Irish Family History Specialists

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The National Famine Way

During the Great Famine in Ireland, many people had no choice but to go to workhouses when they ran out of food and money. These workhouses were set up earlier in the 19th century to provide for the poor. But as the Victorians did not believe in charity, people were given all kinds of jobs to do in return for meagre support. Also, families were split, rooms overcrowded and food scarce. They were places to avoid unless you had no other option.

The cost of running the workhouses was borne by those who did have funds: the landlords. When the number of people in the workhouses soared during the famine years, so did the cost. Some landlords found it was cheaper to assist their tenants in emigrating rather than paying towards the cost of the workhouse. And for those offered such assistance, emigration was considered a better option when compared to going into a workhouse.

So it was at the Strokestown estate, now home to the National Famine Museum. 1490 people set out by foot from Roscommon to Dublin for passage to the United States. Many did not make it.

The National Famine Way

The National Famine Way traces the footsteps of these famine emigrants. The trail provides a remarkable and poignant way to engage with their experience. It is a 165km way  walking and cycling trail. It starts at the memorial glass wall at Strokestown Park House and National Famine Museum and finishes at the “The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship” and EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands.

It brings the walker or cyclist through country lanes, villages, towns and Dublin city mostly along the banks of the Royal Canal. If you choose to do the trail, you can do the entire trail or only sections of it.  The route is marked by over 30 pairs of bronze children’s shoes.

These shoes are modelled on shoes discovered by a local farmer, in the roof of a ruined nineteenth-century cottage. He donated them to the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park.

According to local folklore, offerings in this manner were made  to invoke good luck.

The shoes symbolise the hope that our 1,490 emigrants had when they  embarked on their journey.  Two thirds of them were children.

Here is a link to the official website of the National Famine Way.



In 2024 the walk was preceded by the Canadian Wake evening event evoking the old tradition of an American wake before emigrants departed. This featured Marita Conlon-McKenna, author of the award-winning famine novel ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’.

This year the National Famine Way Commemorative Walk took place over six days from Monday 20th to Saturday 25th May 2024. Walkers were joined by schools, traditional musicians, entertainment and costumed enthusiasts. One of those participating was the Irish ambassador to Canada, Eamonn McKee.

The National Famine Way App

As you follow the 165km self-guided trail on foot or by bike, using the National Famine Way app, the stories of these poor and hungry people are brought to life through the character of young Daniel Tighe who walked among them as a 12-year-old boy.

At the height of the Great Famine in 1847, Mary Tighe was left a widow with five children to feed. In a desperate attempt to save her family, she availed of the ‘Assisted Emigration Scheme’ offered by Major Denis Mahon in Strokestown. She succeeded in her mission to save her family, but paid a high price. Mary Tighe, her brother, and three of her children, lost their lives on board the Ship Naomi that sailed from Liverpool to Quebec.

Daniel, aged twelve and his nine-year-old sister, Catherine were the only family members who survived the transatlantic voyage on the Naomi. Daniel himself recounted the horror of watching the bodies of his mother and brothers being thrown overboard and buried at sea.

Taken into the care of the Coulomb family in Lotbiniere,  Quebec, these two small children found themselves on a 168 acre farm, a world away from a half acre in Lisonuffy and a world away from everything they had ever known or loved.

Walkers can also purchase an official passport to get stamped along the route.

Education Pack

Suitable for 8+ years, curriculum supportive of History, Sese, Arts, Pe and Ethics.

You can download it here.