On Sunday, May 16 Ireland will remember the victims of The Great Hunger (an Gorta Mór) the second National Famine Memorial Day. The West of Ireland, and County Mayo in particular, was one of the worst affected areas during the Great Famine. It’s very fitting the National Commemorative event in 2010 should be held in Murrisk, Co. Mayo, which is home to the National Famine Monument.
The National Famine Monument at Murrisk is situated close to the Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre and was unveiled by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, in 1997. The sculpture by John Behan depicts a ‘Coffin Ship’ with skeletal bodies and commemorates the Great Famine of the 1840s and is the largest bronze sculpture in Ireland. A similar sculpture was unveiled in November, 2000, outside the United Nations building in New York City, representing those immigrants who survived the journey to America.
In addition, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has written to all sporting organisations asking them to mark the commemoration by holding a one-minute silence at all events.
My favourite part of Ireland is Connemara and any time I am back in the area I always make the the trip out to Leenaun the setting for The Field a village with two fine pubs and a fantastic view out over Killary Harbour. From here you travel on to the beautiful Aasleagh Falls which are also depicted in the movie where the American meets his death. After the falls the countryside becomes more rugged as you travel out by Delphi Lodge Centre before coming Doolough Valley and finally arriving on the coast at Louisburgh . The scenery as you pass through Doolough valley is quite amazing with tall peaks and quite barren, surrounding a beautiful lake, but you also get a real sense of isolation about this place and it’s easy to imagine that it could be quite harsh in winter with a wind blowing off the lake sweeping up through the valley.
Now try and think what it might have been like back on the night and morning of 30-31 March 1849. Two British commissions had just arrived in North Mayo, their task was to inspect the people and certify locals as paupers, which would have entitling each of them to receive a ration of three pounds of meal. For some reason the inspection was not made and instead hundreds of hungry people were told that they must travel to Delphi Lodge (work house) a journey of ten miles away for 7am the following morning. These poor starving people set out on foot most of it must be presumed without proper clothing along the mountain road and pathway in cold, wintry conditions, including snowfall. When they arrived at Delphi Lodge, they were refused either food or tickets of admission to the workhouse and so they began their weary return journey. It was on this journey that maybe hundreds fell victims of cold and starvation died within in the valley.
Half way along the road through Doolough valley there is a very simple little stone cross which commemorates those people who perished on the route in search of food. No mater how many times I stop at this memorial it always makes me quite sad and even angry to think how these people need not have died in this way.
As a nation it is our most darkest period in history, we don’t do enough to commemorate all those who died here or on a coffin ship en-route to either America or Canada in search of a better life. The establishment of the National Famine Memorial Day is a beginning but we should be doing more to make this horrific time in history. This event surely is worthy of being marked as a National holiday. Media coverage both print and broadcast of this event has been very poor. Over the past 20 years millions has been investing in the Irish film industry yet we have not produced a single major feature drama depicting the dreadful events of the famine. It was our holocaust, why has that story yet to be told on screen?
If you are in Dublin, a memorial commemoration takes place at 2pm on Sunday May 16th at the Garden of Remembrance. Lord Mayor Emer Costello will also lay a wreath, followed by one minute’s silence, then a walk to the Famine Sculptures at Custom House Quay. The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship will be free of charge from 1.00pm to 4 .oo pm
For more information on event in other parts of the country visit, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs National Famine Commemoration Day website.
Categories: General Views