Famine commemoration in Mayo
Famine commemoration in Mayo

The loss of two million Irish people through starvation and emigration is to be remembered in Mayo this week when the second National Famine Commemoration’s programme opens today [Monday].

Up to 5,000 people are expected to honour the victims of the Great Famine at the formal State ceremony.

Organisers said the official national commemoration in Murrisk, Co Mayo, was particularly poignant for locals in the home of the National Famine Monument.

Almost 90 per cent of Mayo’s population had been forced by British policy and landlordism into a dependency on the potato when the blight disease hit crops from August 1845.

Wreaths will be laid in the shadow of the bronze sculpture of a coffin ship which sits at the foot of Croagh Patrick.

Dignitaries will also attend the solemn service, on Sunday May 16, which will feature music, readings and a tree planting and candle lighting ceremony.

Frank McCarrick, of Murrisk Development Association, said several coffin ships left for the United States from nearby Westport.

“A lot of people would have seen Croagh Patrick and Clare Island, at the mouth of Clew Bay, as their last glimpse of Ireland as they left and headed for America,” he added.

The day has been earmarked by the Irish Government to commemorate and honour the 1.5 million people who either perished or emigrated from Ireland from 1845-1851.

About 500 people last year attended a service in Skibbereen, Co Cork, where thousands of famine victims are buried in a mass grave.

Organisers expect to up to 5,000 people will gather next Sunday, including 1,000 walkers and pilgrims who climb Croagh Patrick daily.

A week-long series of events is also running to remember the effects of the famine on Ireland through art, archaeology, history, song and music.

Galway historian William Joyce will speak on the horror of famine and archaeologist Michael Gibbons will recount the legacy of the Famine on the landscape.

Art historian Catherine Marshall will speak on visual representations of the Famine, while Prof Peter Gray of Queen’s University Belfast, will give a special lecture in the National Museum of Ireland, Turlough House, Castlebar on Friday on religion and the Famine.

The programme includes walking tours, a Murrisk rambling house night and traditional Irish music session. It culminates in a lecture in Westport on Saturday by the chief executive of the GOAL charity, John O’Shea, next Saturday.


Last weekend saw the the Daniel O’Connell Inaugural Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery.

His great-great-grandson Geoffrey O’Connell said his ancestor was far ahead of his time when he said “if it is not morally correct, it is not politically correct”.

“This is something we have to absorb now and take into us,” Mr O’Connell said.

The inaugural commemoration marked the 163rd anniversary of the death of O’Connell in Genoa in May 1847. Born in 1775, “the Liberator” is best remembered for his part in Catholic Emancipation and his struggle for the repeal of the Act of Union, but he also made a significant contribution to other human rights issues, including the fight against slavery.

John Green, chairman of Glasnevin Trust, spoke about the high esteem in which O’Connell was held by his contemporaries. He said when O’Connell died, the tributes paid to him were quite extraordinary.

His favourite quote was from historian and diarist Charles Breville who said “history will speak of O’Connell as one of the most remarkable men who ever existed; he will fill great space in its pages, his position was unique. There never has been before, there never will be again anything at all resembling him”.

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