Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Saint John will be the first Canadian stop for the newly rebuilt Jeanie Johnston, a ship that brought about 200 Irish immigrants here some 150 years ago

Mayor Shirley McAlary with John Griffin,
manager of the Jeanie Johnston Project.
The Saint John harbour will play host to the rebuilt Irish tall ship year.

Times Globe staff writer

   Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it. Those who do learn from history spend a lot of money trying.

    John Griffin of Tralee, Ireland has been doing just that. Nine years and $9.5-million (Cdn.) later, he is less than a year away from recognizing his dream of rebuilding a famous Irish ship responsible for bringing hundreds of immigrants to North American ports - including Saint John.

    About 150 years ago, the Jeanie Johnston - a three-masted 150-foot barque - sailed into the Saint John Harbour carrying about 200 Irish immigrants and 17 crew members.

    The last week of July in the year 2000, a rebuilt version of the Jeanie Johnston will be tracing the steps of its namesake up the Bay of Fundy.

    Mr. Griffin, the manager of the Jeanie Johnston Project, was in Saint John yesterday to announce that the Port City would be the first Canadian stop on the ship's North American tour.

    The ship will also be stopping in St. Andrews on its way out of the Bay of Fundy, before heading to Quebec City and Montreal en route to Chicago for the Labour Day weekend.

    Mr. Johnston said the ship should be constructed by the end of the year and ready for sea trials in January and February before setting sail in April.

    The Jeannie Johnston will be making visits to American cities like New York and Baltimore, before arriving in Saint John for a week-long visit. People will be able to board the ship and get a first-hand perspective of how their ancestors arrived in North America.

    "It's symbolic, really, of a connection between Ireland and North America. That link which has been there for generations," Mr. Griffin said. "America has given a lot and Canada has given a lot too. Now we're giving something back. "

    The ship was built in Quebec in 1847, but Mr. Griffin said it holds a powerful spot in Irish folklore because in a time when many people died on immigrant boats, the Jeanie Johnston never lost a passenger.

    "It was the most famous. There have been poems and songs written," Mr. Griffin said. "There's a very long folk tradition about the Jeanie Johnston in Ireland. It was the most famous of all the Irish ships. If any one was to be rebuilt this was the one. " Mr. Griffin said the project was originally started to bring economic development and tourism to their Southwestern, Irish city and that they didn't plan to sail the ship.

    "Having dedicated so much time and energy into building the ship, we decided to go the final hog," he said. "It's probably costing an extra $4million to do this - to sail the ship.

    But Mr. Griffin thinks the added cost is worth it. The ship is still working miracles, in his eyes. There are young people from all over a religiously- torn Ireland getting together to build it.

    "The links it's building up. I mean North and South. We have young people from unionist and nationalist traditions. "

    This is something Captain Alwyn Soppitt can relate to. The president of the Saint John Port Corporation is originally from County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

    He was happy to hear about the integration of the two cultures and at the same time pleased to see Saint John could be part of it.

    "I'm very excited about the Irish connection and the opportunity here, with this being the Irish Port of Canada, being the first port of call," Mr. Soppitt said.

    Mr. Griffin also mentioned he would be interested in recruiting some young Canadians to help build the ship.

    He is hoping a few Canadians will get a chance to sail on some of the short trips, but he is still working out the details with Canadian authorities.

    There is limited space available on the ship too. Only 40 people - 10 professional sailors, 18 crew and 12 paying customers - will be sailing on the new version of the Jeanie Johnston.

    The only opportunity a Canadian would have is to become one of the 18 crew members.

    Mayor Shirley McAlary mentioned the similarities between the Jeanie Johnston and the Marco Polo project here in Saint John.

   Yesterday, she spoke with Mr. Griffin about providing the Marco Polo project organizers with advice on how they were successful.

The story above was taken from the Times Globe a local newspaper in Saint John, N.B.