The weeklong excursion took the group from Dublin to Leitrim to Sligo, where they interspersed daily lectures with tours of places like Kilmainham Gaol, Markee Castle in Sligo and what used to be Ireland’s largest workhouse in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Sarah Fouty, a producer at CUNY TV, wrote, shot and edited the 30-minute documentary, entitled: “The Famine Tour.”
“I thought it would make an interesting documentary. Initially I was just going to use footage the group took themselves,” she said.
“But it was such a big project and I’ve always been interested in going there. I’m second-generation Irish myself. My family’s from Ennis. I’ve always been interested in the Famine and Irish immigration, so it made sense for someone like me to document the trip.”
She said the documentary is a warts-and-all account of the group’s experiences.
“Basically I didn’t turn the camera off,” she said. “I didn’t want to miss anything. It was an incredible trip. We started in Dublin, where I got some fantastic footage out bus windows. We stayed in a Castle in Sligo which I’m sure was haunted. We went horseback riding. It was like going back in time.”
Twenty-four out of the group of 30 who traveled to Ireland are currently high-school teachers in New York City and State. Maureen O’Murphy, professor of curriculum and teaching at Hosstra University, hopes that their experiences will become help them when teaching the Irish Famine curriculum in high school classrooms.
“The aim is to let people know about the curriculum and to help teachers to gain the knowledge and resources to teach it,” she said.
“The more teachers are exposed to places associated with Irish immigration, the better equipped they’ll be to teach about it.”
Fouty thinks the curriculum’s scope goes far beyond teaching about Irish immigrant history.
“If taught correctly, the curriculum is a way of looking at poverty and hunger in the world today; why it happens and how we can prevent it,” Fouty said.
She hopes teachers will use the documentary as a tool in the classroom.
“I’d like to see teachers bringing it into their classroom. It’s an interesting new way to study history. Its also going to air as part of a CUNY TV special called ‘Study with the Best,’ which attracts a lot of high school students. Hopefully it will spark their interest in Irish-American History,” she said.
Despite its educational purpose, however, She thinks the film will appeal to anyone with an interest in Ireland, Irish American History, or just good TV.
“It’s a road trip film, visiting different places with little adventures along the way, and plenty of pubs,” she said.
“For anyone who hasn’t been to Ireland before, it will be interesting. It’s a sort of reality tour. It’s light and fun, but it also deals with a really serious topic. I hope the Irish-American community will see this piece and be interested — for those who haven’t been to Ireland, it’s a good opportunity to think about going. Travel is so much more interesting when you are learning about the place you’re going to. This will help with that.”
“The Famine Tour,” will air on CUNY TV, Channel 75 on Aug. 24 at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.