Miles (Environmental Writing/Unity Coll.) builds her story around the Jeanie Johnston, the only ship fleeing the Irish Potato Famine with a 100 percent survival rate in its many Atlantic crossings.
The author does not spare the British Empire in the death of over 1 million Irish. They may not have murdered them, but the export of grain out of the starving country, evictions, minimal relief, a providential attitude and the death traps that were called “coffin ships” were the direct result of British colonial policy. Miles shows the flicker of hope in the nightmare of emigration that was the Jeanie Johnston. Her captain, James Attridge, his crew and the ship’s physician, Richard Blennerhassett, guided the purpose-built ship across the Atlantic Ocean determined to prevent cholera and typhus from decimating their passengers. They insisted on hygienic living, frequent walks on deck for passengers and weekly airing of bedding. The author’s vivid description of the barbaric crowding on other ships during the two-month trip will make many readers wonder how anyone survived. The food, less than a pound of oatmeal per day, was barely enough to sustain life. Even those who survived the crossing met desperate conditions when they finally reached their destination, including a lack of work, quarantine and more disease. Miles provides a host of intriguing profiles of the many passengers—including Nicholas Reilly, who was born aboard the ship—as they left their home behind to seek a new life.
The author’s solid research and use of newly available material exposes the truth of the Potato Famine, the barbaric policies that exacerbated it and the incredible will of the Irish people.