National Famine Memorial Day- marking our darkest moment in history.

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.

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5 replies

  1. Excellent post. The Delphi massacre was a very dark hour. I visited this site last Summer and will publish a short story on my own blog tomorrow to commemorate the day. I would also like see far more coverge of what was Ireland’s own holocaust. The suffering was awful in Mayo but few places were spared. Leinster was also hit which is often forgotten. And all the while grain transported out of the country under armed guard. An gort mor agus an marbh mor. Ar dheis De go raibh a hanam diabh.

  2. Tom, I’m just hoping that with a day of remembrance tomorrow we won’t see 2000 Famine documents auctioned off in disparate lots to buyers outside the State on Tuesday. I’m hoping the National Library or Museum will be able to come through and buy them for future historians and for their inestimable value as a testament to those times.

    I’ve been to Doolough Valley a few times. On an overcast day, it is a fittingly dour and wild and lonesome place to spark imagings of what that last journey was like.

    I used to work with someone very wise and she used to remind me that us modern day Irish are necessarily the descendants of Famine survivors. Her thrust was our forebears stepped over the bodies, got or stole food in time, secured life from the jaws of death. This is why we must do the dead the honour of remembering.

  3. Fantastic post! I wonder if the annual commemoration day will grow into something bigger – this is only the second year of it so perhaps with the annual focus there will be a more sustained interest that might lead to projects like a film. There are certainly a large number of monuments around the world – there’s obviously a huge interest in the Famine in the diaspora, and I think it’s really important that the official Irish commemoration includes an international component (This year in New York)

    I remember in the 1990s there was a commemoration of the 150 anniversary, and the Irish government had a little travelling roadshow they sent around the world. I went to an event in Boston and I remember thinking it didn’t have precisely the right tone – I thought there was a bit of an element of “telling the Irish Americans what to think” that was unnecessary. I think we’ve moved on a lot since then, which is very good. I guess I think there’s lots of reason to hope that we’l keep getting better at remembering The Famine, and in doing so in a global way that will bring us all together as it’s obviously the most profound event linking the diaspora.

  4. Ireland Did Not Have A “famine ” 1845 – 1850

    The purpose of this petition is to obtain support through education to advance the teaching of the
    truth of Ireland’s history during the years of 1845 to 1850.

    Educational institutions throughout the world are STILL teaching that it was a famine created by
    potato fungus ..…This is untrue…….Over a million people died from starvation and
    starvation associated diseases while another million emigrated from Ireland while they
    produced enough food to feed Ireland’s population 2 times.

    Ireland’s food products were shipped out of Ireland by armed military to England in large quantities.
    THERE WAS NO SHORTAGE OF FOOD.

    The British government sent in troops to take the crops, livestock, fish, bacon….All food stuffs produced in Ireland.
    The Irish food production was sent to Britain – in fact, exports of all food products increased during the worst years of the “famine”!

    Food was transported to the ports under armed guard as the Irish people lay dying on the roadsides with
    green stains around their mouths from eating grass, and dying of diseases borne by severe and absolute malnutrition.
    The British government official policy prevented any real relief from happening. Much outside relief was
    blocked from entering Ireland by British troops and government officials.

    Mass graves are found throughout Ireland. Countless families can not be accounted for due to clans being
    wiped out by starvation and related diseases. The 1841 census recorded an Irish population of 8.2 million.
    By 1851, the figure was reduced to 6.5 million. These statistics give indication of the scale of the disaster,
    but since many of those affected by the famine lived in remote and inaccessible places, it is possible far more
    died than has ever been thought.

    On record are statements by government officials of the time confirming the disaster being deliberate.

    Websites with detailed information on the horrors of Ireland between 1845 and 1850 contain vivid truths exposed by educators, historians, researchers, authors and medical experts. Information can be viewed at:

    http://irishholocaust.webs.com/
    http://www.irishholocaust.org/

    The time is now for our schools and institutions of higher learning to correct the falsehoods taught for
    regarding this period. It was not a famine. The action against the people of Ireland was a genocide/holocaust… ……not famine.

    Your support is greatly appreciated.……Please add your name to the petition.

    Time is now for the truth to be known.

    Thank you

    http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/irishholocaust

  5. http://irishholocaust.webs.com/ The most activate website about the great hunger ..
    Covering all aspects , from the blight to penal laws , corn laws, workhouses, coffin ships . plus loads more
    We have a massive section on newspapers from that period , Members have uploaded their own artwork and poetry about the holocaust
    The site is a social network site , where there is a chat facility , you can like & amp; share some content direct on to you’re facebook , you can start you’re own subjects in the discussion section , or add comment to already posted articles
    The site has now got gold status {in 6months} on google, due to the amount of traffic going to the site when folk are researching Ireland’s famine/Holocaust? genocide

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