Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Famine Statues


As with many Irish people, there is one view in Dublin which never fails to emotionally affect me. It is the vista of the iron Famine Statues along the river Liffey quays when seen against the backdrop of the modern glass pyramid shapes on the Ulster Bank HQ. My heart races from commingled emotions of pain and pride. If ever there was a single place which crystalizes Ireland's emergence on many levels then this is surely it.

The mid 19th century famine was a huge event in more ways than we Irish today even consider at a fully conscious level. It is still Freudianly lingering in our subconscious like a genetic imprint. Yes, I know it wasn't a famine in the clinical sense. The rural Irish were over-dependant on the potato with it's big food value per acre for poor families with small fields. I'm not getting into the blame game here as it is possible to throw shots at the British authorities, landlords and the Irish farmers...this is a separate debate. But over a modest period the event contributed to unbelievable misery and the population of Ireland was more than halved through death and emigration.

Many of us have stories in our families which are passed down from the famine. Stories of death and disease and loss of dignity abounded. My father came from a rural background and I always noticed that his family had an irrational fear of hunger. They had enough food of course but they did worry about the potential of going hungry. My mother was from a city background in Derry but they also had memories of the great hunger through Donegal connections. I know other intermediate factors played a bigger part such as shortages in the war years, generally poor pay, etc. But I'm absolutely convinced that the famine was still imprinted in the dark corridors of their brains. They passed similar irrational fears on to my generation. It manifests itself in subtle ways. Have we enough food in the house? What happens if we run out of something? Ilogical hoarding is still present in small ways and we don't even realise it. We hate to see people hungry. The Irish give more generously to Worldwide famine relief per capita than almost any nation on Earth. Even mention the word famine and it still hurts Irish people.

Volumes have been written on Irish emigration from famine times and beyond. It still amazes me how many people Worldwide have Irish roots and who have since then given something back in so many diverse ways. From careful study of the finer points in history it also touches me how many poor nations from various parts of the World were generous with contributions to Ireland during a time of bad communication in the mid 1800s famine years. Even native American Indians and Mexicans for instance. Little to give...but gave a lot.

The famine statues...surrounded by prosperity...a time gate...a tangible reminder of what we came from and where we are. Go there...reflect.




5 comments:

Blankpaige said...

Nice reflection on an excellent photo, John.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks a lot Paige!

ainelivia said...

Didn't know of this until I read your post. Next time I'm in Dublin will take a look.

re your comments on giving; probably why Ireland gave more to Live Aid per capita than any other country.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks for the comment Ainelivia.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic - saw the statue myself six years ago absolutely mesmerised by it, shed a tear. My mother's family are predominately Southern Irish, her grandfather left Ireland for this very reason and settled in South Wales. My Welsh mother married and settled in England, but very proud of my Welsh and Irish ancestral roots.