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Experiences are most meaningful when they move us emotionally. One such memorable event occurred on a visit to Ireland. My husband and I took a tour of the South Eastern coast of Ireland. I was particularly interested in the town of Wexford because it is believed to be where my Doyle relatives originated.

Part of that tour was a stop at the Dunbrody, a full-sized replica of a cargo vessel that was later used to ship emigrants to North America and other countries between 1845 and 1851. The JFK Trust sponsored the building of the ship in honor of thousands of people who fled their country during that time period.

Famine was widespread in Ireland in the 1840s due to rampant disease in the potato crop, the country’s greatest food source. Nearly a million Irish people died of starvation and another million fled in search of food.

They left their beloved country, family, and friends to voyage on ships such as the Dunbrody under brutal travel conditions and the uncertainty of their future in a new country. Passengers crammed into shared berths and supplied their own food for the month-long trip to New York, which of course they did not have. Fresh water was nonexistent. Most already were in fragile health, so the trip was risky. But for many, emigration offered the only option. If they remained in Ireland, chances were they would die.

Those who perished along the way were thrown overboard. Survivors arrived in their new land weak, ill, and penniless.

This bit of history on the Irish Potato Famine, or an Gorta Mór, which is Gaelic for Great Hunger, was explained to guests as we climbed on deck of the Dunbrody. We also were issued a replica ticket with the name of a passenger who actually sailed on such a ship. We were instructed to go below and find the berth with the passengers name on it.

My thoughts throughout the history lesson were of my ancestors, who took that trip. It became more realistic when I found that the ticket given to me revealed the names of four Doyles. Doyle is a common Irish name but the Dunbrody database consists of 2.5 million passengers from all ports in Ireland and Great Britain that immigrated to the United States from 1845 to 1880. No one else in our tour group received a ticket with a Doyle name.

Dunbrody Ticket

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Once downstairs, we also found a berth with a John Doyle, the same name as that of my great-grandfather.

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The Dunbrody is open seven days a week all year round. See more at:  www.dunbrody.com

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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