The Irish Times – Monday, May 14, 2012
MICHAEL O’REGAN, Parliamentary Correspondent, in Drogheda
THE ENDURANCE of the Famine by one generation of Irish people had provided vital knowledge and experience for another, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday.
This was at the level of memory, heart and soul, he added. “It is vital that, through remembering and honouring the victims of our own Great Hunger, we strive to ensure food, dignity, opportunity, humanity itself, for all peoples in all parts of the world where starvation and under-nutrition exist, whether as a fact or a possibility,” said Mr Kenny.
He said that, for Ireland, food security and humanitarian aid were not just political matters. “We make them our personal business because they run so deep in the Irish heart, the Irish experience and the Irish psyche,” he said.
Mr Kenny added that Ireland’s leadership role, when it came to tackling world hunger, had been recognised by United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon last month, when he appointed two prominent Irish people, Tom Arnold and Mary Robinson, to the Scaling Up Nutrition lead group.
The Taoiseach was speaking at the North Quay, in Drogheda, Co Louth, at the National Famine Commemoration.
During the Famine years, the town was the second largest port of departure for over one million Irish people forced to emigrate.
On an overcast and windswept day, the Taoiseach led the ceremonies which evoked, with poignancy and colour, the terrible event in Irish history.
He noted a newspaper account of one family, read to the gathering of about 1,500 people by Mayor of Drogheda Kevin Callan.
Two parents and their two children arrived in Drogheda from Ballina, Co Mayo, having been three weeks on the road.
“The journey and the hunger took their toll,” said Mr Kenny. “In Shop Street, the two children collapsed and died.”
Mr Kenny said there was a great deal in the words Great Famine: An Gorta Mór. Hunger had scourged the country, pursuing our people long before the 1840s.
But the adjective “great”, mór, had brought death, dispossession and destruction of a new and very different order, he added.
Shops were still full of food, and the well-off were still sated.
“Here, mesmerised, hundreds of thousands took to the roads,” said Mr Kenny.
“Too many of them, already mere hints of humans, carrying their most precious possession: their children, blue-black and bloated from hunger and fever.”
The Taoiseach added that “with those children in their arms, they turned their backs on all they had known, the already-skeleton dead of a famished Ireland”.
Mr Kenny, accompanied by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, who is chairman of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, laid a wreath, planted an oak tree and unveiled a commemorative plaque.
Defence Forces chaplain Fr Sean McDermott said a prayer and a lament was played.
Prayers were also said earlier for the Famine victims by representatives of the various churches and there was a reflection by Ann James of the Humanist Association of Ireland.
Members of the Little Duke Theatre, representing the youth of Drogheda, made a presentation of tokens, evoking the Famine, and staged a dance.
Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd, who represents Louth in the Dáil, read a poem in Irish.
Also in attendance were Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley.
Also there were Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, members of the Northern Assembly, Chief Justice Susan Denham and representatives of the diplomatic corps.