Jeanie Johnston
jeanie johnston tall ship and famine museum dublin 3

The Jeanie Johnston tells the story of the thousands of Irish people who fled the Famine and embarked on a treacherous voyage in the hope of a better life in North America. Step on board and be transported back in time, joining them on their gruelling journey across the ocean.

The original Jeanie Johnston was built in 1847 in Quebec, Canada . She was commissioned by a Scottish-born shipbuilder and master craftsman, John Munn. She was purchased by Kerry-based merchants, John Donovan and Sons, for their family business.

Originally intended as a cargo ship for transporting timber, rope, molasses, rum, tobacco, tea, textiles, letters and more, she ended up carrying a very different kind of cargo – desperate men, women and children fleeing the Famine. Between 1848 and 1855 she made 16 crossings carrying emigrants from Tralee to Canada and sailing back with timber.

By 1858, legislation restricted the use of cargo ships for transporting passengers so the Donovans sold the ship to William Johnson of North Shields in England. It was then used mainly for transporting cargo again.

In 1858 on the way from Hull in England to Québec in Canada, the ship began to take on water. The timber being carried on deck became waterlogged and began to weigh the ship down. The crew climbed into the rigging and tied themselves to the mast as the ship slowly sank. After 9 gruelling days, they were rescued by a Dutch ship, the Sophie Elizabeth, and the Jeanie Johnston was left to sink.

Even in her loss, she maintained her perfect safety record.

Following extensive research in 1992, the ship was designed by Fred M. Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England and the re-creation project was modelled closely on the restoration of the 17th century Dutch ship, the Batavia.

She was built at Blennerville, Co. Kerry, in a specially constructed shipyard next to Blennerville Windmill in Tralee. Over 300 shipwrights and craftspeople were involved in the construction, with workers from the US, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, England and Scotland working alongside the Irish team. In light of our shared heritage, the US and Canada offered assistance by donating items to the project and craft workers to help with the work.

While the original ship was made from Quebec Oak and Oregon Pine, the new ship mainly used wood from Irish forests. The frames were constructed from Oak, with Larch planks forming the hull, with Iroko and Oregon Pine decks and Oregon Pine masts and spars. The project took 6 years and was completed in 2002.

In order to be seaworthy, the ship had to comply with Irish and international maritime laws, therefore she does incorporate some modern elements, like navigational technology and safety features, but, wherever possible, she has remained true to her original form.

Timber ships require a huge amount of maintenance and the Jeanie Johnston is no exception.
We have to do a large amount of the work ourselves and we use modern techniques to address old problems.
The damp, cold Irish climate is tough on timber and the brackish water of the River Liffey, which is saltier than freshwater but not as salty as seawater, make for difficult conditions. There are no suitable dry docks in the region or machines to lift her and there are very few shipwrights in Ireland have the skills to work on her.

In 2015 rot was discovered on the Mizen Mast, making it unstable. A new section was fabricated but is still to be completed due to the difficulty of lofting a new mast and rigging onsite.

The COVID-19 closure was tough but it had a silver lining – we used this time wisely to focus on any repairs that needed to be done.
We replaced the entire Port side Bulwark Rail, a significant challenge while afloat. Each plank weighs 80-100 kilos, the nails are 8” long and driven by hand and there were only two of us.

We created a new museum space to showcase the cargo function of the ship and the type of equipment and stores these ships had to carry on their voyages.

Opening the space up also increased the amount of space available for group visits.

We fitted new steps and opened up the ship’s Transom area for visitors.
We reinstated the ship’s Wheel. We repaired timbers and carried out many other minor repairs.

We designed and installed new tented space on deck to provide shelter and allow us to accommodate more people on deck.
The Jeanie Johnston was drydocked in Alexandra Basin for refurbishment works and a new Transom (a vertical reinforcement which strengthens the Stern) was constructed.


Museum info: The Jeanie Johnston
Address: Custom House Quay, Dublin 1, Ireland
Phone: +353 (0) 14730111
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