Sunday, January 3, 2016

An Gorta Mor by guest blogger Shannon Haire


It takes a lot of suffering to be ranked among one of history’s worst tragedies and biggest losses of life.
Photo by Shannon Haire - Used with Permission
The famine that hit Ireland in 1845 has that unfortunate distinction. ‘An Gorta Mor’ (the Great Hunger) decimated the Irish population and over a five year period 1.5 million people starved to death or died of hunger-related causes. Another two million fled Ireland in order to escape that fate, and the native population hasn’t recovered since. It is estimated that there are more Irish people spread throughout the world than there are in Ireland itself, and that has been the case ever since the Great Famine began.
Photo by Chmee2
Ireland is a mecca for memorials, historical places, and public sculpture, but few are as somber and potent as the Famine Memorial on the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin. The memorial sculpture was created by Rowan Gillespie and unveiled in 1997. It consists of emaciated men, women, and children trudging along the banks of the river, with various expressions of sadness, despair, and resignation. The horrifying bronze sculptures also include a starving dog walking behind the people. It is one of the most photographed public art pieces in all of Ireland.
Photo by Eric Jones
These statues are a permanent memorial to the many people who suffered and fled the Great Famine. It was built on the departure site of the Perseverance, one of the first famine ships to leave the area in 1846. The ship's captain was a seventy-four year old man who quit his office job to transport hundreds of starving people from Dublin to America. All passengers arrived safely on that maiden voyage and the Perseverance was one of the first of thousands of ships to make that desperate crossing. 
Photo by Shannon Haire - Used with Permisson
Rowan Gillespie’s haunting sculptures are a stark reminder of the tragic loss of life and home that the Irish people suffered and his vision captures the utter despair that millions of families were feeling during the great famine. These eerie memorial statues make it impossible to walk the banks of the river without feeling the desolate ghosts of the dead. In the water there is a replicated famine boat that doubles as one of the many famine museums located throughout Ireland. The ‘Jeanie Johnston’ is a is a fitting backdrop to the darkness of Gillespie’s pieces, and both ensure that those who visit the area will forever remember one of the biggest tragedies in Irish history.




Shannon Haire is an Irish history blogger and author. Her newly released book, Petticoats, Patriots, and Partition, is available on Amazon.com. She blogs regularly about Irish history, politics, and current events on her increasingly popular blog,  Choosing the Green - RoghnĂș Glas

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