Many Irish families from this part of Ireland emigrated to Canada and the US during the mid nineteenth century when the “potato famine” gripped the nation. At first, Canada received about 25% of the emigrants from Ireland, while the USA took the bulk of them. As time wore on, Canada’s share diminished to barely 6%. I suspect the Irish had better prospects in the US where the “melting pot” gave them a chance at earning a decent living with some hard work…Canada wasn’t quite certain back them whether it wanted a melting pot, a mosaic or mulligan stew.
In any case, a visit to the Dunbrody is a sobering experience. The ship, a replica of the original one built in 1845 in (ironically) Quebec, is a cargo ship converted to carry people from Ireland to the Americas. The replica was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy foundation, since JFKs grandfather came from the Waterford area.
The ship could accommodate about 170 passengers in “steerage” class (Air Canada’s “Economy” class) and almost a dozen in “first class”. One quickly learns that there is a gargantuan gap between what we and 19th Century Irish consider “First Class”…for one thing, the most important difference between the two was that the lucky dozen had a shared bathroom, with a door. I doubt Air Canada would ever require the 200+ passengers of Economy to share a wooden bucket. Yet that’s what steerage passengers did…and sometimes, when weather was bad, the bucket had to remain bottom-side for a week or more until the top deck was opened by the Captain. This gives a whole new meaning to the word “poop deck”.
All this talk of starvation was making us hungry so we headed out to a local pub in downtown Kilkenny for some grub and, of course, a pint of Guiness (I’m starting to like this stuff a lot). Oddly enough, there is no beer here called “Kilkenny”…that’s strictly for export…the brewery here makes Smithwicks. But enough about beer…back to the castle.
Kilkenny Castle, like many, started off as a defensive tower and eventually grew into something so decadent, it couldn’t be afforded by its owners anymore. Imagine a house the size of a small hotel but built out of rocks instead of gyproc and insulation…then add some expensive art, fine furniture, exquisite rugs and a leaky roof and next thing you get is some English aristocrat who is eager to “donate” his estate for 50 quid because it’s costly him several arms and legs to keep the heat on. Perhaps I exaggerate…perhaps not. Anyways, this place is huge but I couldn’t take pictures because, apparently, it damages the art. Well, to be specific, the flash might but I could have taken pictures without the flash…but the nice slightly elderly lady who followed us around room-to-room (likely because of the 5 year old boy we had in tow) pounced and nearly devoured the poor tourist who had the audacity to use her point-and-shoot digicam at the stone stairway. A speech about curators, artifacts, wanton destruction of history, et. al. ensued, regardless of the fact the tourist was taking pictures of concrete stairs….better her than me, I concluded.