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Thousands attend event in Newry for victims of Irish famine

By Nevin Farrell

Schoolchildren carry wreaths at the annual National Famine Commemoration ceremony in Newry
Schoolchildren carry wreaths at the annual National Famine Commemoration ceremony in Newry
Several thousand people attending the famine commemoration event at the Albert Basin in Newry
The Republic’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys TD (left) with Honorary Consul for Canada, Kenneth Brundel and Gillian Fitzpatrick, vice-chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council at the unveiling of a memorial stone in Warrenpoint marking the exodus of people from Warrenpoint in the wake of the famine
Aveen Stewart, Mathew Freeman and Josh McVeigh of Newpoint Players who put on a public event featuring specially commissioned theatre performances of ‘Retracing the Steps’ in Warrenpoint

Crowds gathered in Newry on Saturday to commemorate the Irish famine - the first time the ceremony has been held in Northern Ireland.

It remembered the tens of thousands from the area who died during the famine which took hold in the mid-1840s.

An official ceremony was held at Newry's Albert Basin and included the laying of wreaths. A minute's silence was held to remember the dead and those who emigrated.

The Newry commemoration was led by Heather Humphreys, the Republic's Minister for Arts and Heritage, who said it was an honour to be present to remember those who had lost their lives.

"One of the main reasons for the holding of the commemoration in a different location in each province is to highlight the devastating effects that the great famine had on people throughout the island," she said.

"The famine has undoubtedly been one of the most significant events in our history.

"The failure of the potato crop during the 1840s not only led to the enormous suffering and loss of life but also changed Ireland's demographic and cultural landscape, the effect of which can still be felt today.

"We remember all those who suffered as a result of the famine, regardless of their creed, political affiliation or nationality."

The first commemoration took place in Dublin in 2008. Since then, the location of the annual event has rotated in sequence between the four provinces.

Ms Humphreys said she was a "proud Ulster woman" and especially pleased that the event was being held in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Irish ministers were joined by representatives from the Stormont Assembly, including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

At least one million people died in the famine and another million emigrated when the potato crop repeatedly failed.

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