Event to shed new light on Great Hunger in the North
Event to shed new light on Great Hunger in the North


An annual commemoration of the Great Hunger, when one million Irish people died, is to be held in the Six Counties for the first time.

The Dublin government has confirmed that the 2015 commemoration will take place on Saturday 26 September in Newry, County Down.

In the ‘famine’ of 1845, 1.5 million people emigrated to Canada, America and England, although many died of disease on the way. By 1911, Ireland’s 8.5 million population had shrunk to just 4.5 million, due to the devastating effects.

Although there was an abundance of food across Ireland at the time, most of it was exported by British landlords, while the poor depended heavily on the failing potato crop. Known as ‘Bully’s Acres’, mass graves from that time remain across Ireland, although many remain unmarked.

An international campaign seven years ago forced the Dublin administration to hold annual commemorations and finally break a political taboo.

This year, previously forgotten victims of the Hunger will be among those remembered when the annual commemoration takes place in Newry, County Down on Saturday, September 26 - marking the 250th anniversary of the start of Ireland’s holocaust.

Historian Eamon Phoenix said recent research “undermines the old idea that Ulster was spared the worst of the effects of the famine”.

“In County Fermanagh, one third of the population died, people from both traditions,” he said.

“The Lurgan workhouse for the poor was the third highest for mortality, after Skibbereen in County Cork and Glenties in County Donegal.

“These were from diseases of the famine, fever, typhus and cholera that they carried pestilence with them on the road into the towns. Lord Lurgan, a local landowner was one of the victims.”

Recent research has shown that by 1846 one in five people in Belfast, a predominately Protestant city, had been affected by some sort of contagion linked to the famine.

“In Belfast, thousands of people died from famine fever and cholera,” Mr Phoenix said. “Friar’s Bush graveyard in Stranmillis has an area known as Plaguey Hill and is the last resting place of 2,000 victims of disease during the Great Famine who died in Belfast.

“Country people, many who were Irish speaking, knew Belfast was Ireland’s only industrial city and took the road north, looking for a bowl of soup, a bed in the work house and possibly a cheap ticket to America or even Liverpool.”

Mr Phoenix said Newry is an appropriate host for the anniversary as one of the ports through which famine victims fled to Britain and America.

It was also the home of John Mitchel, an Irish lawyer and young Irelander who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land where he penned ‘The Jail Journal’ in which he coined the phrase: “Nature sent the blight, but England sent the famine.”

Six-County minister Caral Ni Chuilin described it was a “landmark initiative in Newry” which would “help communities across this island to better understand the impact and legacy of the famine on all sections and traditions in our society”.

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