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Jeanie Johnston Journal

An Irish Famine Ship Revisits Canada and Grosse Île in the 21st Century

by Catherine McKenna

About the Book

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Catherine McKenna - Jeanie Johnston Journal

AUTHOR: McKenna, Catherine, 1955-
TITLE: Jeanie Johnston Journal: an Irish famine immigrant ship revisits Canada and Grosse Île in the 21st century
PREFACE BY: J. Peter Shea
PUBLISHER: Redlader Publishing, 2006
(a division of Price-Patterson Canadian Publishers)
DESCRIPTION: 72 pp., illustrated, with index
ISBN: 1896881491
OCLC: 57639277
  • • Jeanie Johnston (Ship: Replica)
  • • Jeanie Johnston (Ship)
  • • Ireland — History — Famine, 1845-1852

In 2003, the Irish emigrant ship replica, the Jeanie Johnston, set sail from Fenit, Ireland, on her maiden voyage to visit some 20 North American ports on the Eastern seabord. The culmination of this odyssey would be her return to her spiritual home at Grosse-Île, Québec, where she would moor with the purpose of paying homage to the 5,424 Irish emigrants who fled their homeland to Québec during the Potato Famine, and survived their arduous voyage only to die on its shores. The Jeanie Johnston project was also a gesture of thanks to the clergy and medical staff of Québec, who warmly welcomed them and risked — and often lost — their lives ministering to them.

Following the good fortune of winning an essay contest that earned the author a berth as a sail-trainee on this magnificent three-masted ship, sailing from Montréal to Grosse-Île and back to Québec City, she decided to keep notes in a personal journal of her experiences on board the Jeanie Johnston.

The book opens with a forward by J. Peter Shea, (Montréal Irishman of the Year in 2001), who also sailed on a different leg of the voyage. A brief history of the ship is given, along with some background on its reconstruction. Although considered one of the "coffin ships" of the Famine era, the Jeanie Johnston was unique in that she never lost a single passenger, not even when she sank in 1858 while traveling from Québec to Hull, England, with a cargo of timber.

In addition, the now historic speeches delivered at the ceremonies on Grosse-Île are documented here. They include facts and figures about the Great Famine and emigration and offer insight as to why it is only now, some 150 years later, that Ireland is able to look back at one of the worst such disasters ever recorded.

About the Author

Catherine McKenna

Catherine McKenna lives and works in her native Québec City as a full-time ESL teacher, after many years in Canada and abroad working in a variety of professions, including exercise rider of thoroughbred racehorses, pari-mutuel clerk, artists' model, letter carrier, health food retail worker, and researcher/fundraiser for Canadian environmental organizations. She is actively involved in Irish Heritage Quebec, which works to preserve Irish heritage and culture in Québec City. This is her first book.

Jeanie Johnston Journal
may be purchased online
from Chapters.Indigo.

Chapters Indigo Canada Logo


Endorsement by Canadian Author and Historian Marianna O'Gallagher

Sea stories abound: old reality ones that have become classics, modern imaginative ones that reach a popular audience. This story, this personal journal, is a thoughtful reflection on the great mass of immigration history and folklore that most of us North American descendants of 19th-century European immigrants carry as our psychological baggage. The journal was written from notes the author penned aboard the vessel, the Jeanie Johnston, as she plied her way from Montréal to Grosse Île and then back to Québec City in September of 2003. The ship created the atmosphere in which Catherine McKenna was able to reconstruct without too much imagining the experiences of her ancestors when they braved the Atlantic in what appeared to be sturdy vessels standing in the harbours, but which must have felt as fragile as eggshells when they faced North Atlantic storms. To those of us for whom the closest thing to a physical encounter with the forces of nature is either a totally controlled workout on a machine, or a slight jerking about in a crowded bus, this journal gives a context for thought.

Best wishes to the reader who can climb into the story and sail along, capturing experiences not open in our pedestrian existence.

— Marianna O'Gallagher
January 2005

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