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Last weekends 2015 National Famine Commemoration saw over 2000 in attendance at the Albert Basin in Newry including Diplomats and Consuls from throughout the world.

The event hosted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, in partnership with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure  made a very solemn and moving tribute to the many thousands who died during the Great Famine, or who left Ireland, never to return. Minister Heather Humphries praised Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for hosting the "solemn and moving event"

Remembering those who died
Remembering those who died or were forced to emigrate

A further 3,400 people attended a full programme of events leading up to and during the week of the famine commemoration including lectures, educational events, exhibitions and a conference.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Naomi Bailie, who opened the Commemoration with a welcome to Newry, said, “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, was deeply honoured to welcome the National Famine Commemoration to Newry.  All who attended on Saturday were touched by the very moving tributes paid.  I would commend the community of Newry, Mourne and Down, who worked so hard in the months leading up to the Commemoration to make this a most memorable occasion.  I was delighted by the huge turnout not only on Saturday, but in the weeks leading up to the Commemoration.”

Students from local schools who attended the ceremony.
Students from local schools who attended the ceremony.

The Commemoration was attended by over 35 diplomats and consuls from throughout the world as well as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Committee, Heather Humphreys, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín.

Minister Humphreys said, “I would like to express my thanks to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for hosting a fitting, inclusive and informative Commemoration.  The Council’s team worked with my Department and the Office of Public Works to ensure that the ceremony was an appropriately solemn and moving event.  The attendance at Newry was among the highest of any of the annual Commemorations to date.  I was particularly pleased to see public representatives and members of the public from across the region in such numbers in Newry last Saturday."

Kedlay family members, from left: Dan, Pat, Peggy and Kate who travelled from Iowa, USA to attend Saturday’s National Famine Commemoration event in Newry. Their ancestor left Ballyholland for America in 1865.
Kedlay family members, from left: Dan, Pat, Peggy and Kate who travelled from Iowa, USA to attend Saturday’s National Famine Commemoration event in Newry. Their ancestor left Ballyholland for America in 1865.

Minister Humphreys also praised the Council for organising a programme of cultural events held at a number of venues in the weeks preceding and following the main ceremony, “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council organised a diverse and vibrant programme of events which complemented the formal Commemoration and involved local people from across the community.  I would like to thank the Council, the local Famine Committee, the local community and all who gave up their time to make the programme of events and the commemoration ceremony itself such an outstanding success.”

Dr Eamon Phoenix speaking at the commemoration.
Dr Eamon Phoenix speaking at the commemoration.

Many other events were organised as part of this years commemoration including ‘Retracing The Steps’ in Warrenpoint on Sunday past and a plaque unveiled on Merchants Quay in Newry dedicated to all those who booked a passage in Newry for destinations overseas during the Famine years.

In Warrenpoint local members of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann provided the music, and following the official welcome and speeches, Councillor Fitzpatrick and guests walked towards the waterway to watch Newpoint Players perform the last scene of their specially-commissioned drama: Retracing the Steps, at the site of the Famine Memorial at the slipway.

The crowd at the Albert Basin.
The crowd at the Albert Basin.

Newpoint Players performed several scenes of Outdoor Relief Schemes, Soup Kitchens and Street Singing by the destitute, from 2pm – 3.30pm for a public audience.

This audience joined the Vice Chair, Minister, Honorary Consul and guests for the final piece, which outlined the desperate circumstances in which people found themselves during the famine years.

The dangers faced by emigrants leaving on ships such as the infamous “Hannah”, and the benevolence of locals such as James Harshaw and Dr Bryson were highlighted. 

Councillor Fitzpatrick then invited Minister Humphreys to officially unveil the monument, which graces the public realm scheme at the slipway. 

Newport actors, Aveen Stewart, Mathew Freeman and Josh McVeigh in Warrenpoint. Photograph: NewRayPics
Newport actors, Aveen Stewart, Mathew Freeman and Josh McVeigh in Warrenpoint. Photograph: NewRayPics

Councillor Fitzpatrick commented,  “Today’s event marks the end of a process of reflection and learning.  The Famine Memorial here in Warrenpoint not only represents my Council’s pride in having hosted yesterday’s ceremony, but it is placed in a beautiful and appropriate location.  The docks at Warrenpoint would have been teeming with desperate people as they fled to new lives in the “New World”.  

Official Unveiling of the Famine Marker in Warrenpoint by Minister Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, in the presence of Vice Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Gillian Fitzpatrick and Honorary Consul for Canada Kenneth Brundel .
The official unveiling of the Famine Marker in Warrenpoint by Minister Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, in the presence of Vice Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Gillian Fitzpatrick and Honorary Consul for Canada Kenneth Brundel. Photograph: NewRayPics

The confusion and sadness surrounding them as they boarded ships like The Hannah and the Lady Caroline, is almost unimaginable to us here today.  Newpoint Players, our local theatre company, has captured that sense of loss, tinged with hopes for a better life elsewhere, as they recreate the last steps taken by men, women and children at the waterside.  It has been an honour to have hosted the official Ceremony of commemoration in Newry, it has been a privilege and an education to hear about how the Great Famine affected all parts of Ireland and I am glad that we have been able to pay tribute and remember with dignity, the thousands of lost souls, both at the Annual Commemoration itself, and at today’s ceremony”.

Cllr Naomi Bailey with Alun Evans and Anne Adams at the unveiling of a plaque at Merchants Quay in memory of the Hannah
Cllr Naomi Bailey with Alun Evans and Anne Adams at the unveiling of a plaque at Merchants Quay in memory of The Hannah
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