Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

President honours famine victims

President Michael D Higgins attended a ceremony in Kilrush to remember the victims of the Great Famine

Remembering the victims of the Great Famine should encourage Irish people to intervene wherever there is injustice and hunger around the world, the President has said.

Michael D Higgins attended the national famine commemoration in Kilrush, Co Clare, where he honoured and grieved for those who suffered and perished. The President warned commemorating the Great Hunger should not be a form of self-absorption in victimhood, or an inward-looking exercise in nostalgia.

"Rather, at its best, contemplation of our famine should encourage us to intervene in the contemporary world everywhere that we find injustice, poverty and hunger," he said.

Mr Higgins said one million died and two million emigrated in search of survival and a better life during the famine, from 1845 to the early 1850s, and for decades after.

"Their migrant experience was far from easy, but from the most humble and challenging of beginnings, the Irish made new lives in their adopted homes and played an integral part in the history of Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia," he said.

"It is appropriate, therefore, that we should honour the memory of those who were forced to emigrate to survive and celebrate the immense achievements of our Diaspora communities.

"We know that this resilience and courage has permeated through the generations and resonates today - albeit in different circumstances - many young Irish men and women are compelled to emigrate to make better lives for their families."

Mr Higgins said that within Munster, the county of Clare was the most severely affected during the famine when the potato crop failed because of disease.

"Kilrush shares the unhappy distinction of being one of the three areas worst hit by death, disease and evictions," he said. "In fact, it is estimated that Kilrush lost 50% of its population between 1846 and 1851. It is very fitting therefore that we should gather today in Kilrush to honour the memory of its Famine victims."

Schoolchildren across Ireland held a minute's silence to remember those who died in the Great Famine on Friday, with sporting organisations around the country holding one on Sunday. The move is a mark of respect and to reflect on the current issue of famine and hunger worldwide.

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