Fergal Hingerty receiving his certification of completion for the National Famine Way from Adriana Moreno dos Santos of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.

Hiker looks back on lockdown trek on National Famine Way

By Fergal Hingerty

The Covid lockdown was upon us… I was, like the rest of the population, limited to county boundaries - so what to do to keep active during that period.

Then I came across the website for the National Famine Way, from Strokestown House to Dublin docks, through the heart of Westmeath – a challenge walk of 165 kilometres, which follows the Royal Canal for most of the way.

That sounds interesting…

The trails start in Strokestown Park at the National Famine Museum and ends at the Famine statues in Dublin Docklands, close to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin.

The walk was created to follow the footsteps of the 1,490 tenants who were thrown off the land in Strokestown and had no choice but to walk to Dublin and get on a coffin ship to America or starve to death.

There are 30 small evocative statues along the trail to represent the tenants’ epic journey.

My challenge was a lot less daunting, though I decided to do it with a twist.

I would walk both ways by taking it as a linear walk, step by step.

First, via the National Famine way website, I ordered the National Famine Way passport.

The passport entitles you to a free cup of coffee or tea in various premises along the way.

It is stamped at those and other premises and at the end the passport is presented for a completion certificate.

As the lockdown was in force, I walked the Westmeath county part in six sections, firstly to the western county line at Abbeyshrule; later I walked from Mullingar to just short of the Hill of Down at the eastern county boundary.

After the lockdown lifted, a few friends joined me for the Abbeyshrule to Clondra section along the Royal Canal over a few walks.

Then I finished the final western section from Clondra via country backroads to Strokestown House.

Nearly halfway there; now for the final section from Hill of Down via Meath, Kildare, Fingal, and south Dublin to Dublin city proper.

I was joined on all of those sections by different friends, until eventually I reached Lock 12 at Castleknock.

There, the final leg awaited from the 12th lock down passing Croke Park and Mountjoy Jail to the docks and the epic Emigration Museum.

Two friends joined me in the rain and we reached the docks after a two-hour walk.

A short walk to the museum along the quay followed and there I got the certificate of completion.

It was 330 kilometres after starting and I was one of the few people to have done it both ways.

It involved passing the 30 evocative small statues of shoes, 46 locks, harbours, small towns and numerous historical and modern sights along the way.

Apart from the man-made sights, nature was also to the fore and there was a lot of flora and fauna on both sides of the canal to be enjoyed as well.

So should you decide to take on the National Famine Way, remember that no matter how hard you find it, you will find it easier that the 1,490 victims of the famine did… and as Confucious said, ‘Each journey, starts with just a simple step’.