Famine memorial day set for May 17th


THE FIRST annual memorial day for the Great Famine will take place next May with separate commemoration ceremonies in Co Cork and in Canada.

Communities around the Republic are being encouraged to hold commemorations and sporting organisations are being asked to observe a minute's silence on National Famine Memorial Day.

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív told a press conference at Government Buildings the national commemoration would take place at Skibbereen, Co Cork, on May 17th, with high-level Government representation.

Each province is to host the event in turn, with the 2010 commemoration having a Connacht setting, in Co Mayo, and the 2011 event taking place at a location, yet to be decided, in Ulster.

Mr Ó Cuív said a "parallel international event" would be held in Canada on May 10th. The exact location has yet to be decided. The international commemoration will be also be held at a different place each year.

"In May of last year, I announced that the Government had agreed to commemorate the Great Famine with an annual memorial day and I established the National Famine Commemoration Committee to decide on the most appropriate arrangements for the commemoration.

"Membership of the committee includes a range of interested parties, including representatives of relevant government and non-government organisations as well as individuals with particular interests or expertise in relevant issues," Mr Ó Cuív said.

The National Famine Commemoration Day was held on May 25th last year when an official reception was hosted at the Custom House in Dublin by Minister of State at the Department of Community Affairs John Curran, who also spoke at yesterday's press conference.

"The failure of the potato crop during the 1840s was a transforming event in Ireland and no other event in our history can be likened to it for either its immediate impact or its legacy of emigration, cultural loss and decline of the Irish language," he said.

"That legacy includes a strong appreciation today among Irish people of issues such as food security and a strong commitment to humanitarian aid and relief.

"The spread of Irish people around the globe during that fateful period in our history is without parallel. The Great Famine resulted in the formation of many diaspora communities, who helped to ensure the prosperous development of the countries to which they travelled," Mr Curran said.

Explaining the choice of this year's location, Mr Ó Cuív said: "The Skibbereen area was one of the worst affected by the Great Famine.

"The mass graves of between 8,000 and 10,000 famine victims at Abbeystrewery near Skibbereen are testament to the tragic consequences of the catastrophic failure of the potato crop in the area during the 1840s."

With regard to the Canadian ceremony, he said: "Some 250,000 Irish emigrants arrived in Canada between 1845 and 1855. 1847 was the high water mark, as close to 110,000 immigrants, most of whom were Irish Famine refugees, made their way to Canada. Four million Canadians (12.5 per cent of the population) claim Irish heritage today," said Mr Ó Cuív.