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Replica Irish famine ship to visit Saint John, St. Andrews

BY MIKE MULLEN
Telegraph-Journal

    Saint John's ship is coming in, after all.
   Mid-winter doubts were dispelled Friday with the official announcement that the $23.4-million replica of the 19th century Irish immigrant ship Jeanie Johnston will pay late-summer visits to three New Brunswick ports.
   The 37.5-metre barque is scheduled to sail up the Bay of Fundy to St. Andrews on Aug. 15 and, beginning Aug. 20, will be the centrepiece of five days of festivities at Saint John.
   She'll also be open for public tours.
   "I am hoping for Pugsley Park area," an excited Capt. Al Soppitt, president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, said Friday in announcing the vessel's pending visit. "It will certainly be in the uptown area. "
   The Jeanie Johnston will also visit the Miramichi from Sept. 6 to 9.
   Capt. Soppitt, a native of Belfast, Ireland, who visited the vessel twice during her construction in that country, said, "The ship is a wonder to behold with her three, fully-rigged masts towering skyward and a belowdeck layout that simulates emigrant conditions of travel during the 19th century."
   Chances of the Jeanie Johnston visiting the Bay of Fundy were felt to be slim, at best, when she left the Irish Port of Florida in February to kick off her current tour. She was three years late and millions of dollars over budget.
   But Capt. Soppitt, co-chair of local committee originally set up to bring the vessel to Saint John during the 2000 millennium celebrations, said committee members never stopped hoping. And in late May, the ship's owners expressed renewed interest in coming this way. And, two weeks ago, firm dates were set.
   "It's going to be great for the city," he enthused. "I've asked a member of the previous committee, Anne Gilbride, to chair a small committee to make plans. We hope to arrange festivities around the ship."
   Those festivities will mark the history of Irish immigration to one of Canada's most Irish cities. "Saint John was one of the major ports of call for the famine ships that brought thousands of men, women and children to the Maritimes between 1845 and 1855," Ms. Gilbride reminded. "The Jeanie Johnston will bring that period back to life for all of us."
   Sheila Washburn, chair of the Jeanie Johnston committee in St. Andrews, says she never gave up hope of having the vessel come to St. Andrews this year to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town's incorporation. "We're going to have a wonderful party," she promised Friday. "It is a real celebration not only of our Irish heritage but our shipbuilding heritage. "
   Part of the case for luring the replica ship to St. Andrews was that, in 1853, the original vessel took refuge there when she encountered a storm on the way to Quebec. About 40 Irish immigrants stayed behind. Some descendants still live in the town.

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