British fail to attend Famine ceremony
Politicians bemused by UK diplomats’ no-show
By Brian McDonald
Monday May 17 2010
AT BEST it was an insensitive diplomatic gaffe.
The tutting was growing apace at the National Famine Commemoration ceremony yesterday after there was no appearance by any representative of the British government.
About 1,000 attended the impressive ceremony at the Murrisk Millennium Peace Park at the foot of Croagh Patrick.
Fourteen other nations and even the European Parliament’s man made the effort to gather at the foot of the mountain for the ceremony in memory of the 1.6 million or so who either starved to death under British rule or fled the country in a desperate effort to keep body and soul together.
Attendees included US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, Australian ambassador Bruce Davis and Chinese ambassador Liu Biwei.
The Slovakians, Slovenians, Croatians and Latvians and a host of others also turned up.
Nigeria was also determined to be represented and sent along its deputy head of mission here.
But not the Brits — even though government sources confirmed that, yes, they had been invited.
Officials in Co Mayo yesterday simply shrugged their shoulders when questioned as to their whereabouts.
Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Pat Carey led the government team at the solemn event, but a spokesperson said afterwards that he did not have any comment to make about the non-appearance of a British representative.
Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny was somewhat bemused by the no-show.
“It is strange that they didn’t attend. If not the ambassador, then someone else. . . ,” he offered.
The man who would be President, Senator David Norris told reporters: “I think it would have been appropriate.”
Mr Carey told the gathering that it was highly appropriate to honour the memory of all those who had died in the Famine of mid-19th Century. It was especially appropriate that the commemoration was being held in Co Mayo where the terrible Doolough Tragedy had occurred in 1849, he added.
Local musicians and singers contributed to the solemnity of the occasion and the members of the diplomatic corps later laid wreaths at the National Famine Memorial, the evocative sculpture of a coffin ship by John Behan.
As the minds of all present inevitably travelled back the 170 years or so to the darkest days of the country’s history, perhaps the mood was best captured in a prayer read by Seamus O’Connell of the Humanist Association.
“As we remember the greatest calamity ever to befall this country, we may ponder on the mismanagement and neglect, as much as on the failure of the potato crop.”
Also attending was Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv, Junior Enterprise Minister Dara Calleary, TDs, councillors and Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy. The President and Taoiseach were represented by their aides-de-camp.
– Brian McDonald