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Professor Mark McGowan on Strokestown Coffin Ships

Exterior shot. Bearded man with greying hair, wearing a dark blue jacket with yellow stripes on sleeve, standing in front of memorial glass wall with inscriptions in white extending behind him diagonally to his left, along with a large grey brick wall. He speaks to camera.

Mark McGowan from St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, Canada. But here I am in County Roscommon in Ireland at Strokestown, and on the manorial estate of the Pakenham-Mahon family.

In the 1840s it was Denis Mahon,

Black and white image of seated man with dark, curly hair and dark eyes looking at viewer flashes up. He is wearing a three piece suit, a cravat, and a flower in his left breast pocket. Caption: “Major Denis Mahon, assassinated November 2nd, 1847” on screen below.

who was the landlord of a very large estate of close to 11,000 inhabitants, who became well known across Ireland and in the diaspora for assisting close to 1,490 people off his estate, boarding them on ferries from Dublin to Liverpool, and then bound to Quebec, Canada, on four ships out of Liverpool: the Virginius,the Erin’s Queen, the Naomi and the John Munn.

Now the Virginiusandthe Erin’s Queen left first, taking probably about half of the 271 families who are commemorated on the glass wall behind me.

The Virginius,which was one of the largest of the ships carrying most of the passengers, in fact was likened to “the Black Hole of Calcutta,” given the conditions on board ship.

By the time these 1,490 had crossed the Atlantic, close to about a third of them had died either at sea or in the quarantine station at Grosse Île in Quebec.

Each one of these families is marked by the head of the family on this wall, including some of the stories that emerge from this Famine period.

In theKilmacannenytownland, for example, the story of Thomas Brennan, who eventually dies at the hands of the Government for committing murders in the Niagara. You have the story of Patrick Cox from theCulliagh townland who is quarantined at GrosseÎle and then reunited with his family in Hamilton, now in Canada.

This is a tragic and a gripping story of people trying to seek out a new life in a new world fleeing the Famine. And the only testimony that we have for the most part today is this glass wall behind me.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.