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October 05, 2006

Reminders of the past ...

Given my interest in ships and in sailing ships in particular, the discovery, during my recent trip to Dublin, that the Jeannie Johnson was moored in the Liffey, made a visit to her an essential! Unfortunately she is not open to the public so I had to content myself with viewing her from the embankment. She is a replica of one of the infamous "famine" ships - the emigrant transports which shipped the starving away to America during the potato famine in the 1840's. Near her berth stands another reminder of this terrible human tragedy in the form of emaciated figures staring hopelessly topwards the vessel as she lies moored.

The beautiful Jeannie Johnson at her berth in the Liffey.

The monument to the starving emigrants of the potao famine years. Poignant and desperately moving.

The modern ship is no hell hole - she is in fact the Irish Nation's sail training ship and a beautiful example of a small "tall ship" in her own right. That said, when you stand alongside her and realise that she was one of the larger craft used for this desperate escape from poverty and hunger, the full sense of the desperation to which the emigrants had been driven becomes very much more apparent. It is sometimes estimated that fully a third of those who embarked on these ships died on passage - a witness to the appalling conditions they were prepared to accept in their bid to escape and to the terrible condition they were in when they set out.

The tragedy of the Potato Famine was probably a natural disaster waiting to happen in one sense, but was made infinitely worse by the incompetence and ignorance of Whitehall and the bureaucrats lodged in Dublin Castle. On the latter head, one has to acknowledge that they knew what was happening, but were reluctant to admit to Whitehall that the entire economy of Ireland was on the point of collapse as a result. In Whitehall, they had an inkling of what was happening, but were desperately trying to justify holding the price of home grown wheat as high as possible by means of a set of laws which prohibited the import of certain produce - which could have relieved the famine!

The resulting tragedy must therefore be laid at the feet of job's worth bureaucrats and self interested politicans who would have done well to recall the words of the Reverend Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels and Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

"It is the error of many to mistake the echo of the London Coffee House for the voice of the nation."

The tragedy of the potato famine, and quite possibly the violent birth of the Irish Nation could, perhaps, have been avoided if the politicians and bureaucrats had listened less to the voice of London and more to the real voice of the nation - the population who live outside of the capital!

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 5, 2006 04:23 PM

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She's a beauty indeed - Jeannie Johnson! How many passengers would she have taken on in the days of the famine?

Posted by: Mausi at October 5, 2006 07:00 PM

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