Commemorative Events

A survey of past events which might give you some Ideas!

Western New York's Irish-American community dedicated its monument to the victims of Ireland's Great Famine of 150 years ago in ceremonies Aug. 23 on Buffalo NY's waterfront. The stark stone monument is at the foot of La Rivière Street on a slight rise at the edge of Erie Basin. The site is ringed by trees and is separated from Erie Basin by a walkway. The monument serves two purposes, according to Chuck Treanor, president of the sponsoring Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Committee.

"First, it commemorates the millions of people who suffered and died in the Famine years. This monument is part of the world-wide observance of the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine. And it also honors the many people who came to Buffalo to form the present Irish community."

A procession led by the Erie County Sheriff's Department Pipe Band marked the start of the dedication ceremonies on Saturday, August 23, 1997.

Other highlights of the morning, according to Mike Flynn, master of ceremonies for the event, included:

Also attending the ceremonies were a delegation from Cork City, Ireland, including Lord Mayor David McCarthy, City Manager Jack Higgins, Chief Legal Officer David O'Hagan, and City Engineer Brian Parsons. Cork provided invaluable assistance with the monument.

The monument, designed by Rob Ferguson, combines tradition with symbolism. A 12-foot-tall granite stone is the key element, recalling the ancient standing stones that dot Ireland. The stone is set in a well to symbolize the great silence that fell upon Ireland when the Famine struck. Fanning out from the monolith is a field of granite memorial stones inscribed with the names of individuals or families. It was the sale of those stones that provided much of the funding for the project. Forming the outer ring of the monument are 32 limestone blocks, representing Ireland's 32 counties, and four larger blocks representing the four provinces.

The monument carries two inscriptions, one in Irish and one in English. Engraved in the stone around the edge of the well is this verse by local poet Tim Daly:

Our hearts are with them in the Earth, and they with us within our hearts. Now we, together, live forever. We are the harvest of the blight, let us not fail our seed.
A plaque at the base of the central stone is inscribed in Irish with a verse from the Book of Luke. Translated, it reads: "If they were to keep silence, I tell you the very stones would cry out."

The city of Cork donated the monument's 36 rough-hewn limestone blocks. For more than 100 years those blocks were part of Penrose Quay in Cork harbor, where so many Irish took their last step in Ireland. The standing stone is from Carraroe, County Galway.

More than 800 memorial stones have been reserved. The stones are still being sold. Each stone costs $125. Information forms are available by mail from Craig Speers, Treasurer, 140 Winston Road, Buffalo, N.Y. 14216. Most of the larger stones have been sponsored. Each will have a plaque with the name of the donor organization or individual. A few of the stones are still available, at $1,000 each.

The monument is near what was once the western end of the Erie Canal, a major route from the ports of the Northeast to the American Frontier. Buffalo played an important role in the lives of refugees from the Famine. Many settled in this area. For many more, Buffalo was the gateway to new lives farther west.

The Famine began in August 1845 as a blight began killing the sole subsistence crop, the potato, and the Irish people fell victim to catastrophe. During the next five years about 1 million Irish people died of starvation or disease and another million were forced to leave Ireland.

The committee is sponsoring a Famine Mass to commemorate each of the five years of the Great Famine, 1845 to 1850. Each memorial Mass features Irish music, poetry readings and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in Irish. The Mass for 1997 was October 4 at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

The committee also is working to fight the hunger that continues to plague Western New York and the world. As a living memorial to the Famine victims, committee members collect food and cash at each public event for hunger relief. Since that aspect of the committee's Famine commemoration began, hundreds of dollars and hundreds of pounds of food have been collected for the Western New York Food Bank.

The Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Committee is a non-profit organization in the State of New York. For more information contact: Edward J. Patton, The Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Committee, P.O. Box 192, Buffalo, N.Y. 14208-0192. The telephone number is (716) 662-4300.

Ireland's ambassador to the United States spent three days in Buffalo in January boosting the efforts of the Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Commission in building a memorial to the victims of the Great Famine.

Dermot Gallagher, 51, was honored at a fund-raising reception and luncheon, toured Niagara Falls and met with local politicians. He carried with him the message that the worldwide Famine commemoration marks a coming of age for his nation and its extended overseas family.

On Friday, 14 March 1997, United Federation of Teachers Irish American Studies Committee annual Heritage Event remembered An Gorta Mor:The Darkest Year. Peter Quinn was the main speaker; the union headquarters is 260 Park Avenue South, New York, NY. There was a raffle to benefit Project Children. The commemoration took place from 4 to 8 p.m.; admission was $10 and a can of food, which was given to City Harvest in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Famine. Cead mile failte.

On Saturday, 2 November 1996, the Irish community of the Binghamton, NY area tried to make the largest one day donation ever to CHOW, our community's food bank, in memory of the Famine victims.

The day started with All Soul's Day Mass in honor of the famine victims at St. Patrick's Church. Harpist Nuala Mabe and traditional Irish musician Brian Hyland provided the music. The congregation was led in saying the Prayer of the Faithful and Our Father in Irish.

Piper Rich Moloney led the congregation from St. Patrick's Church to St. Patrick's Academy, next door, where admission was a food or cash donation. Entertainment included music by the Broome County Celtic Pipe Band, The Cadgers, Dooneen, the Stoutmen, West O' Clare, and The Hylands; dancing was by The Claddagh Ring Dancers, An Fainne Ban, Roisin Dubh Ceili Dancers, and the McGuire School of Irish Dance. Sister Anne Therese Dillen, of the Ursuline Sisters, artist & teacher, gave a slide presentation, "Dark Rosaleen," of 32 paintings on the Great Hunger Period.

Anne Halligan, professor of English at Broome Community College and president of the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, told of her life growing up in County Mayo and stories of the famine passed down to her in "Mayo, God Help Us! Remembering the Famine." Billie Briggs, director of development for the Broome County Council of Churches - the organization that runs CHOW - gave a talk on hunger in Broome County, and discussed the probable impact of the Welfare Reform Act . During the day the videos "Out of Ireland," "When Ireland Starved," and "Grosse Isle," were shown.

Exhibits included a visual history of the famine created by myself and Anne Halligan, and materials provided by Eleanor McDonald of the Westchester Co. LAOH, Kitty Grissler of the Tarrytown LAOH, Patricia McDonald of the Westchester Co. LAOH, and Kathleen regan of the Bronx Co. LAOH and Bronx Gaelic League. Also, petitions demanding that Britain apologize to Ireland for the Famine were circulated.

Other ways of raising funds were through several raffles of Irish goods, an Irish import shop, and a kitchen with Irish food. The week before, fire stations throughout the county put out food barrels to collect items for CHOW. Other fundraisers included Irish music nights at Irish pubs (admission: a food donation), and a raffle and food barrels at the Binghamton Whalers hockey game.

Email Mary Pat Hyland at for more information.

Sunday 7 July, a commemorative walk was held in Galway. The walk started in Eyre Square at 2pm and went to Gort na Marbh in Menlo. It was led by local historian Peadar O Dowd and was organised by the Galway One World Centre.


A benefit dance in aid of the Memorial Fund to erect a monument in Skibbereen, County Cork, to commemorate the famine. It was held Friday evening, April 26th, 1996 at the Irish Social Club, Park Street, West Roxbury MA, from 8pm til midnight. Music was by Erin's Melody.
Donation was $10. Tea, coffee and Irish cake etc. were served.


"The Great Famine Commemoration Concert" was held at The Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, Australia on March 9, followed by Melbourne and Sydney. It features a specially-commissioned composition "The Famine Suite" performed by a 45-piece orchestra, and six of Ireland's best traditional musicians. Mezzo-soprano Bernadette Greevy is also a performer, as is all-Ireland dance champion Liam Harney.

 The Irish ambassador to Australia says the concert is also likely to tour the US and Canada and New Zealand.

 The announcement above is taken from a report by Australian Associated Press.


"The Black Stranger" will be performed in San Diego, California by a group called The San Diego Irish Players. The flyer describes the play - "This poignant and insightful drama reveals the anguish and conflict experienced by a rural family during the Great Famine in 1846."

 The play will be on for two weekends - March 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10 at 8:00 pm & March 3 at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $10.00 and can be purchased at the door.

 Location: St. Didacus School Hall
4630 34th Street
San Diego, California


Musicians, singers and dancers performed at the Gorta Mor Benefit Concert, 11 November 1995, at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N Knox, Chicago, IL.
Among the performers were: Jim McCandless, Liz Carroll, James Keane, Marty Fahey, Mark Howard Trinity Dancers, Mike Mullane Dancers, Baal Tinne, Noel Rice, Kathleen Keane School, Kathleen Keane Band, Dennis Cahill, Aine Meenaghan, Larry Nugent, Scoil Baal Tinne, Neeley Collins, Tim O'Sullivan, Michael O'Regan, Karen Reshkin, Jim Dewan, Pauline Conneely, Tim Langan, Jackie Moran, Sean Lucy, Mark McDonnell, Sean Cleland, and Brid Malone.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger, the Irish Republican Socialist Committee will host a video showing and forum in San Francisco on Saturday, December 9th.

 The event will be held at New College, 777 Valencia Street, Room 2 in San Francisco, between 20th and 21st Streets. The event will begin with a showing of the video "Grosse Ile," which explores the experience of Irish emigrants to Canada during the years of starvation and political oppression which followed, as well as depicting the erection of a 45 foot Celtic cross at the site, where thousands of Irish emigrants perished, stricken with fever. The video will be followed by presentations from representatives of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, speaking on colonialism's legacy of starvation and death in Africa, Food Not Bombs, talking about the ongoing battle against hunger and neglect here in the United States, and Peter Urban, the North American Coordinator of the Irish Republican Socialist Committees and Associate Member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. Urban will provide an examination of the history of Ireland's Great Hunger, as well as providing current information on the ongoing struggle of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement in Ireland. IRSC member Mary McIlroy will emcee the event.

 Winners of the IRSC's raffle to benefit the Peadar O'Donnell Prisoners' Dependents Holiday Fund will be drawn during the event. Complimentary baked potatoes will be available for all who attend. Admission is free.


The Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Committee held a Mass of Famine Remembrance Oct. 29 in Buffalo, NY. Nearly 1,200 packed St. Joseph's Cathedral for the Mass, which included a talk about the famine, a recitation of Lady Wilde's poem "The Famine," and traditional Celtic music.

 At the start of the Mass, Redmond gave a short talk on the famine and its impact on both Ireland and the United States. Vincent O'Neill, director of the Irish Classical Theater Co. in Buffalo, read a poem from famine times, and musicians from Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, an Irish cultural group, performed traditional music.

 The gifts brought to the altar before the consecration included a brick of the peat fuel called turf, and grain, in addition to the chalice, paten, water, and wine.

 "The turf is a symbol of life, harvest and warmth," said Redmond. The grain represents food served to the starving people by the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who were represented at the service by members of the Buffalo Society of Friends. "They stood with the Irish Catholics in their hour of greatest need during the famine," Redmond said.

 Laurence Shine, a lecturer at the State University College at Buffalo, lead the Lord's Prayer in Irish. Everyone who attended received a sheet with phonetic pronunciations of the words so they could join in.


"Gorta," an afternoon for families to commemorate the Great Hunger at the Tompkins County Museum, 401 East State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850 on Saturday Sept. 9th 11:30-5pm. For information contact Gretchen Sachse at (607) 273-8284. Other commemoration activities sponsored by the Tompkins County Museum include: For more information on any of the above, contact Gretchen Sachse at the Tompkins County Museum (607)273-8284 or


The Celtic Cultural Center of Madison, Wisconsin is planning to commemorate the 150-year anniversary of the Irish Famine on Saturday, September 9th at the Eagles Club in Madison.


Schedule of events:

5:00-7:00: Viewing of the film, "When Ireland Starved".

 7:00-7:30: Lecture by Professor James Donnelly of the UW-Madison History Department. Professor Donnelly is recognized as an expert on the subject of the Famine, and has written several articles detailing its origins and its tragic impact on the Irish people and culture.

 7:30-8:00: Ceili dance instruction by Karen and Greg Fischer and Michael Marchbanks.

 8:00-11:00: Ceili with music provided by Far From Home.

 Cost of the program is $5.00, or $4.00 plus donated potato products. Any food products collected will be donated to the local area food pantries.


The Ulster-American Folk Park in County Tyrone in the North held a conference in September 1995 devoted to the Famine and emigration.


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