A photo of an Irish Famine survivor, likely the first ever taken, is to go on display this summer in Dublin as the center point of a new exhibition on the Famine. The Irish Potato Famine exhibit will show the picture of a laboring man captured in 1853. It will be featured in the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre from late May until September. The man is believed to have been working on the estate of the Duke of Devonshire in Co Waterford.
As the photo was taken a year after the Famine reached an end, the laborer is one of the first famine survivors to ever be photographed, as photography was still extremely new at the time.
The image itself was taken by photographer John Gregory Crace, but nothing more is known about the subject of the portrait other than his good fortune in surviving hunger and disease throughout the years 1845 to 1852, and at not having had to emigrate to survive.
Here it is:
The exhibition has been curated by historian Gerard McCarthy, who felt it was important that something is produced for the public on this, the 170th anniversary of the worst year of the Famine, Black ‘47.
"This is a very important year as it is 170 years since 1847, which is considered to have been the worst year of the Famine in Ireland,” McCarthy told the Irish Independent.
"I'm not sure if there are any events happening to commemorate it around the country so I decided to put together this exhibition.
"I've been researching this for about six months so I have a lot of information people might not have seen before, particularly from private collections.
"For example, this photo is of a man who we believe was a laborer who we believe would have worked on the Duke of Devonshire's land.
"The man who owns this photo reckons it is the oldest photo that exists of the Irish famine. It's extremely rare as photography would have still been quite new.
“This photo will be the main logo for the exhibition as it's quite eye-catching,” McCarthy continued.
"My idea is I want this to be accessible for people. I know some historical exhibitions can be a little bit boring, but this is done in such a way that it sticks to the story, it uses the facts but it tells the story in an easy way with very large display panels, a short film and it's heavy on photos.
"Even if you don't know anything about the Famine hopefully you'll still find it very interesting."
Just this year, the Irish government has officially started on assigning a designated day as the national Famine Commemoration Day. While national commemorations have taken place in some shape or form every year for nearly a decade, the event has not taken place on a set day. It will now happen on every second Sunday in May. The official commemoration will still be held in different counties and towns from year to year.
The flexibility of the date has meant that many Irish people are unaware of its existence, according to Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy, who in February introduced a Bill with the intent of holding the commemoration on a fixed date.
“Unfortunately now, nine years on from the first National Famine Commemoration Day – all too few people in this country even know this National Day exists,” said Brophy during a debate on his National Famine Commemoration Day Bill 2017.
“Very few talk about this event and even fewer children in our schools learn about this day when they study the Great Famine as part of the school curriculum. Today’s Bill will ensure this event is given due status and recognition and will fix the second Sunday in May as the annual National Famine Commemoration Day.”
The bill has been backed by Irish Minister for Arts, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, despite her previous reluctance to accept that a set date would be best.
“Fixing a date for the annual commemoration is something I have given consideration in recent months. While recognizing that it could pose some challenges for the host community each year, I believe these challenges can be overcome,” she said.
“Fixing the date for the Famine Commemoration will illustrate that the State views it as a very important commemoration, for Irish people and our diaspora, to reflect on that terrible period in our history and remember the horrific impact it had on this island and our people.”
The bill, however, will not apply to this year. The national day of commemoration for 2017 will not take place until Saturday, September 20, in Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary. The event, which will involve the local community, will be held in the Famine Warhouse 1848, the OPW national heritage site in Ballingarry.
The Irish Potato Famine Exhibition will feature on the top floor of St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Center between May 29 and September 30. You can find more information here.
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H/T: Irish Independent