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Taoiseach tells commemoration 'no more devastating event in Irish history than Famine'

Mr Martin said it is 'impossible for us to imagine the feelings of hopelessness, anger and loss experienced by those who suffered through the Famine years'

A National Famine Commemoration in Co Roscommon was attended by Taoiseach Micheál Martin today. Photo: Andrew Downes.

Eavan Murray

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told the National Famine Commemoration there was no more “devastating or traumatic event” in Irish history than the Great Famine.

The ceremony, in the soon to be reopened National Famine Museum in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, included military honours and a wreath-laying ceremony by ambassadors to Ireland in remembrance of all who died during the famine which began in 1845.

Mr Martin said it is “impossible for us to imagine the feelings of hopelessness, anger and loss experienced by those who suffered through the Famine years.”

“However, one of the most appalling aspects of the history of the Famine period is the knowledge that so much of the suffering was avoidable.”

The Taoiseach said that in the same way our Irish ancestors were helped, the world is now responding to the needs of the people of Ukraine, a country that also suffered its own famine, the Holodomor Famine – in 1932 and1933.

“Throughout our history, the victims of the Great Famine have called on us to help their modern-day counterparts in their time of need and generations of Irish people have responded to that call.

“As we come together to honour the victims of the Great Famine - those who died, those who were forced to emigrate and those who suffered and survived - we also recall that the people of Ukraine who now need our help have their own history of hunger.

“Ireland has opened its doors to the people of Ukraine in their time of need. That crisis has brought home the importance of those who can help others, doing whatever they can to aid those in dire straits.

“This, too, is reflective of what we know about those compassionate and generous individuals who did what they could to help the people of Ireland during the Great Famine. Those contributions and acts of kindness must never be forgotten,” said Mr Martin.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony held at the soon to be opened National Famine Museum, the Taoiseach described the new facility as “very impressive.”

“I’d love to spend more time here reading the archives. It is a wonderful resource in terms of giving insights into the famine period and the enormous trauma.

“I was just looking at the section on the four ships that took people from this part of the world to Liverpool and Quebec. The mortality rate was 50pc in some cases on board.

“And then when they arrived in Quebec, they faced cholera and all sorts of diseases; many didn’t survive."

Minister of State at the Department of Defence Jack Chambers said: “The Great Famine was truly the darkest period of our history. Today’s ceremony is an opportunity to commemorate and honour the suffering and resilience of victims of the Famine years.

“It is appropriate that the commemoration returns to this historic site in 2022 as the final preparations for reopening the National Famine Museum following major refurbishment are being concluded.”

Acknowledging the performance of singer Declan O’Rourke, Mr Chambers said it was fitting he was part of the ceremony given his 2017 album ‘Chronicles of the Great Famine.

Mr O’Rourke provided music and spoken word at the ceremony, including two songs, ‘Poor Boy’s Shoes’ and ‘Go Domhain i do Chiumhne’ (The National Famine Way’s anthem).

He also penned the ‘Pawn Broker’s Reward’, his debut novel illuminated the story of the famine through the lens of a single town in Macroom, Co Cork.

The Taoiseach was joined by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council and members of the Irish Heritage Trust in laying wreaths on behalf of the people of Ireland.

A minute’s silence was observed following the wreath-laying before a piper played a lament and the national flag was raised.

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