The generosity of a Native American tribe towards the people of Ireland at the height of the Great Famine will be recalled this weekend with the unveiling of a sculpture to commemorate the event.
The Choctaw Nation of the southeastern states of America were so moved by the plight of the Irish people during the Famine that in 1847 they raised $170 – worth tens of thousands of dollars today – from their meagre resources to aid those starving in Ireland.
Now the generosity of the Choctaw people, which came when they were suffering great penury and hardship after thousands perished on the forced migration that was the Trail of Tears, is to be remembered at a ceremony in Midleton, Co Cork.
Choctaw Nation chief Gary Batton and a delegation of representatives from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will attend the unveiling of a piece of sculpture, entitled Kindred Spirits, by Cork-based sculptor Alex Pentek.
According to Cork County Council East Cork municipal officer Joe McCarthy, the sculpture was commissioned in 2013 by the former Midleton Town Council in recognition of the Choctaw people’s extraordinary generosity towards the people of Ireland.
Mr McCarthy said the stainless steel sculpture, comprising nine 20ft eagle feathers, arranged in a circular shape and reaching towards the sky, is a metaphorical representation of a bowl filled with food, presented to the hungry.
“The Choctaw people were still recovering from their own injustice, and they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers by contributing a sum of $170 to send food aid to Ireland. It’s rare to see such generosity and it had to be acknowledged,” said Mr McCarthy.
“They bestowed a blessing not only on the starving Irish men, women and children, but also on humanity. The gift from the Choctaw people was a demonstration of love and this monument acknowledges that and hopefully will encourage the Irish people to act as the Choctaw people did.”
Leading the Choctaw delegation for the unveiling of the sculpture which takes place in Midleton at 2pm on Sunday, is Chief Gary Batton, who spoke about the strong bonds forged between his people and the people of Ireland by the generosity of his ancestors.
“Your story is our story. We didn’t have any income. This was money pulled from our pockets. We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help,” he said.
“The bond between our nations has strengthened over the years. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our cultures, and meet the generous people who have continued to honour a gift from the heart.”