‘Best way to honour Famine victims is to help modern-day equivalents’

The Taoiseach has said that the best way to remember those who died in the Great Famine of the 1840s is to help their “modern-day equivalents” and welcome those suffering through natural disaster or oppression.

Leo Varadkar was speaking at this year’s National Famine Commemoration, held outside Ballingarry in Co Tipperary, on the site where the 1848 Young Irelanders’ rebellion took place.

A crowd of hundreds, including ambassadors or charges d’affaire from 48 different countries as well as representatives from the UN High Commission for Refugees, the European Commission and European Parliament, attended the event at the Famine Warhouse 1848, once the home of widow Margaret McCormack and her family and now a commemorative visitor centre.

Mr Varadkar told the gathering that the famine had “shaped our destiny”.

“The Great Famine was a cataclysm on a scale never witnessed on this island before, and yet people endured, survived, emigrated, and, above all, remembered,” he said.

“It has become part of our national consciousness and, indeed, part of our national sub-consciousness.”

The scene outside Ballingarry was at an intersection of “two important events,” according to the Taoiseach: the famine and the uprising of 1848.

A “direct line” connecting the events of Ballingarry ran through the subsequent foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the struggles of the Land League, the 1916 Rising, and the achievement of independence.

“The 1848 rebellion was a failure, militarily, but a rallying point in future decades,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Today we are an island at the centre of the world, at the heart of the common European home we helped to build, confident in our place in the world, at a time when so many other countries are not.”

While the “great hunger” left so many emotional and social wounds, its positive legacy was the contribution since made to the world by our emigrants, which began when so many people left in the 1840s and in subsequent years.

“For so many of our diaspora, the Famine was the foundation stone of the story of their families. For many, it was the turning point in their family history.”

Another positive from the Irish famine is the solidarity shown to other people who have gone through similar events. Regrettably, we are all too aware that the food shortages of the famines of the past have not been consigned to history.”

He referred to the contribution of Ireland today to helping those in such situations, from investment in delivering nutrition to mothers and their children, to our navy assisting people who decide to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better life, to our soldiers on peacekeeping duties.

“Perhaps the best way we can remember those who perished in the Great Famine is to show empathy with their modern-day equivalents and reach out and share and welcome those suffering whether from natural disaster or oppression,” he said.


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