As they began the 155 km Famine commemorative walk from Strokestown, Co Roscommon to Dublin last weekend, participants' thoughts turned to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. "While exploring our past we are always conscious that the experience is someone else's present," Caroilin Callery, one of the walkers, said when they finished the walk in Dublin.
The walk, in period costume, commemorated one in 1847 when 1,490 starving tenants from the Mahon estate in Strokestown walked to Dublin and boarded the ship Naomi for Canada.
"Seven hundred of them died at sea," Ms Callery said. On Monday she got a text to say 700 migrants had drowned off the coast of Libya. It was "gut-wrenching", she said.
Ms Callery, along with Patricia Rogers, Mick Blanch, Gerard Glennon, Bernie Kelly and broadcaster Cathal Póirtéir, finished up at the Jeanie Johnston tall ship on Custom House Quay in Dublin.
They were met by Minister for Arts
, who launched the programme for the inaugural Irish Famine Summer School in Strokestown in June. Described by co-ordinator Dr Ciarán Reilly of
as “the biggest conference on the Irish Famine ever held to date”, it takes place from June 17th to 21st.
The Minister told the walkers: “You’ve brought life to history and history to life.”
She said the National Famine Commemoration Day on September 26th would be marked in Northern Ireland for the first time at Newry, Co Down.
“The Famine was an event felt by all religions and all cultures on this island. It was one of the most important events in our shared history, a bit like World War one,” she said.
Tim O’Connor, chairman of The Gathering in 2013, described the Irish diaspora as “a great global parish joined by geography and time”, much of it rooted in migration as a result of the Famine.
Schoolgirl Maeve Tighe read her poem The Journey.
Roscommon county council acting chief executive Tommy Ryan described Strokestown House as "a great asset" in an "unknown" county. The house was bought 35 years ago by Jim Callery who has overseen its preservation and the setting up of a Famine Museum there.
He attended the launch of the summer school programme with his wife Adeline. Their daughter Caroilin spoke of his huge personal and financial commitment to Strokestown House. “We’re extremely proud of him.”