How Ireland has failed to learn lessons from Famine
Modern scandals repeat mistakes of famine
This year’s National Famine Commemoration ceremony at Skibbereen was dignified, efficient, moving.
We stood under the Irish flag, beside a detachment from our own army as ambassadors from all over the world, accredited to a sovereign Irish Republic laid wreaths on the site of a mass grave wherein lie the remains of some 12,500 victims of An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger.
The wreath-layers came from the US, the UK, Kenya, Latvia, China, Korea, Hungary, Iran, Canada, Australia, Russia and many other places. Both the cemetery itself and the high ring road above it were thronged . A healthy, well dressed crowd had come to pay its respects to the dead, to the wellsprings of our diaspora.
Around us May blossom, lush green grasses and the strong flowing River Ilen sparkled their approval at our reverence. It was a mood and a moment in which optimism soared free from sadness.
History whispered a comforting word in my ear: If we could travel through the famine to this moment of universal recognition we can pass through the far lesser trauma of the present economic crisis. But, as I listened to the speeches, admirably brief and felicitous as these were, another voice began to whisper uneasily at the back of my head:
“This is all too sanitised. The trauma is being filtered out.”
No word of how and why the famine happened. Not even a moral drawn. For example how might the lessons of Irish starvation in the midst of plenty be applied to the Third World to-day? There was of course no word of blame.
The political reason for this reticence was understandable. It is hoped that following next year’s National Commemoration ceremony in Mayo, that in 2011 there will be a Commemoration across the Border in the Six Counties. Many Unionists still see the Famine as simply another excuse for Fenians to hold yet another flag-waving parade, forgetting that death did not discriminate amongst Catholics and Protestants when starvation and fever descended on Ulster during An Gorta Mor..