Irish Hunger Memorial Sparks Hope in New York

Around 1822, some 200 years ago, a humble ten-acre farm was established at Carrowdoogan (Ceathr Mhic Dhubháin), a township in the civil parish of Attymass, County Mayo, Ireland. Carrowdoogan townland is only 498 acres in size but rich in cultural heritage. In 1827, a family named Slack had built a small stone house on this ground. Attymass Parish is made up of vast stretches of wasteland, most of which is swampland and unrecoverable mountains. The parish of Attymass was not yet formed when the little house was built; Attymass will not become an official parish until 1832.

The parish of Attymass has a tragic history – it was here that the first deaths from Ireland’s Great Hunger, also known as the Great Famine, were officially recorded. At the height of the Potato Famine, virtually everyone in Carrowdoogan had perished or fled.

The Irish Hunger Memorial is a grim, half-acre cultural park depicting a rural Irish landscape, but located in Manhattan’s Battery Park City neighborhood near the site of the former World Trade Center, where 2,996 died. been committed by terrorists. This memorial was created to draw attention to the Great Irish Hunger (An Gorta Mór in Irish), which took the lives of over a million people between 1845 and 1852. It evokes a litany of death, suffering and emigration which has left an indelible mark on our psychology. countryside. It transports visitors emotionally, spiritually and physically to another place and another time.

In 2001, artist Brian Tolle teamed up with landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird and architecture firm 1100 Architect to transfer from the ground, more than 60 types of flora native to the western lands of the island of Ireland and unearthed rocks from each of the 32 counties of Ireland. to understand the main design of this memorial. Inside the garden there are fallow potato fields flanked by a plethora of vegetation that can be found in the wetlands of North Connacht.

It serves as a metaphorical expression of solidarity between those who fled Ireland and those who stayed.

It’s a place of quiet reflection in the middle of chaotic New York City. Famine statistics, quotes and poems are displayed on a large perimeter wall and inside the garden. The installation (on the banks of the Hudson) faces the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, evoking a bittersweet sense of repatriation for the diaspora. It was opened in 2002 by former Irish President Mary McAleese.

The original Slack family cottage in Attymass, County Mayo, had occupants until the 1960s. It became virtually uninhabitable without running water or electricity. This historic cottage has also been moved and dedicated to the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan as a tribute to previous generations of the Slack family who moved to America and achieved success in the land of opportunity. The memorial was dedicated on July 16, 2002, to “the memory of all members of the Slack family of previous generations who emigrated to America and did well.” The memorial remains a very powerful evocation of the Famine with its ruined buildings and contemporary testimonies of its devastating impact.

The food shortage has not yet been eradicated. In 2020 when the world came to a standstill and life changed as we know it, my cousin Dr. David Beasley (former Governor of South Carolina) received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Food Program global. After receiving the award, he said: “The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Program is a touching and moving recognition of the work of WFP staff who risk their lives every day to bring food and helping nearly 100 million starving children, women and men around the world. David now lives in Italy, like me, where he and his team continue to work to end world hunger. .

The Irish Hunger Memorial takes on renewed meaning in light of the invasion of Ukraine and all the countries that depend on Ukrainian farmers for food – and also for the 4.2 million Ukrainians forced to flee their country to survive. The Memorial inspires hope that there will be better days ahead for all those who remain at risk of food shortages.

Follow the author, Dr. Anton Anderssen.

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