A 2.7m-high Famine Cross retrieved from a builder’s skip in Cork City was escorted through Clonakilty by a crowd that grew to well over 200 people.
Led by the town’s mayor and local parish priest Mgr Aidan O’Driscoll, parishioners took turns to carry the cross in a symbolic gesture as the procession made its way to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, where it will occupy a permanent sanctuary space in the churchyard.
Townspeople paused to bow their heads, make the sign of the cross, or offer a silent prayer as the cross was carried through the town.
The event marked the return to Clonakilty of the solid wooden cross, thought to be more than 160 years old. It originally stood at a spot overlooking the town’s Famine workhouse and cemetery, which later became the County Home, now the site of Mount Carmel Community Hospital.
The procession paused outside the hospital to recite the Lord’s Prayer for the Sick.
“It’s a day of remembering, a silent procession for all those who have died, and for the sick and the elderly in Mount Carmel today,” said Mgr O’Driscoll.
The procession moved off from An Páircin, a field on the eastern outskirts of the town housing the remains of thousands of Famine victims, many in unmarked graves. Townspeople assembled at the cemetery at 2pm.
The pine cross, missing for 30 years, caught the attention of Clonakilty-based accountant Liam Santry as he attended a funeral at St Vincent’s Church in Sunday’s Well last May.
“I noticed the cross because of the plaque, which makes reference to Clonakilty, and took a few pictures of it,” said Mr Santry.
Mayor Phil O’Regan and Mgr O’Driscoll made inquiries that culminated in the return of the Famine Cross to the Church of the Immaculate Conception yesterday.
“The cross was brought to St Vincent’s Church in Sunday’s Well during renovations carried out on what was then the County Home,” said Mgr O’Driscoll. “The cross was taken down and brought there by a parishioner working in Mount Carmel and we believe it has been there since.
“The people of Clonakilty are very grateful to Fr Jack Harris, parish priest of St Vincent’s, for the return of the cross.”
The procession, though dignified, struck a joyful note as townspeople noted the efforts made to return the Famine Cross. It will remain in the church until a permanent Garden of Remembrance sanctuary in the church grounds is complete.