Justin Trudeau visits Famine Memorial during Dublin visit

Canadian prime minister follows in footsteps of one of his predecessors, Jean Chrétien, who also visited the sculptures

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau at  the Famine Memorial on Dublin’s Custom House Quay as part of his brief visit to Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP  / Paul Faith/Getty Images

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau at the Famine Memorial on Dublin’s Custom House Quay as part of his brief visit to Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP / Paul Faith/Getty Images

 

Prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau visited the Famine Memorial on Dublin’s Custom House Quay as part of his brief visit to Dublin on Tuesday, following in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, Jean Chrétien.

The memorial, unveiled in 1997, depicts men and women trudging along the river’s quay.

A bronze plaque at the foot of one of the sculptures said “in memory of the victims of the Great Famine and for their descendents who have done so much to build Canada”. It was dated June 6th, 1999, from prime minister of Canada Jean Chrétien.

Other plaques carry the names of donors to the Irish Famine Commemoration Fund, including former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, former US president Bill Clinton, dancer Michael Flatley, comedian Dermot Morgan and footballer Roy Keane.

Sculptor Rowan Gillespie walked with Mr Trudeau from one bronze figure to the next, describing the significance of each and how they were made. The Canadian leader was silent and looked carefully into each gaunt face.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also attended the viewing, along with businesswoman Norma Smurfit, who founded the commemoration fund.

Each story

Speaking afterwards, Mr Gillespie said he explained to Mr Trudeau that he had developed the sculptures one at a time and had no idea they would end up on the quays.

“I was telling him the story because each figure does have a specific story to it from research I did,” he said. He told the prime minister the story of the man carrying a dead child over his shoulders to a soup kitchen in Clifden.

He said Mr Trudeau did not comment during the tour.

“He was very quiet and that was positive, I think he was absorbing and thinking about it.”

Canadian fans

His quietness did not last however, when he was approached by admirers who were on holiday in Ireland.

Jessica Fraser and Catlyn Laffart, both from Alberta Canada, made it their business to arrive at the Famine Memorial so that they could catch a glimpse of their prime minister. Mr Trudeau shook hands with them.

“It was amazing, I’d never have run into him at home; Canada is too big,” Jessica said.

Michelle and Dana Jones and their children Colton, Dawson and Calgary were also at the memorial and were delighted when Mr Trudeau agreed to stand into a photograph with them.

Emigration museum

The prime minister got back into his chauffeur-driven car to travel the short distance to the Epic Irish Emigration Museum, at George’s Dock.

The museum is in the vaults of the 1820 Custom House Quarter building in the Docklands, the original departure point for many Irish emigrants. It tells the story of emigration through an interactive exhibition in 20 galleries.

Mr Trudeau (45), who has headed Canada’s Liberal Party since 2013, was prompted to visit Ireland after he hosted former Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Montreal earlier this year.

Later the prime minister was to attend a dinner at Dublin Castle, hosted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.