Taoiseach officiates at National Famine Commemoration Ceremony in Ballingarry

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The Taoiseach, Leo Varadker, led the State's National Famine Commemoration which took place at the Famine Warhouse 1848 on Saturday 30th September, on the site where the 1848 Young Irelanders’ rebellion took place at the height of the Famine. This was the first time ever Ballingarry was the location of a formal State National Event.

He was accompanied by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD and Dr. Phyll Bugler, Cathaoirleach of Tipperary County Council.

A crowd of hundreds, including ambassadors or chargés d’affaires from 48 countries as well as representatives of the UN High Commission for Refugees, the  European Commission and European Parliament attended the event at the Famine Warhouse 1848, once the home of the Widow McCormack and her family and now a commemorative visitor centre run by the OPW.

The formal State ceremony included military honours and a wreath laying ceremony by Ambassadors to Ireland in remembrance of all those who suffered or perished during the Famine.

In his speech, the Taoiseach reflected on the impact of the famine on Irish society as well as the intense awareness of and engagement with developments in the wider European context that inspired the development of political philosophy among the Young Ireland movement in Ireland during the mid-19th century;-
“Today we are gathered here to remember those who perished in the Great Famine and those who sought to respond to that disaster by creating a new future through the Rebellion of 1848. One was a natural catastrophe, the other a military disaster – both however shaped us as a people – and Ballingarry is a fitting location to acknowledge and remember all those who suffered and died and honour their legacy. One positive legacy of the effects of An Gorta Mór is the compassion we have shown as a country for other peoples and nations undergoing humanitarian crises whether through famine, natural disasters or war. Just as our people found assistance and opportunity when they needed it, we now work to support those who need our assistance to escape from hunger.”

Speaking at the event Minister Humphreys said: “The home of Margaret McCormack and her family is a fitting venue for this year’s commemoration. While each community has had its own unique story to tell of the Famine, the common thread that unites each host community has been the memory of the human and societal cost of the destruction wrought by An Gorta Mór. Not only were individual lives lost but families and indeed whole villages were destroyed through death, disease and emigration.”

The Minister also welcomed the visit to Ireland next year of Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger, saying “I am pleased to announce that next year the Great Hunger Museum of Quinnipiac University will be bringing an exhibition entitled Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger to Dublin and Skibbereen. This will afford an opportunity for us in Ireland to experience the world’s finest collection of Famine-related art at first hand.”

Ballingarry historian Dr. Thomas McGrath spoke of the role played by the Famine Warhouse in history. You can read his speech in full on our website: www.tipperarystar.ie

Local Co. Councillor, Imelda Goldsboro, was on hand to lead An Taoiseach to where he was asked to plant an oak tree and to unveil a commemorative plaque specially commissioned for the occasion. Councillor Goldsboro was instrumental in getting Tipperary Co. Council on board to back this unique venture in the initial stages, without which it could not take place in the county and then worked hand-in-hand with the Famine Warhouse 1848 Committee and its chairman, Martin Maher.

As a Prelude to the ceremony, the large crowd present were entertained by local musicians, the Mangled Badgers, followed by a performance from Banna Cluain Meala and singing by students from the Ursuline Convent in Thurles. Teacher Carmel O’Brien and poet Michael Coady, read a poem, Amhrán na bPrátaí, by Máire Ní Dhroma translated into English by Michael Coady. There was piano improvisations on the traditional air by Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin, and prayers were led by Rev. Barbara Fryday and Fr Derry Quirke, P.P. Ballingarry.

Pupils from the Presentation Secondary School Ballingarry, Head Boy Aiden Mullally and Head Girl Abaigeal Maher, recited a poem entitled Siberia by James Clarence Mangan, which depicted the suffering of the poor and aptly reflected what it must have been like for the people of Ireland during the Famine Years.

Events concluded with a minute’s silence, the playing of the Last Post and Reveille, the raising of the national flag and the national anthem.

You can watch the commemoration on the RTE player website: https://https://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/rte-news-special-1516/10782471/