President unveils Celtic cross memorial to Famine survivors in Portland, Oregon


HUNDREDS OF people gathered at a snowswept hilltop graveyard in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday to watch the President, Mary McAleese, unveil a memorial to the survivors of the Famine who came to the city in the middle of the 19th century.

The memorial at Mount Calvary cemetery is a four-tonne four-metre replica of the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise, carved out of solid sandstone by Brendan McGloin from Donegal.

“The visionaries of this memorial did not strive to replicate a representation of the devastation caused by the Famine or the tragedy of lives lost, but rather they wanted to provide visitors with a tangible image of the resilience of Ireland and its people,” Mrs McAleese said.

Before the Famine, only 1 per cent of Portland’s population was Irish-born but, 10 years later, the Irish had become the city’s largest ethnic group, comprising 10 per cent of its population.

The new memorial was almost four years in the making, at a cost of $200,000 (€149,700), and was funded by private donations.

“Here in Oregon this memorial to the Irish Famine will speak for years to come of those Irish who came here with nothing but who planted here their faith and their trust and gave to Oregon the gift of their lives and their children’s lives and an enduring bond of kin and clan between Ireland and Oregon,” Mrs McAleese said.

Later, the President greeted about 500 people at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the All-Ireland Cultural Society of Oregon, including some who had driven through the snow all night from as far as Butte, Montana.

Mrs McAleese noted that, although she was the first Irish President to visit Portland while in office, Éamon De Valera came to the city in 1919. “The Ireland that he came from was at that time struggling for its independence, it was a poor land bowed down by centuries of colonialism and grinding poverty,” she said.

“He came to Portland seeking help and support in Ireland’s attempts to take her rightful place among the free and independent nations of the world and it was no accident that he arrived here, for in following in the footsteps of many an Irish emigrant, he knew he would be among friends.

“Now I follow in his and their footsteps, but I come from a very different Ireland, the one so many dreamed of, hoped for, worked for and despaired of – a prosperous Ireland and a peaceful Ireland at long last.”

From Portland, Mrs McAleese flew to Phoenix, Arizona. Later today she will fly to Los Angeles on the final stop of her weeklong visit to the west coast of the US.