Published: Wednesday, 31st August, 2011 4:30pm
The national spotlight will be on Clones on Saturday, September 10, when the National Famine Commemoration is held in the Border town, writes Tom Carron. It is a major State occasion and will be attended by President Mary McAleese and ambassadors from about 30 countries around the globe.
Representatives of all religious faiths will participate in an ecumenical service of remembrance on the Diamond and President McAleese will lay a wreath in memory of all famine victims in front of Clones Market House which was itself built during the early years of the famine.
Over a million Irish people died of starvation in the Great Hunger and at least another million emigrated in its immediate wake. It heralded an exodus of emigration that was only halted about a decade ago, and which unfortunately has restarted once more.
The Clones Poor Law Union which covered the town of Clones and a large rural catchment in both counties Monaghan and Fermanagh suffered severely from the affects of the famine with many rural districts losing upwards of half of their populations.
The National Famine Commemoration is one of just three national commemorations held by the state each year – the other two being in memory of those who died in the 1916 Rising and those Irishmen who died in the Great War, in other wars and in the service of the United Nations.
The national State events on Saturday, September 10 are being preceded by 10 days of activities in the town of Clones and neighbouring villages which has the famine as their theme. These include lectures and films on the devastating events of the famine years which peaked with such dire consequences in 1847.
While it is over 150 years since the Great Famine the concept of a National Famine Commemoration was only initiated in 2009. It is the first time that President McAleese will attend and it is acknowledged as a great honour for Clones that she is the guest of honour.
Marcella Leonard and Peter McClave are joint chairpersons of the commemoration and they head up a local committee and team of organisers who are working flat out to ensure that the entire programme of activities are stimulating and enjoyable.
Clones was chosen as the venue on foot of a case made by Clones Community Forum and Clogher Historical Society, supported by Clones Town Council.
The launch of the National Famine Commemoration was on Monday, August 29, in the Canal Stores with lectures by leading historian, Dr Gerard McAtasney, who has written several major works on the Great Famine, and by Brian McDonald, local professional historian, who will focus on the impact of the famine in the Clones Poor Law Union. A booklet on this year’s National Famine Commemoration was launched on the night by the Mayor of Clones, Ms Yvonne Newell. Other events include a Scealta o Theach na mBocht (“Tales of the Poor House”) being shown in the Lennard Arms on Tuesday and Wednesday nights courtesy of Clones Film Festival.
In a very noteworthy project the pupils of Corranny primary school have made their own special film entitled “The Famine” which is also being shown this week.
In Newtownbutler on Friday, September 2, there will be a talk on “South Fermanagh during the Famine” by Michael McPhillips and Dr Eamon O Ciardha from the University of Ulster will speak in Scotshouse Community Centre about “Ireland Pre-Famine Times” on Monday, September 5 at 8pm.
Also a lecture will be given in Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff by Ulster GAA Council President, Aogan O Fearghail, entitled “1847 to 1947 – from Famine to Polo Grounds”. It deals with the decision by the GAA to hold the 1947 All Ireland Final between Cavan and Kerry in New York on the 100th anniversary of the Famine. TG4 are giving extensive coverage to the National Famine Commemoration and a segment of “Tales from the Poor House” is being screened on that channel on Thursday, September 8.
The impact of the Great Famine on counties Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Monaghan have been the untold story of the Great Hunger which has tended to focus on the counties in the West of Ireland which were of course severely hit. However, it is a fact that the famine did leave a trail of death in those Ulster counties in the west and south of the province. The trek to Clones Workhouse of the starving is part of the history of Clones and a memorial was erected in the Clones famine graveyard in the mid 1990s in memory of those from this area who died. Peter McClave was chairman of that committee, many of whose members are now deceased.
Marcella Leonard also referred to the community commemoration on Thursday, September 8, when walkers will converge on the Clones famine graveyard from several locations throughout the Clones Poor Law Union in both Fermanagh and Monaghan. This is an act of tracing the footsteps of those starving men, women and children who set out on the journey to Clones workhouse in the hope of getting food. Unfortunately many didn’t make it and succumbed on the way. The famine commemoration committee invites as many people as possible to join one of the walks which are scheduled to reach the famine graveyard at 7pm where a simple but poignant ceremony will be held.
Peter McClave and Marcella Leonard stress the cross community dimensions of the Clones famine commemoration events. The Clones Poor Law Union represented in equal measure the same number of districts in Fermanagh as in Monaghan. The Great Hunger laid people low from all traditions and all religious faiths.
After the State national commemoration ceremony on Saturday, September 10, there will be refreshments served in the new County Library with light food available for several hundred people.