Famine town first to honour victims

A TOWN decimated by the Great Famine will host the State’s first public national Famine commemoration event next week.

Skibbereen in west Cork was one of the country’s worst affected areas during the Famine in the 1840s.

The Skibbereen Union, which covered a vast area from Rosscarbery to Goleen, had an estimated population of 105,000 in the 1840s. At least 28,000 of those people died of hunger between 1845 and 1850, with a further 8,000 forced to emigrate. It is estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 people were buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of the town.

After 160 years, the town is poised to lead the country in the first of the State’s annual Famine commemorations for those and the rest of the 1.5 million Famine victims and emigrants.

Terri Kearney, the manager of Skibbereen Heritage Centre and coordinator of National Famine Commemoration Week in Skibbereen, has organised a wide range of unique events, which start on Sunday with Famine-related readings on RTÉ Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany programme.

It will coincide with a commemorative ceremony at the Grosse Ile Quarantine Station in Quebec, where thousands of Irish were sent on arrival to Canada.

Ms Kearney has also forged links with academics in Canada who will give talks on the role played by the quarantine station during the Famine period.

Skibbereen will host events every day next week including the retracing of Famine walks, historical walking tours, and talks on the role of art during the Famine, and the role of crusading Rev Richard Boyle Townsend, the vicar of Abbeystrewery Parish,

Skibbereen Theatre Society will stage two productions: The Boldest Fenian Man, on the life and times of O’Donovan Rossa; and the award-winning Flight to Grosse Ile.

The lecture highlights include a talk on the Canada Munster Connection by Prof Mark McGowan, principal of St Michael’s College, University of Toronto, and an overview of the Famine by 19th century Ireland expert Dr Larry Geary, senior lecturer in history at UCC. There will be presentations on food and the Famine, climate change and its implications for world famine, homeopathy during the Famine, and a Gorta and fair trade exhibition.

Choctaw Nation representative Gary White Deer, whose ancestors donated money to Famine victims, will also travel from America for an address.

The events culminate on Sunday, May 17, with the official state ceremony attended by Minister Eamon O Cuiv and 15 ambassadors.

“It is a huge privilege for Skibbereen to be chosen as the host town for this inaugural public commemorative event,” Ms Kearney said.

“We are looking forward to a week of interesting and informative events to remember these poor souls.”

The national event will take place at O’Donovan Rossa Park at 12.45pm followed by a short walk to the main ceremonial event at Abbeystrewery Cemetery.

The services will include music, readings and prayers, tree planting, wreath laying, unveiling of a plaque and a minute of silent reflection and will involve full state protocol.

Each province will rotate the hosting of the annual state ceremony.

* skibbheritage.com

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