2016 National Famine Commemoration in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.Maxwell Photography

Irish President Michael D. Higgins officiated at the 2016 National Famine Commemoration in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, on Sunday, where tens of thousands of victims of An Gorta Mor are buried. A memorial honoring the victims, the ‘Famine Cross,’ was unveiled during the ceremony. 

Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs accompanied the president with a speech of her own. Ambassadors to Ireland from 49 different countries were also in attendance on the overcast morning.

The Famine Cross, generously donated by the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust, is a mid-19th Century hand-sculpted Celtic cross made from blue Kilkenny limestone. It is now situated beside the Mortuary Chapel.

Minister Humphreys and President Higgins unveil plaque beneath the Famine Cross.

Minister Humphreys and President Higgins unveil plaque beneath the Famine Cross.

In her speech, Minister Humphreys said: “Records from Glasnevin Cemetery show that at the height of the Famine, 50-60 funerals were taking place here daily. People from the four provinces of Ireland, those from Dublin and those who made their way there in search of reprieve, are buried throughout Glasnevin Cemetery, making it one of Ireland’s largest Famine burial grounds.

“It is fitting therefore, that the Famine Cross will stand in Glasnevin as a permanent memorial to the Famine victims, adding to Glasnevin’s status as a repository of our history.”

The round tower at Glasnevin Cemetery, stands behind the commemoration ceremony.

The round tower at Glasnevin Cemetery, stands behind the commemoration ceremony.

Glasnevin Cemetery also contains notable monuments and graves of many of Ireland’s most prominent national, historical and political figures including Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell.

“The Famine left an indelible mark on Ireland, devastating communities the length and breadth of this country,” Minister Humphreys continued.

“The annual Famine Commemoration provides us with an important opportunity to remember the one million people who perished, and the one million who were forced to emigrate as a result of the failure of the potato crop.”

Read more: Could your ancestor have been an orphan workhouse girl who emigrated in 1853?

The formal state ceremony included military honors, a wreath-laying ceremony by the 49 ambassadors, musical recitals and poetry readings. It commenced with a recital from St. James’s Brass and Reed Band, which is Ireland’s oldest band, established in 1800 with records dating back to 1737.

In his address, President Higgins reflected on the economic and political factors that contributed to An Gorta Mor, the impact it had on Ireland and Irish society, the lessons learned from the international responses to the Famine, and ultimately, the importance of remembrance, ensured by his unveiling of the new memorial.

President Higgins and Minister Humphreys among the crowds at the Glasnevin Cemetery.

President Higgins and Minister Humphreys among the crowds at the Glasnevin Cemetery.

“It is an honor for us to host this commemoration and to inaugurate an iconic Celtic Cross as a permanent monument to those buried here who died as a result of the famine,” said John Green, Chairman of the Glasnevin Trust.

“Visitors to the cemetery are often surprised that it is also a famine burial site, but from the midst of our eastern seaboard-dominated country and our Dublin centric economy it is difficult for us all to realize how utterly changed this Island was post the Famine. Dublin became a refugee city, death rates soared. In this cemetery daily burial numbers trebled and tens of thousands are buried here as result of the famine or famine fostered fevers and diseases.

“Hopefully commemoration such as this and memorials such as the cross we unveil here today will ensure that An Gorta Mór, which so brutally shaped our nation through suffering, sacrifice and emigration, will never be forgotten.”

 Acclaimed Irish actor Mark O’Regan recited Eavan Boland’s poem “Quarantine” as part of the ceremony. Other contributions included music from a string quintet and the Vocatus choir, soloists Claire Murrihy and Sorcha McElroy, as well as prayers led by church leaders.

The closing ceremony included a minute of silence, "Piper’s Lament," "Reveille," the national anthem, "Last Post," and the raising of the National Flag to full mast.

Read more: In forgotten famine of 1879 Irish Americans aided relief efforts