Participants in the National Famine Way Commemorative Walk leaving from Piper's Boreen, Mullingar, on Thursday morning, accompanied by children from All Saints NS and local hikers.

Canal trek marks launch of Global Irish Famine Way

National Famine Way Commemorative Walk

Those doing the National Famine Way Commemorative Walk had already walked the 27km from Abbeyshrule when they arrived in Mullingar last Wednesday evening, and they were back on the canal path early on Thursday to continue their journey.

The Commemorative Walk is taking place over six days, till Saturday 25 May, led by the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Eamonn McKee, and representatives of the Liverpool Irish Famine Trail to mark the launch of the Global Irish Famine Way.

The Commemorative Walk route is free, accessible and open to everyone in the six counties it passes through to join in.

Starting at the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park in Roscommon, it follows the National Famine Way™ for 165km to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in the Dublin Docklands.

The walk began with a dramatic re-enactment of the events in 1847 which prompted the foundation of the trail including traditional musicians, school children and walkers dressed in famine costume. Members of the Tighe family, whose ancestors were evicted, read the names of the 1,490 tenants forced to leave their homes in Strokestown, march to Dublin and emigrate to Canada on the worst of the infamous coffin ships.

Only half of the emigrants survived. Their names are etched on a commemorative glass wall outside the National Famine Museum.

The National Famine Way traverses six counties and each staged commemorative events as the walkers passed through.

The National Famine Way is a collaboration between Waterways Ireland, the Irish Heritage Trust and the county councils along the route. The local authorities involved are Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Meath, Kildare, Fingal, and Dublin.

The symbol of the National Famine Way is a pair of children’s shoes displayed at the National Famine Museum, and the trail is waymarked by bronze replicas crafted by artist Alannah O’Kelly as a reminder of the journey the 1,490 souls made.

Ambassador McKee, the Liverpool Irish Famine Way walkers and children from local schools – including All Saints NS in Mullingar, will carry a symbolic pair as they make this evocative pilgrimage.

Caroilín Callery, represeting the National Famine Way, told the Westmeath Examiner on Thursday morning that she was doing the walk for the fifth time and “it is always a thought provoking and enriching experience”.

“This time it is all the more special as it being led by the visionary Ambassador Eamonn McKee, who has been a driving force behind the development into the Global Irish Famine Way.

“Our emigrants did not stop in the Quays in Dublin – their journeys spread around the world and it is only fitting to tell the second part of their stories as they carved out new lives on foreign shores and had worldwide influence over the decades and centuries to follow, which is still being felt worldwide today.

“And we can see and feel that in the huge interest and warm welcome the Bronze Shoes have received already in this inaugural phase.”

Global Irish Famine Way

The official launch of the Global Irish Famine Way was at EPIC when the walkers arrived on Saturday. It is an extension of the National Famine Way and will be the largest heritage trail in the world. It will eventually follow the journeys of all the Irish Famine emigrants around the world, including the UK, Canada, the United States, South Africa, and Australia.

The Bronze Shoes that mark the National Famine Way will also mark each significant location on the Global Irish Famine Way. It begins in 2024 with Canada and the UK (Liverpool).

Fifteen locations have already been secured in Canada including Grosse Île, St John’s Newfoundland, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa. Toronto, Niagara, Saint John Partridge Island, Saint Colomban and Hamilton.

The first pair of shoes destined for Liverpool will be carried on the Commemorative Walk and then on to Liverpool on ‘The Walk of the Bronze Shoes’. The Liverpool walkers will escort the bronze shoes by ferry to Holyhead; by road to Birkenhead and by ferry to Mersey Ports. From there, they’ll walk the shoes to Clarence Dock, where 1.3m Irish Famine poor were transported into Liverpool during An Gorta Mór.

The group will carry the shoes to the Irish Famine Memorial at St Luke’s Church. Church.

Organisers hope that the National Famine Way Commemorative Walk will become an annual event following National Famine Commemoration Day (Sunday May 19 this year).

The National Famine Way is open to walkers at any time and the route and associated stories can be followed through a free app. Walkers can also purchase an official passport to get stamped along the route.