Commemoration hears of famine’s heavy toll on Ulster
Cavan lost 43% of its population through death or emigration between 1845 and 1851
Stormont culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys in Newry, Co Down at the National Famine Commemoration ceremony. Photograph: Paul Faith.
The tragedy of a coffin ship which hit an iceberg and sank was recalled at the first National Famine Commemoration event to be held in Northern Ireland.
Hannah left Warrenpoint in April 1849 with approximately 170 passengers and crew on board.
She sank in the Gulf of St Lawrence on April 29th, 1849 with at least 49 deaths though the ship’s list was lost and nobody knows exactly how many people were on board.
The annual commemoration was held at Albert Basin, Newry. Nearby Warrenpoint was a major port of emigration during the famine years. Hannah sailed from there on April 4th.
Most of those on board Hannah were from south Armagh. Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys referenced the Murphy family from Mullaghbane who lost two of their children in the sinking and whose descendants still live in North Crosby, Ontario.
Stormont minister for culture Carál Ní Chuilín gave an account of the sinking of Hannah. One mother lost her six children, she said.
The ship struck an iceberg in the middle of the night and many of the children were trapped below deck. The ship sank in just 40 minutes and survivors clung to ice floes, but many died from exposure.
One eyewitness reported of the survivors: “No pen can describe the pitiful situation of the poor creatures. They were all but naked, cut and bruised and frostbitten. There were children who lost parents and parents who lost children. Many, in fact, were perfectly insensible.”
Dr Eamon Phoenix, a member of the famine memorial committee, stated the catastrophe directed impacted at least 3.5 million in Ireland. The population of the historic province of Ulster dropped by 16 per cent between 1845 and 1851. The worst affected county was Cavan where 43 per cent of the population was lost through either death or emigration.
Dr Phoenix pointed out that the famine affected both Catholic and Protestant communities in the North.
The famine had a “seering impact on the traditionally prosperous parts of east Ulster,” he said, adding that it was particularly notable around Lurgan and Portadown in Armagh.
In Newtownards the potato crop failure coincided with a downturn in the linen industry which devastated the area leaving “emaciated, half-famished souls”, according to a local newspaper account.
The workhouse in Newry saw a rise in numbers from 465 in 1845 to 1,100 in 1847.
The service was hosted by Newry and Mourne District Council. The National Famine Commemoration was first established in 2008 and is held in a different part of the country every year.
Representatives of the diplomatic corps from more than 30 countries attended the event and laid wreathes.
Mrs Humphreys will also unveil a commemorative plaque in Warrenpoint, Co. Down on Sunday in honour of those who emigrated and all of the people who suffered on the island of Ireland as a result of the famine.