Nicholas Reilly always gave his place of birth as The Atlantic Ocean. He was born on Easter Sunday the day his vessel, the Jeanie Johnston, embarked on its maiden voyage to North America. That he and his family and all the other refugees on this ship lived to tell about the trip was amazing. The previous ships carrying victims of the Irish potato famine were marked with disease and death. Mortality rates could be as high as seventy percent. They came to be known as “coffin ships”. The Jeanie Johnston successfully landed more than two thousand immigrants without a loss of life, an accomplishment no other vessel could claim.
This is the story of the terrible potato famine that plagued the poor farmers of Ireland in the middle of the 19th century, and of the ships that promised to help them escape. The famine killed a million and another million immigrated to North America. These numbers are overwhelming, too large to understand. But when individuals are named, their story told, the suffering becomes real. The author’s careful research puts a face on the disaster by following some of the survivors into their lives in North America. I was drawn into this beautifully written book from the first sentence. It is full of interesting details about the time and the people, and is hard to put down. Highly recommend.
eGalley review Publication date 1.8.13