Speech for Minister Deenihan at the National Famine Commemoration,
Drogheda, Co. Louth, 13th May 2012
An Taoiseach, Ministers, Members of the Oireachtas, Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, Mayor of Drogheda, Councillors, people of Drogheda and distinguished guests,.
Is mór an onóir dom a bheith anseo inniu mar Chathaoirleach ar Choiste Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta an Ghorta Mhóir chun fáilte a chur romhaibh chuig Cuimhneachán Náisiúnta na bliana seo i nDroichead Átha. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Taoiseach, Éanna Ó Coinnigh, as a bheith linn anseo inniu chun ómós a léiriú d’íospartaigh an Ghorta Mhóir agus chun iad a thabhairt chun cuimhne.
I am honoured to be here today as Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee to welcome you to this year’s National Famine Commemoration in Drogheda. I would like to thank An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D. for being with us here today to honour and remember the victims of the Great Famine. The fact that so many people are here today shows the deep respect still held by Irish people for those that suffered during that time. That we are here on this quay, where so many people stood all those years ago as they tried desperately to escape the horror of famine, lends a deep poignancy to today’s event.
Drogheda during the Famine years was the second largest port of departure for over one million people who were forced to emigrate. Some travelled only as far as Britain while others became known as ‘two boaters’ travelling onwards from Britain to North America and other parts of the world. As a result, there is Irish representation in almost every country in the world and a unique diaspora of Irish people has been created. The ceremony this year sees the highest number of representatives from our Diplomatic Corps in attendance. Their attendance at this ceremony is a tribute to the role of this Irish Diaspora in the wider world today.
I accompanied President Higgins to the overseas famine commemoration in Boston last week where he spoke to a huge gathering of people – all there to commemorate those who had lost their lives during the famine and those who moved to Boston to begin a new life. In one day in April 1847, – ‘Black 47’, – 1,000 Irish people arrived in Boston and 37,000 arrived in the city altogether that year. Many of these began their journeys here in Drogheda and we remember them here today.
I think that it is also appropriate that we remember Fr. Patrick Dowd who was born in 1813 and parish priest of Drogheda from 1843 to 1847, during the height of the famine. He moved to Montreal in 1848 to work with the Grey Nuns looking after the Irish famine victims.
I understand that 2012 is a special year for Drogheda and that the community here are commemorating Drogheda’s 600th year since its unification of twin towns north and south of the river Boyne. I am delighted therefore that the National Famine Commemoration is taking place here as it is clear that the community in Drogheda have a rich appreciation of their history. The role of Drogheda as a key port during the famine was a key factor in holding the National Famine Commemoration here and I would like to thank Drogheda Civic Trust for engaging with the National Famine Commemoration Committee and instigating the process which has culminated in today’s event.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the participants in today’s ceremony and to everyone whose commitment has ensured that the tragic events of An Gorta Mór are being so respectfully remembered here today. I understand that the local programme of famine related events held over the past two weeks has been extremely successful and thought provoking and I congratulate all involved. I would also like to pay tribute to the local famine organising committee, to Drogheda Borough Council and Drogheda Port Authority for their involvement in today’s event.
The events of the previous two weeks included a recreation of the soup kitchen in the yard of Drogheda Borough Council which was the site of one of many soup kitchens during famine times. I understand that local schools gave a number of performances at this event and helped raise a significant amount of money for Drogheda Homeless Aid. This shows that through our remembrance of those who suffered during the famine, we can also help those who are suffering from hunger in today’s world.
As we reflect on An Gorta Mor, we remember that almost a billion people are hungry in the world today and how Ireland and its people respond to the challenge of making hunger history through the work of Irish Aid; our NGOs such as Gorta who were heavily involved in the local programme of events over the last few weeks and our missionaries such as the Medical Missionaries of Mary (who celebrate their 75th anniversary this year) to name but a few.
Finally, I must acknowledge and thank the members of the National Famine Commemoration Committee for their work in developing the concept of an annual National Famine Commemoration and for ensuring that the victims of the famine are appropriately remembered.