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Soft caps belonging to the 4,000 Irish girls who were sent to Sydney during Ireland's Great Hunger Photo by: Hyde Park Baracks Museum

Tributes paid to Famine’s 4,000 destitute Irish girls sent to Australia

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Soft caps belonging to the 4,000 Irish girls who were sent to Sydney during Ireland's Great Hunger Photo by: Hyde Park Baracks Museum

An Irish government minister has paid tribute to the 4,000 destitute women forced to flee to Australia due to the Famine.

Fine Gael’s Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan remembered the girls at the fifth annual International Famine Commemoration in Sydney.

Hundreds of relatives of the girls sent down under from workhouses by the British government in 1849 and 1850 attended the ceremony.

They laid flowers in memory of the 4,000 destitute Irish girls, many of them orphans, who made Australia their home according to a report in the Irish Independent.

The paper says that some of those with links to those shipped abroad from Irish workhouses include Australian author Steele Rudd and the New South Wales Treasurer Mike Baird.

The fifth International Famine Commemoration took place on Sunday at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney where the girls were housed on arrival.

The report says that records show that 117 girls, aged 14 to 20, left Kerry between October 28, 1849, and April 8, 1850, from workhouses in Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney and Listowel under a scheme devised by the British home secretary.

Minister Deenihan told the crowd that he believes he is related to Mary Brandon whose name is included on a Famine memorial at Hyde Park Barracks.

The Minister said: “Over 4,000 Irish girls aged 14 to 20 who were in workhouses as a result of the Famine came to Australia on an assisted migration scheme between 1848 and 1850. Those who arrived in Sydney were housed initially at Hyde Park Barracks.

“These girls, so far from home, survived against the odds and assimilated into Australian society. They went on to be pioneering women in the new Australia.

“People nowadays can only imagine just how difficult the journey was for those who left to escape the horror of the Famine and begin new lives abroad.

“Through the orphan girls and others who emigrated during this time, the Famine forms not just part of Ireland’s history but also part of Australia’s historical narrative.”

The Irish Times reports that Kerry native Deenihan also used his visit to Sydney to thank the Australian people for providing homes and employment for the 40,000 Irish citizens who emigrated down under in the last two years.

He said skilled Irish people were able to move to Australia thanks to its ‘very accessible visa system’.

He added: “The situation is a gain for Australia but a drain on Ireland. I look forward to emigrants returning as the economy improves.”

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