Famine dead to be remembered in Mayo

Mon, May 10, 2010, 01:00

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.

Writing the Famine in Fiction and Songis the theme for the first in a series of lectures organised by Mayo County Council and the Murrisk Development Association. Writer and songwriter Brendan Graham, vocalist Cathy Jordan and pianist Feargal Murray will participate in the literary and musical evening at the Holy Trinity Church, Westport, from 8pm.

Almost 90 per cent of Mayo’s population depended on the potato when blight hit crops from August 1845.

An estimated one million people died and another million emigrated as a result of the 1845-50 famine, and Mayo’s population dropped dramatically from almost 389,000 to just over 274,000 in the decade from 1841 to 1851.

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Pat Carey said the week-long programme “blends culture, history, music and song, and promises to be a fitting tribute to those who died or suffered loss in the Great Famine”.

The first national commemoration week was held in Skibbereen, Co Cork, last year. About 500 people attended that event.

On Sunday wreaths will be laid in the shadow of the National Famine Monument – a bronze sculpture of a coffin ship which sits at the foot of Croagh Patrick.

Dignitaries will also attend a solemn service next Sunday, which will feature music, readings, tree planting and candle lighting.

Organisers expect up to 5,000 people will gather for the event, including 1,000 walkers and pilgrims who climb Croagh Patrick daily. The concept was initiated by the National Famine Commemoration Committee.

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 Goal chief executive John O’Shea next Saturday.

The programme is available from Westport Town Council, Co Mayo, at 098-50400.