As a nationality that has been raised on song and story, there is a familiarity to verse penned by Barry Moore (Luka Bloom) when he wrote City of Chicago, “Deadly pains of hunger, drove a million from the land, they journeyed not for glory, their motive wasn’t greed. A voyage of survival across the stormy sea”. While Irish men, women and children were dying, the grain and sustenance to help reduce the impact of the famine was exported from under their feet, all under the close watch of the wealthiest empire on earth.
The savage effects of the Irish famine led to over one million deaths and saw a further 2.5 million emigrate, hoping to flee the cruel conditions brought on by starvation, government policy and landlord evictions. Even in their darkest hour, the native people of Ireland were treated dreadfully and offered little hope to withstand the atrocious conditions. With Irish men and women seeking refuge from a catastrophe, many saw their only hope in making the journey across the waters. The distinct footprint of Irish ancestry began to weave its DNA threads across the globe, particularly in North America, the port towns of England and Wales and, of course, Scotland.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
The passage to new cities and ports did little to stem the feeling of despair of the weary souls, with the knowledge of loved ones either left behind in Ireland or on the coffin ships that traversed the oceans and seas. Further barriers prevented the integration of the immigrants with signs showing “No Irish” wherever they settled. In time, these perceptions changed and burgeoning communities of Irish people were finally established in their new surroundings, finding employment, worth, civic duty, a renewed sense of belonging, and even presidential status.
With this integration came the recognition of the plight suffered by the Irish diaspora in major cities across the world. In the cities of North America, where in some cases the Irish people made up more the half the population, the effects of the famine are remembered in memorials. From Toronto to Arizona and from Massachusetts to Oregon. In Australia, the cities of Melbourne and Sydney pay respects to the generations of Irish people who left everything and everyone behind to travel in the hope of survival.
As the time has passed, the integration of Irish people is recognised all over the world and over 170 years after the start of the Irish famine, Glasgow will now be able to show and pay its respects. After a long and difficult campaign looking to work with the local authority in agreeing the detail of the monument, the committee behind the An Gorta Mór Glasgow Memorial are inching closer to building that permanent memorial. Through much hard work and commitment from a number of contributors, a design has been agreed and location confirmed, with the final stretch of fundraising now underway.
This weekend, supporters will make their way to Celtic Park, who some consider as Glasgow’s unofficial memorial to the Irish famine, where they will join the An Gorta Mór committee in a fundraiser being held in the Kerrydale Suite. The event should represent a night of recognition and celebration of the significant impact of integrated Irish communities here in Glasgow and the world over.
Martin DonaldsonListen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind