Jeanie Johnston Logo
Jeanie Johnston Logo

A Tale of Two Ships: Michael English’s Jeanie Johnston

Given our rich cultural heritage, we often get asked by our visitors for recommendations on books about the Jeanie Johnston. While there are quite a few works dedicated it, there is one that we particularly enjoy – Michael English’s Sailing the Irish Famine Tall Ship Jeanie Johnston.

Standing tall at the Dublin Docklands, the Jeanie Johnston replica bears testimony to the resilience of the Irish spirit. While today one might admire at the craftmanship of the vessel whilst standing on her deck overlooking the Liffey, the original Jeanie Johnston sought to free our ancestors from poverty and starvation.

Capturing the legacy of the ship in an account of 272 pages, photographer Michael English pays tribute to this splendid monument. In commemoration of the Famine, the modern Jeanie Johnston was built in Tralee, Kerry and launched in May 2000. Between 2002 and 2008, she sailed to Britain, France, Spain, the USA and Canada.

Having sailed the Jeanie as a crew member, English’s book provides a first-hand narration of the ship’s tale with its gripping essays and vivid photographs.

Helen O’Carroll in her essay on the historic background of the Jeanie Johnston manages to achieve a fine balance between creative storytelling and a factual accuracy of events. In aptly describing the monument as an escape, where one can “dream of casting off the shackles of our ordinary lives”, she presents an emotional recollection of the Famine.

In an informative account detailing the rebuilding of the ship, Fred M. Walker discusses the architectural process involved in constructing it. The third and final essay is a vibrant excerpt from Captain Michael Coleman’s log detailing what a journey in the Jeanie Johnston is in the present day.

The highlight of the book, however, is its evocative collection of images which portray moments from the ship’s voyages. English’s artistic genius finds full expression in both monochromatic and coloured photographs. In order to take the readers back in time, the book also contains a series of poignant paintings depicting Irish families during the years of the Famine.
In narrating a tale of survival and reminiscence, Michael English’s Jeanie Johnston is a wonderful work of non-fiction. It is a book where history is brought to life through riveting stories related both by words and pictures. English invites the reader to hop aboard on a journey down the seas of time, where the past meets the present.