Famine remembered at Newry commemorative event
Monday, September 28th, 2015
Community, Old Newry, Politics
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Culture Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn have remembered the awful effects of the famine at the eighth annual famine commemoration in Newry.
The potato crop, which was the key – and in many cases only – sustenance for much of the Irish population, failed to various degrees every year between 1845 and 1851 and in those years the Irish population fell by almost two million.
Emigration continued to plague the Irish nation for decades to come and by the time of the 1911 census it had dropped to 4.4 million, some 4.1 million less than it had been at the outbreak of the famine.
The Northern Ireland Executive endorsed the proposal to hold this year’s Famine Commemoration in Newry. This cross-party support recognised the important opportunity to increase understanding and raise awareness of a key period in our shared history and to promote inclusive approaches to remembering our past.
Expressing his appreciation that the event was taking place in the north, the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said, “I welcome the fact this commemoration is being held in the north for the first time and commend everyone involved for making this a reality.
“The famine left an indelible mark on the island of Ireland, changing every townland, village, town, county and province forever. Today provides an opportunity for us all to pause and reflect on the pain and suffering of our ancestors.
“While we will never be able to fully appreciate the true poverty, starvation and horror suffered during that chapter in our history the actions and efforts of those during the famine remain a major source of inspiration for us to this day.
“The resolve and resilience of previous generations is ever present in society today as many of our young people continue to emigrate to make better lives for their families. The paths walked by previous generations have paved the way.
McGuinness added, “Unfortunately there are people in the world who are still forced to leave home due to persecution, hunger and fear. We must always support those in greatest need. It is with this in mind we must extend the hand of friendship to people who want to come here and call Ireland their home.”
Culture Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said, “The Great Hunger’ or ‘An Gorta Mόr’ is a time that should never be forgotten and as such this yearly commemorative event is an important template to help us appreciate what a terrible period it was for Ireland.
“The famine impacted on everyone right across the country and even now, some 170 years later, it is difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of hardship and suffering,” she added.
The keynote address was delivered by Heather Humphreys TD, Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, while wreaths were laid by both the deputy First Minister and the Culture Minister.
Ms Nί Chuilίn also recited a contemporary account of the sinking of ‘The Hannah’, an emigrant ship that left Warrenpoint en route to Quebec, but sank in the Gulf of Lawrence on 29 April 1849 after hitting ice, with at least 49 passengers drowning.
A plaque will be unveiled in Warrenpoint in recognition of those emigrants who sailed from Warrenpoint to New Brunswick on another famine ship, ‘The Lady Caroline.’
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