The President, Michael D. Higgins, is today (Sunday 21 May) officiating at the National Famine Commemoration in Milford, Co. Donegal. The Government will be represented by Jack Chambers, Minister of State at the Department of Transport & Department of the Environment, Climate & Communications.
The formal State ceremony will feature a keynote address by President Higgins, and include military honours and a wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of all those who died during the Famine. Minister Chambers will also address the event.
In addition to the President, wreaths will also be laid by His Excellency, The Most Reverend Luis Mariano Montemayor, Apostolic Nuncio, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; and Councillor Liam Blaney Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council.
Music at the event will be provided by local musicians from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Maoil Ruaidh, while Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, fiddler and singer with Altan, will perform the traditional lullaby ‘Dún do Shúil’ accompanied by guitarist Steve Cooney. The public ceremony will also be broadcast on the RTÉ News channel.
President Michael D Higgins said:
“National Famine Commemoration Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on and recall the lives, the suffering and the loss of that tragic event imposed on Irish people which we call An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, the Irish Famine. It is an opportunity too to remember those who fled to create new lives abroad, and reflect on the best lessons we might take from such a recall and how it might influence our contemporary lives and the lives of others. This year’s setting at the old site of the Milford workhouse is so appropriate given the adversity endured by the people of Donegal in the face of poverty, hunger and emigration throughout the 19th century and in particular during the Great Hunger.
The legacy of An Gorta Mór is complex, deep, wide, has many strands that have impacted on the Irish collective psyche as well as at the individual level. Its legacy is one of involuntary emigration, cultural loss, demoralisation and loss of confidence, both in terms of population and in terms of its impact on the Irish language and the marks this would have on the country, and in particular on Irish society. Given this foundational part of our near historical experience, it is easy to understand how the continuing issues of food security and food sovereignty in our contemporary world resonate profoundly with us as a people and must feature in our ethical reflections and our responses as we commemorate the period of An Gorta Mór. The strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief is of course strongly related to our own past struggle with hunger, engrained in our collective memory. It is an example of the Irishness we wish to be known by, one grounded in decency, in ethical principles, taking our share of global responsibility.
We have a moral and ethical responsibility to support our global family in dire need, to help with sustainable solutions to ending all famines, wherever they occur on our shared, vulnerable planet, and to provide a decisive response to climate change which itself is leading to an increased incidence of famines globally. The parallels with An Gorta Mór and the mass displacement it caused 175 years ago must not be lost on us. We have a moral duty to continue to honour our commitments to those vulnerable and displaced who seek asylum and refuge on our shores.”
Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee said today:
“The Great Famine fundamentally altered this country, and its people, in so many ways. Today’s ceremony allows us to solemnly remember the devastating impact on the millions of people who suffered, died, or emigrated. The National Famine Commemoration is a key event for ensuring that this legacy is honoured.”
Minister Chambers, who will attend the commemoration on behalf of the Government, said:
“It is particularly appropriate that today’s event is being held here in Donegal, where the impact of the Great Famine and its legacy of emigration shaped the lives of its communities and people for too long. But today is also an opportunity to honour the courage and determination of those who were forced to leave these shores. Despite the challenges and horrors they faced, they flourished and created a thriving diaspora which continues to maintain its connection to Ireland”.