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(This report was written in April 1999 - at present, April 2000, the replica Jeannie Johnston floats on a barge at Blennerville, awaiting her masts and rigging. It is hoped to have sea-worthiness trials finished by the middle of May, and her maiden Atlantic crossing to Washington made during June.)

The Jeannie Johnston

line drawing of the Jeannie Johnston on the high seas
The Project

    The rebuilding of the 19th century sailing barque, the "Jeannie Johnston" is a very ambitious project. It is intended to sail her from Blennerville to New York, Boston and Quebec in April 2000, and at the end of her return voyage for her to be permanently moored at Blennerville to be a floating museum, adding to the many tourist attractions of the area.

    The rebuilding project has attracted shipwrights from Britain, Continental Europe, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, who are joined by skilled shiprights from the small yards along the Irish coast which built timber-hulled fishing boats until recent years. Young FAS trainees from Belfast, Dublin and Kerry, wishing to learn the age-old skills and techniques of wooden shipbuilding have also joined them at Blennerville.

    The ship is being rebuilt using exactly the same traditional materials and techniques used in the construction of the original ship. As building progresses, it can be viewed by visitors to the shipyard at all stages, thanks to the specially designed visitor-friendly shipyard, modelled on the Batavia yard at Leylstad in Holland. At present, the hull is almost completed and work is progressing well with the planking. It is hoped to begin her voyage on time, during April next, the Millennium Year.

History

    The port of Tralee was the main point of embarkation for Kerry emigrants during the famine. Owned by the Donovan family of Tralee, she was built in Quebec in 1847 for John Munn. She plied the North American route under the command of Mr. James Attridge. She was chiefly employed in the timber trade, bringing quantities of timber deals, staves and Indian corn from Quebec in Canada to Tralee, and also foodstuffs.

    On her return journeys, the "Jeanie Johnston" was used as an emigrant vessel with accommodation for approximately 200 passengers, thereby serving the dual purpose of profit-making and ballast, as was the custom at the time with merchant ships.

an advertisement for the Jeannie's voyage An advertisement for the Jeannie Johnston
Voyage in the local newspaper.

    The "Jeannie Johnston" made 16 Atlantic crossings between 1847-58. She crossed from Tralee to Baltimore, New York and Quebec and on those voyages never lost a passenger to disease or the sea. The significance and respect attributed to Captain Attridge and the crew of the "Jeannie Johnston" stems from this fact. Her record contrasts favourably with the infamous coffin ships of the time, who lost many passengers to disease through bad conditions onboard.

    She first sailed for Quebec from Tralee on 24th April, 1848 with 200 passengers. She was particularly well suited to carrying pasengers, being of great height betwen decks and in general a sturdy, seaworth craft.

    The following is an excerpt from the Kerry Evening Post of April 1948:

Departure of the Jeannie Johnston
"The Messrs Donovan beautiful barque Jeannie Johnston of Tralee, James Attridge master, sailed from our port on the morning of Monday 24 inst, with about 200 emigrants for Quebec. Very great satisfaction was expressed by the emigrants, who were for the most part farmers and artisans with their families, at the general confort presented on board. Indeed the friends of the emigrants who'd visited them ere they sped on their watery course, speak with affectionate enthusiasm of the prompt care paid by the Messrs Donovan to every passenger. The day after the passengers were on board and the barque ready for sea, a daughter of a respectable farmer near this town, Mr. Robin Foran, and wife of Daniel Ryan, gave birth to a very fine male child, thanks to the prompt and skilful attendance of Dr. Richard Blennerhassett of Tralee, who went out as surgeon to the ship. The mother and child left our port in perfect health."


    The following report from the Kerry Evening Post verifies the success of a particuarly hazardous crossing in April 1854:

"We have much pleasure in noticing the safe arrival at Quebec, of the Barque Jeannie Johnston, Captain Attridge, Master, belonging to this port and owned by Mr. John Donovan and Sons. This fine vessel left our port on 18th April with 191 passengers and arrived on the 22nd May. She was stuck in ice for 6 days, but did not have any trouble, so making the passage from Tralee to Quebec in 27 days. Captain Attridge landed all his passengers in good health, and in this regard was particularly fortunate, as a number of ships from other ports lost numbers of their passengers by sickness."

Visitor Shipyard

    The Jeanie Johnston Shipyard has been specially designed to cater for visitors, so that they can view the building of the ship at first hand. They are introduced to the history and explanation of timber ship building in the Visitor Centre, using graphic displays and an audio-visual presentation. Then they are taken on a guided tour of the shipyard. Every day at the yard is a new and unique visitor experience, as the building of the ship progresses.

    From August to October 1998, the massive Irish Oak frames were sawn, assembled and erected along the keel. In September, the planking of the ship commenced.

    The Jeanie Johnston Shelter and elevated viewing galleries are now in position, so that work continued uninterrupted right through the winter months. During 1999 the fitting of the ship, rigging and sail-making will commence and it is hoped to have all work finished so that the ship will be ready to launch on her maiden voyage during April of the Millennium Year.

Facts about the Jeanie Johnston
A View of the Jeannie Johnston as she is today, being built on the shores of Tralee Bay, by Blennerville Windmill.
Jeannie Johnston being built at her shipyard in Blennerville
You can see her hull taking shape, enclosed by the scaffolding. Next to her are the buildings which house the shipwrights' workshops and visitor viewing platform.


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