The Jeanie Johnston was a three-masted barque of 480 tons, built in Quebec by John Munn, a Scots shipbuilder, and completed in 1847. At that time many British merchant ships were built in North America. Jeanie Johnston was sold in Liverpool to John Donovan & Sons of Tralee. This was the time of the Great Famine in Ireland and she made her maiden voyage from Blennerville on the edge of Tralee on 24 April 1848, taking emigrants to North America. In the following seven years she made 15 further voyages, during which none of her passengers died at sea, due to the care taken by her captain, James Attridge, and the ship’s doctor, Richard Blennerhassett. She was sold to a merchant in Hull in 1855 and sank soon afterwards while carrying timber across the North Atlantic.
There was heavy loss of life on most voyages carrying emigrants from Ireland across the Atlantic, and the vessels engaged in the trade were often called ‘coffin ships’. By contrast Jeanie Johnston had a good reputation, and a project was launched in the early 1990s to build a replica. The new ship, constructed from larch planks on oak frames, was assembled from 1993 in a specially-built yard at Blennerville, close to the point from which she departed on her maiden voyage. She was launched on 18 April 2000, and sailed to North America in February 2003. She visited 20 cities in the United States and Canada, and went to several European ports after her return to Ireland in November 2003, serving as a sail training vessel and as an ambassador for Ireland. She was purchased by the Dublin Dockyard Authority in 2005 and now serves as a floating museum. Visitors can join one of the six daily tours of the vessels during which they see the cramped quarters in which emigrants travelled. Multi-media displays tell the stories of individual emigrants who are represented by life-size figures.