16th May 2021

Speech by Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin T.D.

Is onóir mhór domsa bheith anseo inniu thar ceann an Rialtais don chomóradh Stáit seo ar ócáid Chuimhneachán Náisiúnta an Ghorta Mhóir 2021 agus fearaim fíor-chaoin fáilte romhaibh uile.

Today, we gather to honour the memory of the victims of the Great Famine. This year the National Famine Commemoration was to have been held in Buncrana Co. Donegal.  However, due to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, these plans, like so many others, have had to be put on hold for now.

I am particularly pleased to acknowledge the presence of President Michael D. Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, who will lead the official representation during today’s event.

I would also like to welcome His Excellency, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu and David Bunworth, the chairman of the Dublin Cemeteries Trust, who have joined us today and who will partipate in the Wreath laying ceremony.

I would like to say a particular word of thanks to the Dublin Cemeteries Trust for hosting today’s ceremony which takes place at the permanent memorial to the victims of the Famine, donated by the Trust and unveiled by President Higgins in 2016.

Glasnevin Cemetery, the largest Famine Graveyard in the country, is a truly fitting venue for us to gather and pay tribute to the victims of the famine especially on this weekend, as the Trust marks the anniversary of the death of its founder Daniel O’Connell who died in Genoa on May 15th 1847.

O’Connell was one of Ireland’s great parliamentarians.  Indeed his last major act in the House of Commons in February 1847 was to make a powerful plea for relief for the victims of the Famine.

In this year when Ireland has again taken a leading place in World Affairs through our membership of the United Nations Security Council, we are also reminded that O’Connell’s remarkable international reputation. In particular, his interest in the fight against slavery and his friendship with the American reformer and abolitonist Frederick Douglass, are a powerful example of how we are always part of a wider world that struggles with human issues that transcend borders.

The Great Famine was truly the darkest period of our history.  However, as was so ably demonstrated in the documentary series The Hunger broadcast by RTÉ last December, the Irish people showed tremendous courage and fortitude in coming through that catastrophe to forge the modern nation, with ties to a far flung and successful diaspora throughout the world.

Today’s ceremony is not only our opportunity to commemorate and honour the suffering and resilience of victims of the Famine years but the occasion also offers us an opportunity to reflect on the resilience of our people today. Ireland is beginning to emerge cautiously, but hopefully, from the clutches of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We are moving from the shadows into the light, thanks to that steely determination of our people, whose strength this time will not be forgotten either.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge and thank the members of the National Famine Commemoration Committee for their work.  I would especially like to acknowledge the work of the Office of Public Works, the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the staff of Glasnevin cemetery,  the staff of my own Department, and all those who have worked on today’s arrangements especially David Kennedy who will perform Brendan Graham’s Ochón an Gorta  Mór.

Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil libh uilig as a bheith linn ag an searmanas inniu chun a chinntiú go gcuimhnítear ar íospartaigh an Ghorta Mhóir le meas agus le dínit. Go raibh maith agaibh.

A dhaoine uaisle.  It is now my great pleasure to invite Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins, to deliver the keynote address for this year’s National Famine Commemoration.    A Uachtaráin.