Irish Hunger Memorial, Attymass in Co. Mayo
From Carradoogan to Battery Park City New York
In the 2002 Carradoogan was thrown into the spotlight with the news that the centrepiece chosen for the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan was an old stone-built farmhouse from the townland.
Owned by brothers Tom and Chris Slack, the simple ramshackle field-stone cottage which predates Famine times was selected to become the central feature of a £4.3 million Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City, The Slacks donated the house to the memorial project.
The derelict, part roofed cottage was dismantled by a team of experts and shipped to New York where it was painstakingly reassembled in its derelict form to help recreate the air of desolation which pervaded Ireland for many years after the Famine which mercilessly decimated the native population through death or emigration.
However it was not be full re-assembled in its previous form; the modern corrugated tin roof was removed and the cottage left as an exposed ruin. also, because of New York's seismic and general building codes the rubble filling between the fieldstone rock layers were replaced by modern concrete. It was officially dedoicated and opened on Tuesday July 16th in New York with many dignataries present for the occasion.
Irish Hunger Memorial Celebration Dinner
A celebration dinner was held in the Embassy Suites Hotel on July 15th 2002 the night before the public opening of the memorial. Governor Pataki of New York hosted this reception/banquet to honour sculptor Brian Tolle, creator of the Irish Hunger Memorial and honoured guests including Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, Foreign Ministers, Church and Government leaders such as Michael Bloomberg, Rudolph Giuliani, and Ed Koch, and literally hundreds of Irish and Irish American notables. The Governor's mother, Margaret Lynch was also present for the occasion.
Adrian Flannelly of Irish Radio USA was Master of Ceremonies for the night. Ciaran Sheehan performed at the reception by singing the National Anthems of both America and Ireland. Ciaran and the original cast of Frank McCourt's "The Irish...And How They Got That Way" also performed scenes from the show and were rewarded with a standing ovation.
Performances by many others, including Milo O'Shea and Kitty Sullivan followed, with traditional dancers. Also on the night a video presentation "The Creation of the Irish Hunger Memorial" was shown to those present in the hotel.
Official Dedication of Irish Hunger Memorial
New York was blessed with glorious sunshine for the dedication of the Irish Hunger Memorial. Before the official unveiling there was a special mass celebrated at 10.00 a.m. in the Embassy Suites Hotel which is located directly across the road from the memorial. The Celebrant of the Mass was Fr. Jack Finucane of Concern Worldwide. Fr. Finucane has over 30 years of experience in relief and development. He worked in Ethiopia in the mid 1970s and again during the severe famine of 1984-5, which claimed nearly one million lives. After the Mass the 69th Regiment provided an honour guard leading the dignitaries to their places for the official dedication.
In attendance on this memorable occasion were New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Ed Koch, The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, the memorial's artist, Brian Tolle, Cardinal Egan and a host of politicians and who's who in all sectors of life including visitors from Ireland.
Mayo was well represented in County Manager Des Mahon, as well as the special band of talented musicians of Bofield Céilí Band near Ballina, who performed magnificently and captured the hearts of the large attendance trying to shield themselves from a hot and scorching sun. Members of the Mayo Association from Philadelphia, the Mayo Association of Boston, together with large numbers of the New York Mayo Society.
Ciaran Sheehan & Aideen O'Donnell provided song and music for both the Irish and American National anthems. The chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, Timothy Carey, presided as master of ceremonies, assisted by Adrian Flannelly, also a member of the memorial's committee. Flannelly, the Irish Cultural Liaison officer has a more-than-professional attachment to New York's Hunger Memorial. His father, Patrick, was one of the educators who helped gather information about living conditions in Attymass after the Famine. Cardinal Edward Egan opened the dedication, reminding listeners that the memorial was about "the tragedy of man's inhumanity to his fellow man."
Each speaker sought to remind those present that hunger still afflicts millions across the world: "Eight hundred million people will go to bed hungry tonight," said Timothy Carey. Addressing the audience, Ireland's president, Mary McAleese, said that out of great tragedy, good can and will come: "Wherever people suffer, you will find the Irish bringing hope." She drew laughter from the crowd while praising the memorial's artist, Brian Tolle, for his accurate re-creation of the Irish countryside. "I just don't know who to thank for the very accurate re-creation of the Irish weather," McAleese said, on what was a cloudless, hot summer's day. Because of the Famine and immigration experience, because of determination and grit, she said, "today Ireland is a first world country with a third world memory."
President McAleese also went on to add that we would not forget the tragedy that brought so many Irish emigrants to America, nor the generosity of America in embracing our poor, restoring their dignity, and giving our ancestors the opportunity to help forge the great American nation. "As we remember the tragedy of the Irish famine, we must dedicate ourselves to fighting and eradicating the scourge of hunger in the 21st century," President McAleese said.
The author Frank McCourt read from one of the first official reports of famine deaths in Ireland, and brother Malachy McCourt read from early famine newspaper reports. Author and actor Malachy, resplendent in a white suit, read one of the lines of text from the memorial's plinth, and noted, "30,000 children will die today of starvation . . ." He added, "I call on politicians to stop bombing people and bring food to them." Ironically, McCourt's first reading was from early 1840s Ireland, when an observer noted that potato blight had broken out in America but that no such thing was likely to occur in Ireland.
McCourt elicited the day's heartiest laugh when he told the crowd "This day goes to show that death in Ireland is not fatal" The Famine, continued McCourt, well known for his liberal views, resulted from a "conservative ideology," one "peculiar to the British". With two of the state's leading Republicans behind him, someone shouted, "That's not on the wall." Malachy smiled and said "Maybe I'll be on the wall after this"
Sir Bob Geldoff, founder of the charity the Live Aid Foundation, also read from a contemporary account of an eviction. He condemned current U.S. foreign aid policy, saying that "It is the duty of the United States to reach out to impoverished areas in the world" He referred to his own work when he told listeners "I see a lot of what this memorial describes in Africa, almost every year." The events of September 11th were not forgotten at the opening of the memorial. Speakers noted how the Famine had brought thousands of Irish immigrants to America's shores, whose many descendants inspired the world with their heroism on that day. "The firefighters of Irish extraction who lost their lives were there only because of the cottage," said President McAleese during her site tour. The then silent voices of Irish famine victims will now be heard even more because of the memorial's close proximity to the city's own tragic events, and its location, so close to Ground Zero, "will perplex me to my death," she added.
"What is important to point out is the close proximity to the site of the World Trade Centre," said Martin McGuinness, the Northern Ireland Minister for education. "Many of the people who died on September 11th would have been descendants of people who just managed to escape the Famine." During his remarks, Governor Pataki recalled how he had gradually become aware of the Famine during his teenage years. He remembered wondering how the potato crop could fail "year after year, for seven years," and how he found out about the effects on Ireland of British policy at the time. "This memorial is not to point the finger, but to open eyes about the Famine and about world hunger," he said.
The President of the U.S., George Bush, sent written greetings to a crowd that represented whose who in American Irish circles. And several hundred at the dedication ceremony and on the dais itself were descendants of those who fled and survived the worst European disaster of the 19th century. Many present had tears in their eyes when they came to survey the site that represented all that was lost in Ireland, and yet, as many of the speakers pointed out, all that had been gained. The roots of the vast majority of Irish Americans begin with the famine, and there would never have been an Irish constituency in America without it. "So many times last fall it was predominantly Irish-Americans who guided us," said Mayor Giuliani. "We have to learn how to make positive and good things out of bad. I can't think of any group that does this more than the Irish," he stated.
Also present was Paddy Reilly who pleased the crowd with his rendition of "The Fields of Athenry" After the ribbon was cut to officially open the Irish Hunger Memorial, guests and the public were allowed to step through the memorial's rear entrance, or on to the grassy slope at the front, and spend time reflecting on its complex message.
Celebration of Music, Arts and Culture
The official Dedication Ceremony was followed by a Spectacular Celebration of Music, Arts and Culture by more than 100 leading musicians, actors and dancers from the US and Ireland. Once again Adrian Flannelly did the honours as Master of Ceremonies. The Bofield Ceílí Band was the only act from Ireland and did a performance and eviction scene, which told the story of the famine through mime music song and dance.
The narrator of the scene was Chris Slack who himself has a personal link to the memorial in that he was born in the cottage that forms the centrepiece. Film crews from around the globe captured the event and many of the audience were visibly moved as the drama unfolded in front of the memorial. Other guests for the afternoon's entertainment included Frank McCourt, Eileen Ivors and Eileen O'Grady.
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