The annual National Famine Commemoration is being held in Kilrush, Co Clare on Sunday, May 12, 2013. The town has been hosting related events throughout the week.
President Michael D. Higgins will lead the official representation of the commemoration ceremony. The programme will open with a ceremony and encourage local community to participate in music, readings, poetry, prayers, and a theatrical piece in remembrance of those who suffered and died during the Famine. There will also be a minute of silent reflection. The commemoration programme will conclude with a formal State ceremonial event, which will include the national flag and military honors, and wreath laying ceremonies.
A government committee has officially organized the National Commemoration each year since 2008 and the National Commemoration rotates throughout the provinces each year.
Kilrush is hosting a series of events including lectures, traditional music, commemorative Mass, guided tours, and recreations of the food and lifestyle of mid-nineteenth century Ireland. The town has a famine workhouse, where people were housed and fed in exchange for hard labor.
During the Famine, Kilrush residents suffered from cholera, fever, and other illnesses. This with widespread evictions of impoverished tenants by landlords, lead to a significant population drop, which the town has not yet recovered from.
Additionally, an international location is chosen and Sydney will host a commemoration on August 25, 2013. Sydney’s commemoration will coincide with the unveiling of the Orphan Famine Girl Monument in 1999. Since its unveiling, there has been an annual get together at the memorial. Past international commemorations have been held in Boston (2012), Liverpool (2011), New York (2010), and Canada (2009).
The potato blight that contributed to the Famine was brought via ship from northeastern United States and Canada. Starting in 1845, the blight devastated the potato harvest, which many Irish had come to rely on for its high nutritional value and high yield in the small plots they had. Many Irish lacked the funds to buy food at inflated famine prices. Many Irish died from starvation and epidemic disease.
Contemporary business theory of allowing the market fix itself with as minimal government intervention as possible discouraged political action and based on Ireland’s earlier famines few thought the Famine would continue for five years. Conceptions about charity were different from today’s view and many felt that people did not have automatic right to relief. Many workhouses had been built earlier under the Poor Law and the harsh conditions inside were designed to encourage people to find employment outside. Many Irish labored in the workhouses for very little during the Famine. Temporary soup kitchens were brought in during the beginning of the Famine, but were shut down after a couple months once death rates fell. The next harvest was bad and many died during what later became known as Black ‘47.
In Ireland about one million are buried in mass graves. Another million left for Canada or the United States and many did not survive the journey, for which the ships they left on became known as coffin ships.
All are welcome to attend the National Famine Commemoration in Kilrush. There is no cover charge. There will be donation boxes for charities currently fighting famine around the world at selected venues.