irishtimes.com – Last Updated: Sunday, May 13, 2012, 17:54
MICHAEL O’REGAN, Parliamentary Correspondent, in Drogheda
Ireland is bearing witness to the legacy of the Famine, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said today.
Speaking at the national Famine memorial day of commemoration in Drogheda, Co Louth, he said: “When we see human suffering, we do not linger behind the scenes and depend on anonymous process.”
For Ireland, said Mr Kenny, 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, the Irish psyche,” he added.
Mr Kenny said a major priority of Irish aid was to support global efforts to reduce hunger.
“We have committed to spending more than one-fifth of our overseas aid budget in support of activities that can improve access to food and reduce under-nutrition in the world’s poorest countries,” he said.
Mr Kenny laid a wreath, planted an oak tree and unveiled a plaque in memory of those who died and left the country. Drogheda was the second-largest port of departure for over one million Irish people who were forced to emigrate.
The Taoiseach urged the attendance of 1,500 people to keep the memory of the victims of the Famine safe and pass it on, intact and alive, to the next generation.
The ceremony took place at North Quay at 2.30pm. About 100 members of the Defence Forces took park in the memorial, which featured local musicians, reflections, a piper’s lament and the Last Post – performed as the tricolour was raised.
The service was part of a series of commemorative events took place in the town which included commemorative walks, the recreation of the Soup Kitchen of 1847 and an exhibition of archival material from Strokestown Estate at the Drogheda Library.
Elsewhere schoolchildren across Ireland held a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the Great Famine on Friday, with President Michael D Higgins leading an international event in Boston last week.
The Famine saw the population of Ireland, which was close to 8.5 million in 1845, fall to 6.6 million by 1851.