A new National Famine Way has been launched, following the footsteps of 1,490 emigrants who walked from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, to Dublin at the height of the famine in 1847.
The 165km trail, which mostly follows off-road paths along the Royal Canal, will be open year-round to walkers and cyclists, and is detailed in a new, downloadable OSI Trail Map.
As part of the initiative, a 14-page passport and guide is available to buy for €10, with 27 stage stamps that can be collected along the trail.
"The National Famine Way can be done by anyone, at any time, on foot or by bike," explained Caroilin Callery, of the Irish Heritage Trust and National Famine Museum, at the launch.
It traces the route taken by 1,490 people - known as the "Missing 1,490" - who left Strokestown in 1847 and walked to join "some of the worst coffin ships" travelling to Liverpool, and subsequently Quebec in Canada.
The walkers were tenants of local landlord Major Denis Mahon, who offered them the grim choice of emigration (through “assisted passage”), starvation on their blighted potato patch farms, or a place in the local workhouse.
A screenshot of the new National Famine Way OSI Trail Map
Only half of those who set-off from Roscommon ever made it to Quebec.
The 21st century trail is a collaboration between the National Famine Museum, the Irish Heritage Trust, Waterways Ireland, EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum and several County Councils along the route.
Between all parties, almost €3.5 million has been spent on the route over the past decade, from Royal Canal maintenance works to Greenway development, pathways, signage, markers, map and passport/guides.
After leaving Strokestown, walkers and cyclists "set off on a journey that takes you through some of the most unspoiled countryside in Ireland", said John O'Driscoll, General Manager of the National Famine Museum.
The initial 20km section to Clondra is along "quaint country road", Callery adds, but from there it joins the Royal Canal Greenway, with signposts and trailheads guiding walkers and cyclists through six counties.
As well as linking Ireland's Hidden heartlands and Ireland's Ancient East, the trail is topped and tailed by museums - the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, and EPIC and the Jeanie Johnston replica famine ship in Dublin.
Users can dip in and out as they like, but anyone picking up 27 stage stamps can collect a Camino-style "completion certificate" at the end from EPIC.
The passport/guide focuses on the walk of 12-year-old Daniel Tighe, who survived the terrifying transatlantic journey in 1847.
Vignettes reimagining Daniel’s journey were written by author Marita Conlon-McKenna, and are connected to markers featuring over thirty pairs of bronze children’s shoes along the route.
As well as its health and cultural impact, the project could provide an economic benefit of up to €2 million for local communities through bike hire and business for shops, cafés, bars and accommodation along the way, according to Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust.
"The trail has the potential to open up rural Ireland," she said.
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