More than 1,000 attend moving ceremony

 

MORE THAN 1,000 people attended a moving ceremony yesterday to commemorate those who died during the Great Famine at the Murrisk, Co Mayo, famine memorial park under the shadow of Croagh Patrick.

The three-hour ceremony was presided over by Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Pat Carey, who said no event in Irish history had done more to shape the Ireland of today and form the Irish communities abroad.

Now in its third year, the event was organised by the National Famine Commemoration Committee and hosted this year by the Murrisk Development Association, which had staged a series of events last week in the run-up to yesterday’s ceremony.

The commemoration – formal State recognition of what happened to our people in the past because of the Great Hunger – was attended by ambassadors representing 14 countries, including the US, China and Australia.

There were raised eyebrows at the absence of any representative from the British embassy. An invitation had been sent out to all diplomatic services in Dublin.

“All the ambassadors were invited, but it appears there were a lot of other engagements. They were invited and were here last year,” said a spokeswoman for Mr Carey.

“Strange the ambassador was not here, or that they did not send someone,” said Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny, when asked about it. Senator David Norris also said he felt it would have been appropriate for the British government to have been represented.

More than 1,000 people came to the foot of Croagh Patrick for the ceremony which began with an Army Band recital, followed by traditional music and readings from extracts written at the time of the Famine, read by John Cribbin, chairman of Mayo County Council, and Helena Hoban, Murrisk Development Association.

Mr Carey said no other event in our history could be likened to the Great Famine for its immediate impact or its legacy of emigration, cultural loss and decline of the Irish language.

“Connacht had the highest level of mortality, and one in four of its population perished. The loss from emigration was also great, and provided the basis for the Irish diaspora communities today,” he said.

Prayers for the victims were said by Leonard Abrahamson of the Jewish community in Ireland, Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Neary, who said Mayo had suffered greater than anywhere else in the Famine, and Rev Val Rodgers, Church of Ireland.

Rev Stephen Taylor of the Methodist Church and Magrit E Gray said a prayer on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends, and there was a short reflection read by Seamus O’Connell of the Humanist Association of Ireland.

The civil part of the ceremony concluded with candle-lighting by schoolchildren of St Augustine’s National School, who later sang the latest anthem of the Famine, Isle of Hope, which tells the story of Ellis Island in New York.

The State commemoration began with a prayer by Army chaplain Fr Eoin Thynne and an instrumental lament. The Minister laid a wreath at the memorial on behalf of the State, and then the 14 ambassadors laid wreaths.

States officially represented were Israel, Croatia, Hungary, China, Slovakia, Romania, Turkey, US, Latvia, Slovenia, Australia, Belgium, the Philippines and Nigeria.

President Mary McAleese, who attends a Famine commemoration in the US next week, and Taoiseach Brian Cowen were represented by their aides-de-camp, Col Michael Mc Mahon and Comdt Michael Treacy.

Brig Gen Michael Finn represented the Army chief of staff, Dermot Earley.

The commemoration, which concluded with The Last Post, the raising of the flag and the National Anthem, was attended by members of both Houses of the Oireachtas from all parties, and many councillors from across the west.