There was a very large turn-out for the ‘Famine 1848’ Walk last Saturday in Ballingarry. The Walk was led by Rev Ian Cruickshank, Rector of Kilcooley. The annual Walk took place from the National Flag Monument in the village of The Commons to the Famine Warhouse, the state national heritage site where the 1848 Rising took place. The Walk commemorated all those who died during the Famine (one million people) and the concurrent events of the Rising in 1848. In his speech the Rev Ian Cruickshank said:
‘To me a striking feature of the event which we are remembering and celebrating today was that regardless of the differences in their religious tradition, people came together in unity to speak against, and act against injustices they found themselves facing on a daily basis. Even when the authorities, by their apathy, showed no regard to the cry of the people, they had the determination to live through the struggle, until change was achieved regardless of the personal cost.
Every generation is faced with their own challenges and difficulties. Often these are not of their own making, but they need to find the courage and strength not only to survive, but too stand up against conditions they know are wrong, until some transformation has taken place. Today many communities in Ireland are working through hardships imposed upon them, principally due to circumstances out of their control, where it is reasonable that they feel they have been treated unjustly with no concern for their personal situation. I believe that in our local communities there is strength, a sense of belonging that overcomes differences, a conviction that we have the same heart, and a will, not only to just barely survive, but to live with a sense of purpose through this present time.
I have personal experiences that have given me a deep empathy with this occasion. Between Easter 2000 and the summer of 2004, I was involved in taking fifteen groups to Kosova, based in the town of Peja, where I was involved with various projects, including working with children who were traumatised by the war, some of them left fatherless. One village in particular Cuska, suffered a massacre when forty eight of its men were rounded up and killed. A ‘normal’ village through one event will never be the same again either with regard to how the villagers now live their lives, or their place in national history.
Of all the details I have heard concerning the events that took place at the Famine Warhouse where the McCormack family lived, with its significant place in the history of Ireland, and its connections with the turmoil in other parts of Europe at that time, I was struck by the words of one of the McCormack children who said “who would have thought that history would be made in our house”.
It has been my experience that in all conflict fighting is not confined to the country and streets, where men are the instigators and victims of the violence, but it encroaches into people’s homes, where the foremost casualties are our children.
Children were present in this house when an exchange of fire between the police and the rebels lasted for some time. They were here amidst the noise, threats, fear, and trauma, including the fatalities of Thomas Walsh and Patrick McBride. This fact provoked me to look into situations where children today find themselves caught up as victims of conflict in war zones.
Areas mentioned in a report by the United Nations General Assembly Security Council on Children and armed conflict dated 23 April 2011 include: Iraq, Afghanistan, Central Africa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Nepal, Myanmar, Philipines, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Colombia, India, Pakistan, Burundi, Haiti, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen. The report describes various atrocities involving children who have experienced brutal conflict, at times resulting in their death. Their involvement has included, being used as suicide bombers knowingly or unwittingly, conscripted into armed forces, and being numbers on the list of general casualties as part of a war zone.
The Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Iraq stated: “Children were used as suicide bombers by insurgent groups because they arouse less suspicion and it is considered to be easier for them to move through security checkpoints than for adults. In some instances, children have allegedly unknowingly been proxy bombers, carrying explosives intended to be remotely detonated. “ In May 2008 it was reported that insurgents strapped explosives to an eight year old girl and detonated it remotely as she approached an Iraqi army position south of Baghdad, killing her and a soldier and wounding seven others. In the same month, a 12 year old suicide bomber killed at least 23 people at the funeral of a police officer in Fallujah.
The report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Chad said: The displacement of families as a result of both the volatile security situation and the economic situation has resulted in the movement of children, within some areas of eastern Chad, as well in the Sudan, in extremely vulnerable conditions, making them potential targets for exploitation, recruitment and trafficking. Commenting on child recruitment into armed forces it states: While most of the children recruited were between 14 and 17 years old, there were also recruitment cases involving children as young as 12 years old.
It is important that this Walk continues as an annual recognition of a significant historical event in Ireland and the impact it had on ordinary people. However should we also take the opportunity to highlight and act, to prevent in this present day, the suffering of ordinary people especially children when they find themselves caught up in armed conflict, where ever they may be. Let us remember and show gratitude to those who were involved in our history, but please let us try to ensure that we are not known as ones who by their apathy, showed no regard to the cry of the people. Let us be known as ones who did all they could to ensure that no children in places of armed conflict were subject to trauma or torture.’