The 2014 National Famine Commemoration took place last Sunday 11 May at Strokestown Park House.
An Taisoeach Enda Kenny and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan took part in prayers of rememberance, military honours and wreath laying ceremony. Mr Kenny also unveiled a memorial wall listing the names of 1,490 people who emigrated from the area around 1847.
The named emigrants who would travel to Canada were mostly tenants of the Mahon Estate, who were given passage and assisted by their landlord during the famine. Almost 700 of these had died by the time they reached Canada with over 1 Million deaths during the famine years.
Mr Kenny stated on Sunday "In remembering our past, we must not lose sight of our present."
"As Taoiseach, in honor of our Famine dead, I'm proud to be able to say that combating global hunger and undernutrition is central both to Ireland's foreign policy and to our overseas development-assistance programme – Irish Aid."
Photo: Laying of Wreath at 2014 famine commemoration
The project led by Dr Ciaran Reilly at the University of Maynooth has uncovered the fate of a large number of the survivors, referred to as ‘The Missing 1490’. A memorial wall honouring these was unveiled at the weekend containing the names of the emigrants.
Dr Ciarán Reilly of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, NUI Maynooth in conjunction with Strokestown Park House, led the research including review of a collection of over 50,000 documents from the Strokestown Museums archive.
In the years before the famine, the Strokestown estate was in arrears leading to the decision to aid workers emigrate. Dr Ciaran Reilly who wrote the paper said
In May 1847 1,490 tenants left from the Strokestown estate for Quebec in British North America (Canada). They were accompanied on their walk to Dublin, by the Royal Canal footway, by the bailiff, John Robinson who was instructed to stay with them all the way to Liverpool and ensure that they boarded the ships.
“The Mahon tenants were amongst the first to be characterized as sailing on coffin ships during the Famine,” said Reilly. “With Cholera and typhus rampant the emigrants were exposed to the ravages of disease.”
The journey took the lives of many of passengers and the majority of those who lived became sick.
Dr Reilly says the survivors were described as “ghastly, yellow-looking spectres, unshaven and hollow cheeked.” Dr Reilly also uncovered fascinating insights into the lives that awaited those who survived including some if the immigrants, such as Michaell Flynn, James Higgins and Thomas Fallon, going on to fight in the American Civil War and others such as Patrick McNamara who was a laborer on the construction of the Blue Ridge Mountain Railroad Tunnel.
Mary Tarpey, who lived to be 106, had the distinction of being the oldest person in Long Island at one point. “She attributed her longevity to a daily glass of whiskey”.
The famine and the long and harsh conditions of the journey to the United States also took a mental toll on many people.
“The ones that don’t adapt and don’t make it in America, you would find them in asylums,” said Reilly.
Dr Reilly will publish his findings later this year in "Voices of the Great Irish Famine: The Strokestown Archive Revealed."