07 May 2006

Call for tribute for Famine victims


07/05/2006 - 10:54:54

Irish people and emigrants abroad should observe a minute’s silence later this month for victims of the Famine, it was claimed today.

One million died and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee the island after the collapse of the potato harvest between 1845-1848.

The Committee For The Commemoration Of Irish Famine Victims believes the 19th century disaster is as important in the state’s history as the 1916 Easter Rising which is currently celebrating its 90th anniversary with events led by the Irish Government.

The group is calling on people in the 32 counties as well as emigrants living abroad to observe a minute’s silence at 2pm on May 28.

Every year on that day the Dublin-based Commemoration Committee leads a small procession from the city’s Garden of Remembrance to the Famine Sculptures in the docklands.

The Committee is also lobbying the Irish Government to designate an annual all-Ireland memorial day to the victims of the Famine.

Committee chairman Michael Blanch said: “Every household on the island has a relative who died in the Famine.

“It was only three generations ago and the victims were both Catholic and Protestant, so any commemoration can build bridges between the two communities.

“Every country remembers disasters in its history whether it is the Holocaust or America’s 9/11 atrocity and we cannot understand why Ireland doesn’t have an annual event.”

Mr Blanch envisages that the location of the commemoration could be rotated every year between the island’s four provinces of Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster.

The Commemoration Committee also believes that the Memorial Day would be a gesture of solidarity towards people suffering in famines occurring in regions across the world like Somalia and Darfur.

It is generally believed that one million people died in the Famine and an additional one million others emigrated.

But Mr Blanch claims that the disaster could have indirectly halved the population as the all-Ireland population was over eight million people in 1845 but had shrunk to approximately four million by the 1911 Census.

There are up to 70 million people abroad who claim Irish ancestry – many of whom are descended from emigrants who fled Ireland during the Famine, he added.

The Committee has lobbied the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Irish Farmers Association and the British Government on the issue since it was established in 2003.

Former Riverdance star Michael Flatley has supported the campaign by making a donation.

The Government previously marked the 150th anniversary of the Famine in the 1995 and the GAA also moved the 1947 All-Ireland Football Final to New York’s Polo Grounds to honour the centenary.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern suggested in the Dáil parliament in May 2005 that the Famine could be incorporated into the National Day of Commemoration – a annual ceremony to mark Ireland’s war dead.

But the Committee said this occasion specifically remembers dead Irish soldiers, and not civilians which comprised the Famine victims.

Opposition leaders Enda Kenny, Pat Rabbitte and Trevor Sargent all support calls for a memorial day and a Labour Party motion on the issue is currently before Dublin City Council.

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