Great Famine Voices

The Great Famine Voices project brings together Irish emigrants, their descendants, and members of their communities to share family memories and stories.

In doing so, it is creating a poignant record of those who came from Ireland to North America and Great Britain, especially during the period of the Great Hunger but also in the years that followed.

The Great Famine Voices Roadshow is inspired by the search for the 1,490 former tenants who were forced to emigrate to North America from the estate of Major Denis Mahon at Strokestown Park, now the site of the National Famine Museum, at the height of the Great Famine in 1847. It was cheaper for their landlord to pay for their emigration to Canada (via Liverpool) than it was to keep them in the Roscommon poorhouse. Only about a third of them survived traumatic journeys to build new lives in the UK and North America.

The Great Famine Voices Roadshow is an ambitious project that is building a detailed picture of memories and stories about the Irish emigrant experience that are at risk of being lost. The 2022 Roadshow was funded by the Government of Ireland Emigrant Support Programme.

What is the Great Famine Voices Roadshow?

The roadshow brings together people from across Ireland, the UK, and North America through open house events, online events and short films.

Participants share in poignant and uplifting conversations about the experience of leaving Ireland and putting down new roots.

At the National Famine Commemoration Day, May 2022 (left to right): Great Famine Voices members Declan O’Rourke, Professor Mark McGowan, (University of Toronto) An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Dr Jason King (Irish Heritage Trust).

Stories from the Great Famine Voices Roadshow

Watch stories from the roadshow to connect with famine emigrants and their legacies at the Great Famine Voices Website and below.

The Famine Irish in Liverpool from the Strokestown Park Estate in 1847

The Famine Irish in Liverpool from the Strokestown Park Estate in 1847 (18:02) tells the story of the former tenants who were assisted to emigrate and of their experiences in Liverpool, the main port of embarkation for the trans-Atlantic crossing.

Following in the Footsteps of Strokestown’s Famine Emigrants

In Following in the Footsteps of Strokestown’s Famine Emigrants (48:53), Professor Mark McGowan tracks their journey from the Strokestown Park House estate in 1847 along the National Famine Way walking trail on the banks of the Royal Canal to Dublin, and then on to Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site and the Niagara region in Canada.

Tracing Strokestown Famine Emigrants on the Welland Canal

In Tracing Strokestown Famine Emigrants on the Welland Canal (33:58), Professor Mark McGowan uses newly discovered correspondence from the Strokestown Park Famine Archive between the landlord Major Denis Mahon and his agent John Ross Mahon to explain how the 1,490 emigration scheme was planned to resettle former tenants in Canada’s Niagara region.

Strokestown Famine Orphans in Quebec and New York

Strokestown Famine Orphans in Quebec and New York (35:14) recalls the harrowing journeys of children from rural Roscommon such as Edward Neary, Patrick and Thomas Quinn, and Daniel and Catherine Tighe who crossed the Atlantic in some of the worst coffin ships in 1847 to start new lives in Canada and the United States. Their sorrowful voyages are recounted by their descendants.

The Story of the Choctaw Gift

The Story of the Choctaw Gift (28:40) features a musical performance of The Gift in the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park that pays tribute to the indigenous Choctaw people for their contribution to Irish Famine relief in 1847 shortly after they were expelled from their homeland and forced to embark on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

Ireland’s Great Hunger and the Irish Diaspora

Ireland’s Great Hunger and the Irish Diaspora (50:09) explores the historical and socio-political circumstances leading to potato failure, mass starvation and death in Ireland, 1847-52. Narrated by actor Gabriel Byrne, the film includes famine scholars, descendants of famine survivors, emigrants to Quebec, and “Earl Grey” orphan women who emigrated to Australia.
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