Saturday, 10 September 2011
President Mary McAleese has hailed the life-saving support that groups including New York’s Jewish community gave to Ireland in the 1840s
She told the National Famine Commemoration in Clones, Co Monaghan, that the impact of the traumatic era was still being felt centuries later through Irish communities around the world.
But she said that while international solidarity had helped the stricken victims of the Great Famine in Ireland, the starving suffered “an intolerable political disinterest”.
The president recounted how the immediate aftermath of the famine caused the death of a million, the scattering of another million through mass emigration and skewed the course of history.
“It is right that we remember them, that we respect their names, dignify their overlooked lives and refuse to forget their indescribable suffering,” she said. “It is right that the imprint of their memory on our psyche has been to create in us a spontaneous and genuine empathy with the world’s disempowered and hungry poor.
“Our long-standing solidarity with the poor in so many developing countries is an important vindication of those who invested in us during those tragic years of famine and starvation.
“For while there were many who should have helped but did not or who responded very inadequately there were others who came to Ireland’s help because they were moved by compassion and human kindness.”
She added: “Last year, I had the great honour of visiting the Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York to acknowledge, and say thank you, for the financial support given to our ancestors by New York’s Jewish Community in the 1840s.
“Help came from the most distant and unexpected of places; we recall the Choctaw tribe of American Indians who, in 1847, donated the equivalent of over 100,000 dollars today. We remember the people of Toronto who sacrificed their own lives while ministering to the Irish who arrived in their city in large numbers suffering from disease.”
The president said those forced to emigrate were faced with illness, discrimination, trauma and isolation, but left a lasting international legacy.