next couple of days, many more people surely would have perished.”
Evans says Marshall was a born-again Christian of his time and felt God’s hand at work in the rescue.
Jane Murphy said there was certainly something mystical in all the connections made over time to make the documentary possible, including the Irish America link in the chain of events.
The blessing for her family was that Paddy got to see the documentary made.
“I think he wanted this legacy for his children, so that the story would carry on.”
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