Taoiseach: The Famine changed who we were and who we are

Taoiseach Micheál Martin officiated at the National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown Park House in Roscommon Photo: XPOSURE.IE

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the National Famine Commemoration in Strokestown on Sunday and said that in the long recorded history of our island “there is no more traumatic and devastating event than the Great Famine” of 1845 to 1852.

Sunday’s ceremony also featured military honours and a wreath-laying ceremony by ambassadors to Ireland in remembrance of all those who suffered or perished during the Great Hunger.

Addressing those in attendance, the Taoiseach said that the Famine had changed the Irish as a people.

  “In a few short years Ireland saw an unimaginable loss of life and a dramatic escalation of emigration. An Gorta Mór changed who we were – who we are. Its indelible marks are still there in our culture, our society, our politics and our place in the wider world,” he said.

“As those terrible days become more distant from us they have receded as a defining part of our family stories, but their centrality to our national story remains as important as ever”.

In addition to the keynote address by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the formal State Ceremony included military honours and a wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of all those who suffered or perished during the Famine. Photo: XPOSURE.IE

Mr. Martin said statistics do “scant justice” to the suffering and devastation experienced by the people of Ireland during this time. He said that while a quarter of the population died or were driven to emigrate, poorer communities felt the full force of the famine and were pushed “to or beyond the edge of extinction”.

“In the face of dispossession and pushed to the margins of colonial society, they had survived and retained a spirit and energy which shines through when you look at the collections of poetry, music and tales gathered in the century before the Famine,” he said.

The Taoiseach said it was the belief of those involved in the independence movement that a self-governing Ireland would have acted to save lives and address food shortages.

“Famines do not happen in democracies. In fact, there is no recorded account of a famine in a country where the government is freely elected and there is free speech,” he said.

I think if you want to know why Ireland never again had a famine, you will find it in our commitment to self-determination and building a democratic state. Our refusal to follow the extreme ideologies of the 20th century was driven by this commitment. As we mark 100 years of this state, that is a powerful lesson for us to remember”.

The Taoiseach referenced the ongoing food shortages in Somalia and the crisis in Ukraine and said that the Irish people continue to be leaders in sending “not just thoughts and prayers but money, expertise and most importantly our people…to assist those experiencing the darkest of times”.

He added that Ireland was steadfast in its solitary with the people of Ukraine “as they defend themselves against a brutal and unjust war waged against them by a neo-imperial power”.

Before concluding, the Taoiseach said: “If we are to honour the victims of our Great Famine, if we are to be true to the spirit of trying to rid the curse of famine from our world, then we must be resolute in standing for cooperation between nations on the basis of humanitarian and democratic values”.