Strokestown and Liverpool have a deep-rooted, historic connection.
We also have shared friendships and peers. In this article, we share a connection through history and a contemporary poet -Cherry Smyth- leading to an interesting film (below).
Strokestown’s relationship with the Irish Famine
In 1847, estate owner Major Denis Mahon sent 1,490 estate dwellers on foot to Dublin. There, they would catch boats to Liverpool for an onward journey to Canada, taking up residence in the British colonies there. This decision catalysed a 165km walk for the 1,490 (including many children), followed by a torrid sea crossing, resulting in many deaths… not just through hunger and exhaustion, but also the murder of Major Mahon.
In April 2023 -as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival‘s research for the development of the Liverpool Irish Famine Trail- History Research Group leader, John Maguire, and (Festival Director) Emma Smith paid a visit to National Famine Museum: Strokestown Park. There they met team members, walked parts of the National Famine Way and made connections between sites. This followed trips to EPIC (Dublin), as well as the Irish Famine Memorial, there.
At Strokestown, John and Emma met with National Famine Museum: Strokestown Park and National Famine Way founder Jim Callery, Director Caroilin Callery, archivist Martin Fagan and Irish Heritage Trust‘s Jason King. There, they learned about the changing fortunes of the landed classes, in 1800s Ireland, and the abject poverty many Irish people were kept in under tenantry rulings. They learned about
- turf -or fourth tier- housing
- debt caused by the 1846 potato blight
- the ‘opportunities’ presented to debtors by land-lords and estate managers, who’s enforced farming demands exacerbated issues when the blight hit.
Liverpool’s relationship with Strokestown
Our ongoing research will consider how Liverpool’s ‘Robinson Brothers’ brokered passage for Major Mahon’s tenantry, in meetings at the Adelphi Hotel. We’ll consider the four known ships transporting the 1,490 and a potential fifth ship. We’ll scrutinise passenger lists to further identify any names of the 1,490 (including children who normally went under the name of the ‘tenant’) and try to find if any of the 1,490 stayed in Liverpool or confirm their onward journey to Canada. In this way
- we share information
- build communal, historical knowledge
- help to tell the story of Liverpool’s involvement in one of many mass-movements.
In October 2022, Liverpool Irish Festival presented Cherry Smyth’s work Famished. A long-form poem, it details audits of communities -and individual struggles- during An Gorta Mór (‘The Great Famine’). Collectively, the poem demonstrates the lack of provisions, possessions and preparations those in-need had to combat the challenges they faced. These accounts are counterpointed by quotes from ‘influencers’ of the time. Poignantly, they show how far-removed humanity was from the frontline of the Famine. Such quote highlight the class issues that divided (mainly) English landowners (of Irish land) from Irish land-workers.
It was a powerful event. Ed Bennet’s musical landscape provided an exceptional backdrop for Cherry’s methodical, lilting presentation of the poem. We hope to welcome Cherry back to future festivals with work such as If the River is Hidden (Epoque Press, 2022).
Since that trip, Irish Heritage Trust -who assist in conducting and preserving research at Strokestown- have worked with Cherry. Together they have created an impressive film, incorporating Strokestown’s story with Cherry’s poem. We’re pleased to present the film here, in support of the work of Strokestown Park and the National Famine Way. Doing so forms part of our ongoing commitment to Great Famine Voices. Additionally, it shares information to those interested in the Liverpool Irish Famine Trail. Cherry’s work, in particular, helps us understand the backdrop of An Gorta Mór from the position of the displaced. Strokestown’s specific story of an estate owner, his estate manager and the financial decisions made, illuminate similar stories across Ireland.
Image credit, above: Wax protoype of shoes, wrapped in bindings, found at Strokestown. This has become the symbol of the National Famine Way (c) E Smith 2023.
- National Famine Museum: Strokestown Park: https://strokestownpark.ie/national-famine-museum/
- Strokestown Park: https://strokestownpark.ie/
- National Famine Way: https://nationalfamineway.ie/
- Irish Heritage Trust: https://irishheritagetrust.ie/
- Cherry Smyth’s Famished: http://www.cherrysmyth.com/famished.htm
- Cherry Smyth and Craig Jordan-Baker’s If the River is Hidden: https://www.epoquepress.com/titles-if-the-river-is-hidden
- Liverpool Irish Famine Trail: https://www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/engage/liverpool-irish-famine-trail/
- There are two RTÉ documentaries on Strokestown, available here (https://www.rte.ie/player/series/an-tsl%C3%AD/SI0000011955?epguid=IH000410133) and here (https://www.rte.ie/player/series/an-tsl%C3%AD/SI0000011955?epguid=IH000410134)
- 2020’s Great Famine Voices Liverpool Irish Festival connected films can be found here: https://www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/events/gfvr/
Liverpool Irish Festival would like to acknowledge the support received from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in progressing work on the Liverpool Irish Famine Trail. We also thank the Consulate General for the North, representing the Irish Embassy, for their support of this research trip and our History Research Group.