Posted by: irishhungercomm | May 21, 2011

President Obama and the Great Hunger Connection

Jim Gallagher, Secretary of the American Committee for the Commemoration of Victims of the Irish Hunger (1845 – 1851), participated, on May 18, in a conference call with the White House relating to certain aspects of President Obama’s upcoming visit to Ireland. The Committee’s goal is to encourage the President to visit a mass grave containing the remains of 30,000 Irish people who were Victims of the Great Hunger (the “Famine”).

Report from Jim Gallagher on conference call with the White House Ethnic Outreach Office. See at * for notes included for clarity in view of later information.

I participated in the teleconference call today with the White House Ethnic Outreach Office.  Regarding the publicized visit of President Obama to Daniel O’Connell’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, the upshot of the call is that this cemetery visit has been dropped from the schedule. (* There is later information that there is now a possibility that the President will Stop at Glasnevin Cemetery)  As briefly as I can I’ll try to explain.

Also, below I’ve included my prepared succinct statement (argument) for the President’s visit to the Irish Hunger mass grave near O’Connell’s grave.  I didn’t know how much time would be allotted to each participant.  It turns out that our participation, other than as listeners, was limited to a Q&A period, so I didn’t even get to give my full statement.  I did ask about the planned visit to Glasnevin, as did one other person.

Mr. Dennis Donoghue, Assistant National Security Advisor, moderated the call.

Donoghue:  The purpose of the President’s trip to Ireland is to celebrate the relationships between the two countries and to acknowledge the contributions of the Irish to America.

The itinerary (as presently planned) is:  May 23, Meet with President Mary McAleese, Meet with the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, travel to Moneygall, Offaly and then to give a speech at a music festival in Dublin.

Participating in the call (at least the Q&A portion) were (in order of participation): Brian O’Dwyer, John O’Dea, Stella O’Leary, James Ronahan, Sarah McAuliff Bellin, James Connell, Elizabeth Bagley, Jim Gallagher, Ciaran Staunton, Mike Cummings.  Mr. O’Dea also asked about the visit to Glasnevin, with respect to O’Connell and Frederick Douglass.

My argument (* I presented the first paragraph while asking my question):

I submit that there are strong associations between the Irish Hunger, Frederick Douglass, Daniel O’Connell, poverty, immigration and the start of Irish America, and, the rest of the Irish diaspora (particularly in Canada and Australia). President Obama’s visit to the Irish Hunger mass grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, which lies within 50 yards of Daniel O’Connell’s grave, would strike a chord for dignity and recognition of the horrific and undignified deaths of the reported 30,000 Irish peasants who lie in that one grave, and there are many such graves throughout Ireland.  Most victims in these mass graves never even received the dignity of identification.

Government repression and neglect kept these peasants in poverty before and during the impact of the potato fungal blight – their only staple food source.  As such, that acknowledged “worst social catastrophe of 19th century Europe” bears much resemblance to the causes of mass starvations in third world countries today.  Worse, during those recurring years of the blight and the government’s inadequate response, food was being exported from Ireland, under armed guard to prevent the starving Irish from accessing the very food that many of them toiled in the fields to grow.  Thus, the term “Famine” is, by definition, a misnomer.  We tend to refer to this tragedy as “Hunger” or “Starvation”.

In the Autumn of 1845 Frederick Douglass visited Ireland.  He was profoundly influenced by this experience.  He is reported to have said that he had not seen such poverty in America, and, in 1846 he wrote that he likened the living conditions of the Irish peasants to that of American slaves.

Many of those who fled Ireland during the Hunger period perceived their emigration as the only means of escaping certain death, although about 20% of them died in the process – at sea and in quarantine stations.  That mass immigration in this country represented the start of Irish America.  During the U.S. Civil War, many Irish joined the northern army to help relieve the repression associated with slavery in this country.

The Irish people and Irish America will be deeply touched by a meaningful tribute to these buried victims, however brief, by the President of the United States.


Jim Gallagher

During the conference call I was only able to state paragraph 1 while asking my question.

The full statement has been e-mailed to the White House, with a covering letter, as follows:

Mr. Lierman,

I thank you for the opportunity to participate in yesterday’s conference call concerning President Obama’s planned trip to Ireland.  As you can see from my report to my committee on the results of yesterday’s discussion, I was disappointed that the proposed visit of the President to Glasnevin cemetery, in Dublin, will not be part of the President’s itinerary.  However, I forward this e-mail report, containing our interest in the Glasnevin visit, just in case scheduling of the subject itinerary may change.  Such a visit could have broad appeal.

Thanks again for the opportunity and time.

Jim Gallagher
American Committee for the Commemoration of Victims of the Irish Hunger (1845-1851)

* As stated above, there is now a possibility that the President will stop at Glasnevin Cemetery.


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