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Speeches from the Unveiling Ceremony 25/7/2021

Jane McCulloch, Consul General of Ireland in Scotland

A DHAOINE Uaisle, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you all for your welcome today, and for the kind invitation from Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór to join you for the unveiling of this poignant and profound artwork remembering the Irish Famine.

I particularly want to recognise the commitment and dedication to realising this event and the installation of the sculpture, of the committee, led by Jeanette Findlay, as well as the generosity of the wider Irish community in ensuring its funding.  

To John McCarron, with the support of Maurice Harron, I wish to acknowledge the poignancy of your sensitive depiction of the human desolation wrought during, and after, those famine years in the 1840s—the suffering of those who died, those who fled, and those who were left without them.

Collective trauma
More than 170 years ago, the darkness of the famine in Ireland precipitated a collective trauma for the Irish people. For successive generations, it has cast a long shadow on the Irish across the world.   

In 1840, following a century of growth, Ireland was home to 8 million people. In the space of a decade, 1 million would die of hunger and of related diseases. A further 2 million left Ireland, destitute, and with nothing but hope to carry with them.

Astounding as these numbers remain, despite our familiarity with them, they are not simply numbers. They are all harrowing individual tragedies.

The Irish Famine’s toll on human life was significant in its scale, and in its detail. Across the island, in rural and in urban areas, in each province, hunger and disease did not decide between age, gender or creed.

Whether from towns and cities, or rural Ireland, in considering the stories of our families, of our communities, and of our people, we acknowledge that victims of the famine were from every corner of Ireland.

Shared story
And it is our shared story, with all its pain and tragedy, that binds us together as a diverse community of 70 million people around the world today. We must acknowledge, that from the tragic depths of despair and devastation, some positive consequences emerged.

The famine has led to important legacies, two of which define us as a people and as a country.

Just as the more than 100,000 people who arrived from Ireland to the Clyde in the 1840s shared the common suffering wrought by the famine, so too did the 2 million who fled to other parts of Britain, and to other parts of the world. But in each case, they were individuals, with individual stories, and with individual losses.

Those who left Ireland as a result of the famine were the foundation stone of our diaspora. And our diaspora, here in Scotland—in Glasgow and right across the country—as well as throughout the world, is one of individuals too. In all our diversity, we share that collective memory, which binds us.

When we commemorate the famine, we do so inclusively, whether on an all island basis in Ireland, or internationally, considering the broad legacy of emigration, cultural loss and the decline of the Irish language, together with the specific issues of food security and the strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief. 

Memory informs empathy
Our memory of our great pain informs our empathy to our fellow human beings facing similar threats. As we stand here today, the threat of famine affects 34 million of our fellow global citizens.

It is the memory of the Great Hunger that has inspired generations of Irish women and men to dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others, as missionaries, volunteers, educators, health workers and in international development. Their legacy is part of Ireland’s global influence and reach—combatting poverty and hunger is one of Ireland’s flagship foreign policies.

Irish people see development cooperation as an investment in a better future, as an important projection of our values, and as a statement of solidarity with others who are less fortunate. Irish citizens, through strong support for our Official Development Assistance programme, have been instrumental in helping some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world to find new hope, and to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Through our bilateral partnerships, and our work through the EU, the United Nations and other multilateral organisations, Ireland can direct vital aid to people living in some of the most challenging and insecure environments on the planet. Our Overseas Development Assistance programme is widely regarded as one of the highest quality development programmes in the world.

Through remembrance and reflection, we can reach understanding, and not be bound by the past. And it is the collective understanding of a diaspora of 70 million people, though founded in tragedy, that enriches our shared present, ensuring that Ireland’s legacy of the Famine is one of care, compassion, kindness and solidarity.  

I take my lead from President Michael D Higgins, who, at this year’s National Famine Commemoration ceremony, at Glasnevin Cemetery on May 16, reflected on healing. President Higgins quoted the words of Sinéad O’Connor’s song, Famine:

And if there ever is going to be healing
There has to be remembering
And then grieving
So that there then can be forgiving.
There has to be knowledge and understanding.

May all those who suffered in An Gorta Mór rest in peace.

Jeanette Findlay, Chair, Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór

A Aithreacha oirmhinneach, a Ard-Chonsal na hÉireann, a dhaoine uaisle, thar ceann Coiste Cuimhneacháin An Gorta Mór, cuirim fáilte romhaibh go dtí an teach pobail galánta stairiúil seo, ar an ócáid speisialta seo. Gabhaim buíochas le Sagart an Pharóiste, an Canónach Tom White, agus le paróistigh Naomh Muire, as a gcineáltas agus a bhflaithiúlacht, é á chur ar fáil don chuid eile de phobal na hÉireann i nGlaschú.

Monsignor, Reverend Fathers, Consul General of Ireland, Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of Coiste Cuimhneacháin An Gorta Mór, I welcome you here to this beautiful and historic church on this special occasion.   I thank the Parish Priest, Canon Tom White and the parishioners of St Mary’s for their kindness and generosity in making it available to the rest of the Irish community in Glasgow as a site for the magnificent memorial which is about to be unveiled to you.

Today is a very special day;  a very special and long-awaited day; a day when Glasgow joins the 140 cities around the world where our people arrived in great numbers escaping starvation, eviction and oppression.  Why it has taken so long to reach this day is another story; an important story that speaks to us of current realities; but a story for another day.

Today is our day, the day for the children of those impoverished and brutalised people who managed to reach these shores, to finally see that part of their history, that terrible part, acknowledged and remembered in a physical and permanent way.

So, in that sense, while it is a time for reflection on the awful reality of what they endured, it is also a time for celebration that they did endure, they did survive and, in large part, flourished in this city. 

They made that journey, dangerous in those times, in an effort to save themselves and their children and, in so doing, they peopled this city with their descendants – still a minority, but now a confident, vocal and proud minority who have kept alive in whatever way they could, the music, the sport, the language, the history of their native land and their great love for it.  The confident and vibrant multi-generational Irish community of Glasgow is the legacy of their endurance and their bravery and today we remember them and thank them for that.

Who can imagine what it must have been like to leave behind the dead and the dying and with almost no possessions of any kind, begin to walk with their children towards a port in order to sail from a rural existence to a strange and industrial place; a place already scarred with poverty and inequality.  I suppose the only people alive now who can really imagine that are those, in our city, who have arrived more recently to escape, war, hunger and oppression in their own countries.  And that is why, today, as well as thinking of our own people we should think of them.  This memorial should be a reminder to us that we owe it to our own ancestors to be the welcoming community to new arrivals in Glasgow,  that we wish our ancestors had met all those decades ago: and to treat them as we wish our own ancestors had been treated; and as they were treated by the honourable few.    This is a city still scarred by division of many kinds – class being the chief among them- but we should not fall prey to the forces that seek to divide us in their own interest – and when we feel that pressure to look upon other human beings as being less than us, as wanting to take from us, we should look to this memorial and feel the eyes of our ancestors on us and resist that pressure.

This day is a day of remembrance and we remember also all the generations between those terrible years of the Great Hunger and now.  All those who were born, lived and died in this city – who knew where they came from;  who maintained their Irish culture and their sense of themselves as Irish but who did not live to see this great day when their own history was publicly and appropriately marked in the city which became their home. Those of us still here today are lucky in that respect.   I have told this story many times and I hope you will forgive me if I tell it again.  I spoke to an elderly lady on the day of the public consultation to choose the design that would ultimately be built.  She arrived early to the public consultation and I offered to let her have a little peek at the macquettes.  I will never forget her words which made clear the very great emotional need that our community had for this memorial.  She said:  I have waited all my life for this to happen and I can wait another 45 minutes.

She doesn’t have to wait too much longer now to see memorial unveiled and I hope she is here today.   I hope she will be here, with all of you, to see the solid, physical manifestation of our existence as an Irish community in this city and this country.  Our recognition, too long withheld by many parts of society, including government, is encapsulated in this memorial to how we came to be here.  This is, on any view, a huge step forward for us.

I spoke earlier of the vibrant, confident community that we now are, and nowhere was that more evident than in the joyful, united effort of all of you to ensure that this memorial would be built.   From the initial idea, to the design competition, to the community consultation, to the search for a site, to the planning process and, of course, to the fundraising.  You were there, you were there from the start and you are here today (in person, in spirit and online).  The Committee, which was open to all, had people who contributed at the start, those who came in at later stages and those who were there all the way through:  everyone of them was vital to that effort and, on behalf of the whole community, I thank Joe, Paddy, Eddie, Chris, Grace, Marie, Carole, Danny, Tommy, Jonathan, Tommy, Gary, Aislinn and Anthony.  We remember especially, Helen Dunese Stewart, a stalwart of the committee whose tragically early death last year continues to devastate all who knew her and loved her.  I know she is somewhere waiting and sharing our joy in this day.

From the outset we agreed that this was to be a project for the community and by the community and that no individual, no matter how much they contributed financially, would be separated out and identified.  However, it would be difficult not to mention one or two people who contributed in other ways.  If I accidentally miss anyone here, please do not be hurt, what you did will be remembered long after today. 

Paul Cosgrove from the Glasgow School of Art was very important in helping us to set up the design competition which led to the selection of John McCarron’s wonderful statue which you are all shortly to see.  Kevin Smith who wrote our beautiful song which you heard performed here again today.  Kevin Creechan and his staff who printed the booklets which I hope will be a treasured keepsake for  you.  Wullie Brown who designed our website which kept everyone updated on our progress.  Tony Friel and Pat McFadden who made beautiful artworks to aid the fundraising and those who donated items for the last auction.  Zia-Ul Huq of Huq Consulting Ltd who very generously donated his engineering services. And  Maurice Friel, how can we not mention Maurice! And his team who made sure the statue was installed here, safely and on the right spot with many prayers said and not too many curses I hope…..Canon Tom and the Parishioners of St Mary’s who offered us a site when none was to be had anywhere else in the city; and, of course, John McCarron, the sculptor of this work,  whose vision and commitment to this project was unsurpassed.  I thank you and we thank you – you will not be forgotten.

Do gach duine agaibh anseo inniu /agus daoibh go léir – atá ag amharc air ar líne, /gabhaim buíochas libh go léir, seo bhur lá, seo bhur gcathair agus seo bhur gcuimhneachán.  

Bhí mana againn ón tús, agus is é sin, “Tá muid á Thógáil”: Thig linn a rá , go bródúil anois,  go bhfuil sé tógtha againn!

For all of you here today and all of you watching online, I thank you all, this is your day, this is your city and this is your memorial.  We had a slogan at the outset which was We are Building it:  We can now proudly say We have built it!

Go raibh mile maith agaibh

We have built it!

Thanks to your support, Glasgow can finally be counted among the diaspora cities with a dedicated memorial to our ancestors who died and were displaced by An Gorta Mór.

Hundreds of supporters enjoyed glorious sunshine as Jane McCulloch, Consul General of Ireland, and Eddie Marley, representing the parish of St Mary’s where the monument stands, unveiled the memorial yesterday.

The monument in the grounds of St Mary’s

Created by Donegal sculptor John McCarron, ‘The Tower of Silence’ combines a stainless steel column representing the industrial city of Glasgow with steel patchwork echoing the stone cabins the rural Irish were forced to leave. Semi-abstract steel figures on top of the column show the desperation of those who fled to these shores, often carrying nothing but themselves and their children. The column contains the final verse of the poem ‘The Stricken Land’ written in 1847 by Lady Jane Wilde under the name ‘Speranza’.

Detail from the column showing the extract from ‘The Stricken Land’

Live stream replay and programmes still available

A full replay of the live stream of the unveiling ceremony will be available at www.westreamitservices.co.uk/mor for the next 27 days.

The memorial is in the grounds of St Mary’s church in Abercromby Street, Glasgow and can be seen from the pavement whether the church is open or closed. When the church is open, the last remaining programmes will be on sale.

This is your memorial. You have built it

None of this – not the moving occasion of the unveiling or the permanent memorial to honour our ancestors – would have been possible without your support.

You have ensured long overdue recognition for the dead, the displaced, the desperate. And for the contributions of their descendants.

From Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór, thank you.

Final planning permission received

The committee are delighted to announce that we’ve received final planning permission for the installation of the memorial in St Mary’s in the Calton.

While the installation of the sculpture will be delayed until it’s safe to bring our community together in celebration and commemoration, this planning permission is final confirmation that Glasgow will finally be home to a memorial to the dead and displaced of An Gorta Mór.

As soon as we can, we’ll share details of the unveiling on Facebook and Twitter and through our email updates.

In the meantime, please do what you can to keep yourself and your community safe, and stay up to date with the latest NHS advice.

We are building it. 

Memorial unveiling delayed due to coronavirus

Since you pushed the appeal over our fundraising target late last year, the committee have been working on plans for the installation and unveiling of the memorial.

Our final planning application is in and we had hoped to make an announcement soon about an unveiling celebration in May.

Sadly, due to the risks posed by the current coronavirus pandemic, it will not be possible for us to hold this celebration as soon as we would have liked. Work on the memorial is progressing and as soon as it’s safe to do so, we intend to hold a community celebration marking this significant milestone for Scotland’s Irish community.

We’ll keep you up to date with a new date for the unveiling on Facebook and Twitter and through our email updates.

In the meantime, please do what you can to keep yourself and your community safe, and stay up to date with the latest NHS advice.

We are building it.

Fundraising target smashed on unforgettable night in Paradise

More than five hundred people turned out to dance, sing and celebrate community at our fundraising dinner dance at Celtic Park in November.

Members and friends of Scotland’s Irish community were treated to a great set from Boolavogue, scooped match-worn Celtic shirts and hospitality packages in our raffle, and made generous bids on our one of a kind auction items, including a coin collection depicting all signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. As Committee Chair Jeanette Findlay said on the night, “the excitement around this memorial project is palpable, and it clearly fills a genuinely felt need of our community to have our history and our existence recognised.”

Thanks to your incredible support, the night raised £21,475, taking us past our £80,000 fundraising target.

Not only does this secure the installation, maintenance and insurance of Scotland’s first permanent memorial to the tragedy of An Gorta Mór, it will also allow the committee to look at options to enhance the memorial site, such as lighting, information boards and bench seating.   

None of this would have been possible without the generosity of the suppliers and performers who supported the fundraiser, those who donated raffle and auction prizes, everyone who attended on the night and each and every single person who has donated along the way.

With fundraising complete, we’ll now focus on planning the installation and unveiling of this long-awaited memorial. Sign up for email updates and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to ensure you stay up to date.

It’s happening. Thanks to you.

We are building it!

Work underway on memorial as fundraising passes 60%

Donegal sculptor John McCarron has commenced work on “The Tower of Silence”, the design chosen in our public consultation to be the first permanent memorial in Glasgow to the dead and displaced of An Gorta Mór.

John’s design made a strong impression on those who viewed the model. Made of steel to reflect Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry it depicts three unclothed, emaciated figures, representing the 100,000 who fled here in desperation. The plinth underneath the figures will be engraved with a verse from “The Stricken Land” by Lade Wilde which conveys the injustice of the suffering they were forced to endure. The memorial will stand in the grounds of St Mary’s in the Calton, a church and an area with deep roots in Glasgow’s Irish community.  

The memorial wouldn’t be reaching this significant milestone without your fantastic support.

Over £52,000 has now been raised, which takes us to 65% of our fundraising target, and donations continue to come in. The pre-match bucket collection at Celtic Park in March 2019 generated £20,100 and we’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support you’ve given to the cause.

A grand total of £5,000 has been donated by Celtic fans from all over Ireland who attended the Ballymena Shamrock CSC dinner dance on 21/6/19  while a fantastic £868 was donated in one night of fundraising in the parish of St Maria Goretti in Glasgow. Over €480 has been raised so far in the Badass Café in Dublin, while countless other people are holding events, collecting change and donating online.

There’s a lot more to come and we need your continued help to raise the rest of the money required to create a fitting tribute to the memory of our ancestors. Stay tuned for news on future fundraisers, including details of song downloads and how you could own a match worn shirt from Jozo Simunovic or Scott Sinclair featuring the National Famine Day Memorial logo.

How you can help:

Thank you for your support.

We are building it!

St Patrick’s Day concert: Cór Geal Choir

We are delighted to announce that this award-winning choir from Cork will be playing in St Mary’s Church, Abercromby Street, Glasgow on Saturday 16th March, 7.30 till 9pm. There is no entry charge but there will be a collection to support the An Gorta Mór memorial fund. Please come and join us in what looks like a great night and in aid of a fantastic cause!

http://www.glasgowstpatricksfestival.com/cor-geal-concert

The final of the design competition: winner to be announced 21st November

In what we hope to be another enjoyable and busy evening, the winning design of the An Gort Mór design competition will be announced on Wednesday 21st November at 7pm in the Barras Art and Design Centre, 54 Calton Entry, Glasgow. This important milestone in the campaign for a fitting and lasting memorial to those who died and those who were displaced, especially our ancestors who came to Glasgow and other parts of Scotland at that time, follows a three and a half year campaign by Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór.

The extremely successful public consultation held in the same venue last month elicited a huge and warm response from the multi-generational Irish community in Glasgow. The excitement and engagement with the consultation was very heartening and very moving – this memorial will clearly fill a great need in our community to properly acknowledge and remember our past. The committee examined the feedback on the models derived from the consultation very carefully and, along with the other elements of the submissions the three bids were assessed against a set of pre-specified critera relating to the understanding of the project brief, understanding of the challenges of permanent works; ability to deliver to work with contractors and deliver to budget. Fortunately, the public consultation revealed that while people had particular favourites among the designs, the overwhelming majority also indicated that they were impressed by all three designs. Having worked reasonably closely with all three artists it was a very difficult decision by the committee and we felt the weight of our responsibility very heavily. It was a sad task to inform two artists that they had not been successful but we were able to assure them that their designs were very much appreciated and admired by the whole community albeit that, in the end, only one design could be chosen.

Wednesday’s event will kick off at 7pm and there will be a raffle for those in attendance, and to be drawn on the night, for the team shirt worn by Dublin’s own Jonny Hayes on National Famine Memorial Day in 2017. This will kick-start the fundraising task which is now all that stands between us and this memorial which is so needed and wanted.

During the evening, those in attendance will be treated to the first public performance by Boolavogue of the song specially written for this project by Kevin Smith, entitled, ‘We are Building it’. The committee is hugely grateful to Kevin for his contribution and we will be organising a download campaign of the song to raise funds and to publicise the project in the coming months.

We will be joined by the Irish Consul General in Scotland, Mark Hanniffy; the Chief Executive of Celtic PLC, Peter Lawwell and the Head of Sculpture and Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art, Paul Cosgrove who has offered advice and guidance to the committee throughout all the stages of the design competition.

So we look forward to seeing you all there to receive this long-awaited announcement and to enjoy a couple of hours of good company and some great music.

Public Consultation is a massive success

Around 200 people gathered last night in the heart of the Barras at the Barras Art and Design Centre to see, for the first time, the vision of the three finalists in the design competition to produce a fitting and lasting monument to An Gorta Mór and to the memory of those who died and those who came to Glasgow and elsewhere. The multi-generational Irish community gathered together to see the designs and to hear from the artists. There was a fantastic atmosphere as people went between the three models debating, deciding, changing their minds and going round again! For those who missed their chance, the models will be on display at St Mary’s on Sunday (13th) during the day but, in the meantime, here are the designs as introduced by the individual sculptors. The winning entry will be decided by 21 November so please email us your views by the first week in November. Then it will be full steam ahead to raise the necessary funds. Donations can be made via PayPal or by sending a cheque. Anyone who wishes to organise a fundraiser in their local area please let us know and we can provide merchandise or a speaker and help to publicise it. We are Building It!