The National Famine Commemoration took place yesterday in Kilrush, Co. Clare. Kilrush was a very apt place to hold this year’s commemoration as it was one of the places in Ireland that suffered most from starvation, disease, emigration and evictions
County Clare had the highest number of evictions, in proportion to its population, of any county in Ireland in the years 1849-1854, when nearly ten per cent of its population was permanently evicted. During the years of the Famine, its people suffered on a horrendous scale, and tens of thousands died from the effects of starvation and disease
Evictions, fever and cholera reduced the population of southwest Clare to such an extent that it has never again attained its pre-famine numbers.
During a formal State ceremony, ambassadors to Ireland laid wreaths in remembrance of all those who suffered or perished during the Famine. President Michael D Higgins, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and members of the Defence Forces were in attendance. ambassadors to Ireland laid wreaths in remembrance of all those .
Yesterday I had the great privilege to have with me Gayle Dowling of Melbourne, who had travelled specially to the event
Gayle is the Great Great Grandaughter of Ellen Powell, one of the girls sent from Killarney Workhouse to Australia. During my research into my forthcoming book on the 117 ‘Orphans’ who were sent out from the four Kerry Workhouses, I had contacted Gayle. She has provided me with details of Ellen’s subsequent life, originally in South Australia and of her marriage, and time in the Goldfields before settling in Malmsbury, Victoria. Ellen had a happy and successful subsequent life in Australia, a lucky escape from the misery, starvation and diesease of the Workhouse
Gayle was thrilled to meet President Higgins and his wife Sabina after the commemoration, when we went inside for a welcome cupán tae. Here is Gayle getting a well deserved hug from the President’s wife Sabina