Marie Smith met, in July, with Irish Government Minister Pat Carey. The Minister invited her comments and recommendations relative to the Irish workhouses and mass grave sites – these date from the Famine times and are in many parts of Ireland. The following letter was sent to the Minister by Marie Smith
Minister Pat Carey
Department of Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs
43-49 Mespil Road
Dublin 4, Ireland
September 7, 2010
Dear Minister Carey:
Thank you for meeting with me and my nephew in July and inviting my comments as to how the Irish Government and Tourist Board can encourage the diaspora to return to the land of their heritage and increase their knowledge of an event that placed their ancestors on emigrant ships. Incidentally, Mary, a member of your staff gave me her email and I lost it in my travels around Ireland in search of workhouses and mass grave sites.
Before I submit my recommendations allow me to tell you of my experience in searching for workhouses and mass grave sites. My first visit was to Glasnevin Museum and Cemetery. What an improvement I found from my last visit – the Trust is doing a wonderful job in cleaning up the grave sites and the museum has all the tools available for research. I inquired of my guide as to where the famine grave site might be situated, and after being sent in the wrong direction came back, and another guide said the famine grave site was under the Parnell Stone as in order to protect his remains from the body snatchers they placed him in the cholera grave – the souls of the famine victims have protected the Parnell site; however, there is no marker for them on this site. I then drove to Donghamore workhouse and agricultural museum in Co. Laois opened in 1997 but unpublicized in any of the tourist offices. This workhouse was built post famine and the mass grave site is close by (photo attached). The preservation of these existing workhouses which are in every county should be the goal of the Irish Tourist Board and government. I then drove to Cashel and went to the Irish Tourist office and inquired where I could visit a workhouse or mass grave site, the personnel looked at me with curiosity and gave a definitive “no” to my question. The Donghamore workhouse is only one county east and the personnel have no knowledge of its existence – sad. I spoke to Liam Phelan at the workhouse of the efforts of building our famine monuments stateside and hope next time I visit, to see tourist buses at this site. In Ballyvaughan workhouse and mass grave site is a sports playing field with no markers or plaques. In Westport the workhouse is a housing development and the bodies are buried in a quarry. In Ballina the workhouse is now a hospital but it does have a marker dedicatd in 1995 by former American Ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith, and outside of Ballina, the remains of a former workhouse. The last time I visited Doolough, Co. Mayo, there was a celtic cross as a memorial to the famine victims drowned in the lough. This has now been replaced by (see photo) not an improvement on the previous memorial, you will agree. The Letterkenny workhouse is now their museum and its mass grave site has been removed to land outside the city, the plot is overgrown and the grass so high the grave stone is obliterated. The Doagh famine village at Inishowen is in need of improvement and funding; however, there were many tourist buses from Belfast and England visiting. The only exhibit that impressed me was at Strokestown. I had visited Strokestown on previous occasions but this time their development of the exhibit was impressive due to the dedication of their curator and staff. Strokestown is overlooked by U.S. and English touring companies and I wonder, why?
It is our sincere hope that in your watch you will follow in the foot steps of Eamonn DeValera who set up the Irish Folklore Commission to collect the stories of the famine, and then continued by the Famine Commemoration Commission of 1995. The Diaspora is seeking a conclusion to these Commissions and for the Irish government to commence an initiative to preserve the existing workhouses and mass grave sites in Ireland. The Diaspora wishes to join with the Irish government in incorporating their efforts in the building of famine memorials in the U.S., Canada, Australia and where ever the famine victims died and survived. We hope and pray that with our combined efforts the famine victims can bask in the warmth of the sunlight, no longer hidden in the darkness.
It is our sincere wish that you will make this happen.
Marie Tierney Smith
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE COMMITTEE
1. Research areas of funding.
2. Setting up a Committee to be known as: The Committee for the Preservation of the Workhouses and Mass Grave Sites of Ireland.
Suggested participants: Mary Daly (The Famine in Ireland)
Ruan O’Donnell (The Irish Famine)
Jim Reeves (Surplus People)
John O’Connor (The Workhouses of Ireland)
Peader Cremin, President, Mary Immaculate College Limerick has put forth the suggestion that the current St. Camillus’s Hospital was a huge workhouse and he suspects that it will be closing soon. He believes that this would be a great centre for an interpretive Center/Museum/Place of Commemoration. Since Shannon is the hub for international tourism but does not have places for tourists to visit and could be connected to Shannon Development as an interested partner.
3. An invitation to artists to submit a design for grave stones and markers.
4. The Historical Society of each county to submit the history of their workhouses and mass grave sites.
5. Competition in schools and prizes for submission of articles on the famine period in their counties and towns.
6. Historical Societies to have lectures and events planned on the workhouse in their area for inclusion in the Heritage Week booklet.
7. A map and locations of all workhouses to be displayed in all Irish Tourist
offices and encouragement to have bus tours to sites and local guides to tell
8. On the National Famine Commemorative date to place markers and grave
stones on the workhouses and grave sites.
9. Advertising abroad on the opening of the workhouses & grave sites.
10. Incorporating the achievements of the Diaspora in building of famine
memorials in their countries.
11. Supporting all efforts to preserve the existing workhouses.
12. A permanent famine exhibit in our National Museum.