SS Dunbrody, an Irish Emigrant Story

Recently I travelled to New Ross in County Wexford, Ireland to visit the “SS Dunbrody” a three master “Barque” replica of the Famine ships that brought so many Irish emigrants to Canada and the USA during the Famine times at home in the mid 1800’s. It was a really emotional experience as the presentations demonstrated the tragedy of ordinary Irish people fleeing their homes their land and starvation.

The presentation begins with a low-lit walk through illustrated key points regarding the famine and this dangerous trip across the oceans. Our guide then gave an introduction talk highlighting specific travellers and their expectations. Then we moved on to a video presentation of a family’s anguish and their quest, why they would risk everything and their lives in a hope of a better life for themselves and their family. This was quite emotional as it conveyed the reality of life here in Ireland at that time.

SS Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland. &copy John Ironside

At this point we boarded the SS Dunbrody itself. A fine sturdy three master Baroque sailing ship is 170ft in length with the tallest mast being 100ft high, the original one built in Quebec, Canada in 1845. You get a tour on deck and the thoughts are this would be quite enjoyable to be at sea in. But no, our guide soon knocked that idea on the head. We then proceeded to the inner deck, bunks left and right stacked two high and a long table in the middle.

It is here that the horrors that these emigrants had to endure came to life. 170 adults and children were crammed into this space, buckets for bathroom needs and no privacy, and a bucket of rationed water each day to wash in on deck. The poignant smells and the dirt is difficult to imaging. Sickness was rampant and spread throughout the ship rapidly. Fatalities were high up to 50%. These emigrant ships earned the title “Coffin Ships” for this reason.

Actors re-enacted these poor people’s plight. A mother travelling with her four children trying her best to care for them. All sleeping in a bunk together. At this point in the presentation, emotions were running so high. You could feel the distress of the passengers and your imagination was running wild. In this emigrant’s story, it was explained that Mom didn’t make it. She was one of the casualties this time. There was a gentle “aww” coming from the audience. Truly effected by this experience.

SS Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland. &copy John Ironside
SS Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland. &copy John Ironside
SS Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland. &copy John Ironside

At the front of the SS Dunbrody complex, on the street, is a burning flame within a structure of a globe. This is the “Emigrant Flame”. When President John F. Kennedy visited Ireland in 1963, he visited his ancestral home outside New Ross. He brought a message of hope and inspiration to the Irish population. This flame was taken from the Eternal Flame at the graveside of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, USA and brought to the quay in New Ross where his great-grandfather stepped aboard the emigrant ship. A symbolic journey of that emigrant son to Ireland, this Emigrant Flame burns continually in honour of all those who left Ireland in those tragic circumstances.

Emigrant Flame, lit by a flame brought to New Ross from Presedent John F Kennedy's grave in USA, Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County

Emigrant Flame, lit by a flame brought to New Ross from Presedent John F Kennedy’s grave in USA, Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland. &copy John Ironside

This is a real life experience and is highly recommended. It is a black reference to our not so long past Irish history. Nearby there is the John F Kennedy Homestead and the JFK Arboretum and Park.

By |2017-12-22T13:08:13+01:00August 3rd, 2017|Activity, Culture, Historical, Travel|2 Comments

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Having spent many years as a professional photographer, I have been privileged to be witness to so many wonderful happenings, meeting so many amazing people all over the world and enjoying their cultures, hospitality and experiences. I travelled extensively into Africa, South America, Caribbean and Europe bringing clients into these regions so they too could experience the cultures and traditions of the communities, understand better the environment, the value of conservation and the caring of nature through adventure and environmental travel. Through my photography and travel writing I convey these experiences to others so that they too can enjoy and understand the moments that travel brings with it. If you enjoyed this post please pass it on Thank you.


  1. Avatar
    John 6th August 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    This ship was not a coffin ship but a cargo ship actually any passengers where wealthy people. Jfk’s ancestors did not leave on this ship but a ship called the Washington Irvine

    • Avatar
      John Ironside 7th August 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Hi john, I refereed to the Coffin Ships as that was an earned name because of the deaths on board due to atrocious conditions travelers had to endure. This was a cargo ship running to Newfoundland and Southern USA transporting timber and cotton whilst not to run empty out of Ireland, they carried passengers. there were two class of passenger, wealthy and poor. The poor suffered extensively. The Dunbrody was operated be Graves of New Ross and they in fact had high standards. It was the first time I was on board this ship and I found the presentation very moving. It is so worth a visit.

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