Writer to help decide on Famine Memorial

One of the country’s best known historical writers is among group of experts who will decide how to honour the million people who died in the Great Famine.

One of the country’s best known historical writers is among group of experts who will decide how to honour the million people who died in the Great Famine.

Tim Pat Coogan was revealed as part of the National Famine Commemoration Committee set to explore how to mark Famine Memorial Day.

The broadcaster and former editor of the Irish Press has penned a number of books on Irish history including biographies on Michael Collins, and his grandfather Eamon De Valera, and the first major work on the Irish Diaspora.

The committee, which held its inaugural meeting today, was established by Community Affairs Minister Eamon O’Cuiv who will chair the group.

“There is nothing else in the history of the Irish people than can be likened to the Great Famine, either for its immediate impact or its legacy,” said Mr O Cuiv.

“The involvement of this committee will help to ensure that the Famine, its victims and its legacy are not forgotten.”

The catastrophic failure of the potato crop in the 1840s led to the death by starvation of one million people while hundreds of thousands emigrated, sparking a worldwide Irish Diaspora.

The devastating natural disaster left a lasting social and political legacy on modern Ireland.

Ireland’s population, which exceeded eight million in the Census of 1841, was reduced by approximately 1.5 million through death and emigration. Only 10 years later, the 1851 Census recorded a population of only 6.5 million.

The Famine resulted in large Irish communities settling in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and was also blamed for the decline of the Irish language.

Famine Memorial Day will be the first time the forgotten victims of the Famine are to be remembered in an annual official event.

The event is a major victory for the Dublin-based Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, which has run a lobbying campaign for five years.

Taxi driver Michael Blanch, who set up that committee and held commemorations in the capital since 2003, will have a key role in the Government’s new group.

Other members include Minister of State John Curran, historians Dr Margaret McCurtin, Prof. Gearoid O Tuathaigh, and Dr Eamon Phoenix, Gorta’s Brian Hanratty, Trocaire’s Justin Kilcullen, retired ambassador Hugh Swift, and Dr Majda Bne Saad, a senior lecturer at UCD.

The committee will also include representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs, and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Mr O Cuiv – who is a grandson of former Taoiseach and President Eamon De Valera - said the main objective of the committee is to consider the most appropriate arrangement for future national commemorations of the Great Famine.

“The general legacy of emigration, cultural loss and the decline of the Irish language, together with the specific issues of food security and the strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief, are particular themes that will be explored by the committee during its work,” he added.

“In the context of the Irish Diaspora, it is envisaged that the committee will consider means through which this aspect of the Famine might appropriately be recognised, and the extraordinary contributions of those who emigrated, and of their many descendants abroad, justly celebrated.”

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