The story of Ireland is, in many ways, a story of continuous migration. Many disparate groups came to Ireland over the millennia, each one leaving their mark on the character of the island. Early Stone-age settlers came, and were followed by the Iron-age Celts. Viking traders founded the first towns in Ireland. Christian missionaries built the first monasteries. The Normans came from France via England and Wales. They built stone castles and European style market towns. Later the Plantation of Ulster brought Scottish and English settlers.
These were the arrivals, but the departures are equally notable. For more than fifteen hundred years the Irish have travelled far and wide, as Missionaries, Mercenaries, and Exiles. The Irish spread religion and learning in dark-age Europe. They fought in continental wars, and they sought refuge from political repression in Spain and France.
The 19th century brought much hardship and strife to Ireland. The oppression of a disenfranchised majority inspired political conflict, and a burgeoning civil rights movement. In 1845 potato blight killed the staple crop of the Irish tenant farmers. This economic blow was exacerbated by the disinterest, and outright hostility, towards Ireland of British politicians. Due to the inaction of Westminster, The Great Hunger ensued. Within seven years, 1 million people had died and 2 million had emigrated. A new pattern of mass emigration was in place, and would continue for a century and a half.
In 1998, Coillte established a forest plantation outside New Ross, Co Wexford to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the ‘Coffin’ emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s.
The ship, weighs 458 tonnes, was the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, and the inspiration of the JFK Trust. Early on the morning of 11 February 2001 the gates of the dry-dock gates were opened and the Dunbrody floated to her lines, ready to take her place at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony was honoured by the attendance of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former US Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.
The ‘Forest of Dunbrody’, gives the public the opportunity to purchase a tree and have it planted in their name on the site. It also provides vital funding for the overall Dunbrody project.
Comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir have been planted.
In November 1996 the JFK Trust began construction of the Dunbrody. Based on the design of the original, plans for the replica were drafted by the renowned naval architect Colin Mudie. A half-dozen experience shipwrights were engaged to supervise the project, headed by Michael Kennedy. With the support of FAS (the Irish National Training and Employment Authority), a workforce of apprentice shipwrights and trainee carpenters was assembled. Over the course of the five-year construction project more than 150 local people would gain hands-on experience of traditional shipbuilding skills.
One of the trainee shipwrights, Mr James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
The cost of having a tree registered in one’s name is £10 and information may be obtained from the JFK Trust.
Photo: The Dunbrody ‘Coffin’ Ship