Honour Famine victims by aiding ‘modern equivalents’ - Varadkar

Taoiseach speaks at National Famine Commemoration at Ballingarry, Co Tipperary

The Famine Warhouse 1848,  a commemorative visitor centre run by the OPW, outside Ballingarry in Co Tipperary.  File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

The Famine Warhouse 1848, a commemorative visitor centre run by the OPW, outside Ballingarry in Co Tipperary. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The Taoiseach has said the best way to remember those who died in Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840s is to help their “modern-day equivalents” by welcoming those who have suffered through natural disaster or oppression.

Leo Varadkar was speaking at this year’s National Famine Commemoration, held outside Ballingarry in Co Tipperary, on the site where the 1848 Young Irelanders’ rebellion took place at the height of the Famine.

A crowd of hundreds, including ambassadors or chargés d’affaires from 48 countries as well as representatives of the UN High Commission for Refugees, the European Commission and European Parliament, attended the event at the Famine Warhouse 1848, once the home of Widow Margaret McCormack and her family and now a commemorative visitor centre run by the OPW.

Mr Varadkar told the gathering the Irish Famine had “shaped our destiny” through its effect on our culture, society, politics and approach to the problems of the world.

“The Great Famine was a cataclysm on a scale never witnessed on this island before, and yet people endured, survived, emigrated and, above all, remembered,” he said. “It has become part of our national consciousness and, indeed, part of our national sub-consciousness.”

‘Two important events’

The scene outside Ballingarry was an intersection of “two important events,” according to the Taoiseach: the suffering of the Famine and the uprising of 1848 which was quickly repelled.

A “direct line” connecting the events of Ballingarry ran through the subsequent foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the struggles of the Land League, the 1916 Rising and the achievement of Independence.

While the “Great Hunger” left many emotional and social wounds, its positive legacy was the contribution since made to the world by our emigrants, which began when so many people left in the 1840s and subsequent years, he added.

“For so many of our diaspora, the Famine was the foundation stone of the story of their families. For many, it was the turning point in their family history.”

Another positive from the Famine, he continued, was the solidarity shown to other people who have gone through similar events.

A better life

He referred to the contribution of Ireland today to helping those in such situations, from investment in delivering nutrition to mothers and their children, to our Naval Service assisting people who decide to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek a better life, to our soldiers on peacekeeping duties with the UN in various countries.

The ceremony included wreath-laying by diplomatic representatives, singing by students from the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, poetry-reading by students at Ballingarry Presentation Convent as well as teacher Carmel O’Brien and poet Michael Coady, and prayers led by Rev Barbara Fryday and Fr Derry Quirke.

Prof Micheál Ó Súilleabháin played piano while local historian Dr Thomas McGrath spoke of the role played by the Famine Warhorse in history. Dr Phyl Bugler, chairperson of Tipperary County Council, read from an account of the Famine written at the time by Fr Philip Fitzgerald.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, also chairwoman of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, said annual commemorations have now been held in eight different counties across the country.

Events concluded with a minute’s silence, the playing of the Last Post and Reveille, the raising of the national flag and the national anthem.