By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Work is resuming this month on a high-profile project to build a replica of a Famine-era ship similar to the one that took the late President John F. Kennedy’s ancestors across the Atlantic.
This follows a new £1.7 million cash injection from the government to finish the £5 million tourism project that had been beached by a cash crisis.
The JFK Trust organizers had stopped all work last year on the Dunbrody replica until the funding crux was resolved.
The trust’s chief executive, Sean Reidy, said the whole project is being restructured and reorganized and a plan to sail the Atlantic has been postponed indefinitely.
The original intention had been for a millennium transAtlantic voyage, leaving New Ross last St. Patrick’s Day and arriving in Boston in May.
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The 176-foot-long replica, comprising more than 450 tons of timber, will be launched from the local shipyard in seven months.
While the Dunbrody will be built to full sea-going standard, the engines and other special equipment for making a voyage will await new funding.
"It will be moored at the quayside and we are going to use it as a floating exhibition themed on the Famine," Reidy said. "Shore facilities will be developed and it will open for tourists next April. We hope to attract up to 80,000 visitors a year.
"When we originally planned our Atlantic voyage the sea-going requirements began to take precedence over historic authenticity. We have regrouped and redefined our objective to complete an authentic replica of the Dunbrody but with the capacity to sail in the future. A voyage is still a firm objective, but there is no target date for that.
"The ship will be a unique interpretation of the whole emigration experience. We are now free of debt and confidence we can make a success of it."
The Dunbrody project is backed by former U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy-Smith, whose grandfather emigrated from the area.
Details of emigrants who fled the Great Famine directly from Ireland and traveled via Liverpool, London and other British ports, were part of a huge archive handed over to then-President Mary Robinson by Kennedy-Smith.
The Famine records are part of a collaborative partnership between the JFK Trust, the Ellis Island Restoration Commission in New York, and the Balch Institute for Immigration Research, Temple University, Philadelphia.
Work began on the database nine years ago with the aim of creating a definitive record of all Irish immigration into the U.S. from 1820.
The records from the U.S. National Archive and all the other databases now contain 2.5 million names of emigrants for root-tracing tourist visiting the Dunbrody who want to track down their Irish ancestry.
"We will also have a series of interactive computer programs and audio visual presentations on the story of Ireland in the 1840s," Reidy said. "This is linked in with the emigrant experience and what is was like in America at the time."