How a Famine Ship in Ireland symbolizes the challenges and perseverance of the Irish.

The Irish are no strangers to impossible challenges. This pandemic is taking its toll, but so did the Famine. And the Irish had the fortitude to face difficult decisions and find a future. The Dunbrody was one of the ships that took those fleeing the famine to new lives.

(Erin Meehan Breen)

(Erin Meehan Breen)

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They were known as coffin ships, because the conditions aboard them were awful and the death rates at sea were high. But millions of Irish took the journey knowing it was one of few options to survive. And the Dunbrody had a good record of delivering its passengers to North America.

Originally built to carry cargo, she was immediately re-tooled to carry an already weakened generation willing to brave the elements and the odds. Challenges were everywhere, from stocking provisions to survive the journey, to avoiding disease, to sleeping. You see, bunks lined the area below deck and every inch was spoken for.

“You paid full fare for each adult,” explains Thomas Connolly who is one of the tour guides aboard the Dunbrody, docked in New Ross. “Teenagers paid only half fare, received only half rations and half the space, 6 feet by 8 inches and children were free. So you could easily put two adults, two teenagers and 3 or 4 children in each bunk. And that is just what families did.”

(Erin Meehan Breen)

(Erin Meehan Breen)

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While at sea, they shared toilets five or six to a pot, Connolly adds. And if the weather was bad the hatches were locked so there was no emptying of those pots until the weather improved.

Typhus, cholera, and rats were rampant. Those lost to disease were buried at sea. Those who made it, now make up an Irish diaspora that stretches around the world.

You can hear that history from reenactors aboard the Dunbrody explaining why they braved the odds and what makes the Irish so strong, in Episode 40 of Erin’s Isle, which you can listen to here.

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