2015 Famine Commemoration starts with the schools
Newry and Mourne Museum hosted a week of events for schools examining the effects of the Famine. This is part of an extensive programme of activities organised by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for the 2015 Famine Commemoration taking place 26th September in Newry.
To mark this event Newry and Mourne Museum presented its living history workshop, ‘The Workhouse’over five days. Students who attended were transformed into paupers entering the Newry Union Workhouse of 1847 for the first time. They learned of the harsh conditions in “the most feared and hated institution in Ireland”.
The workshops included a visit to Gallery Two where artefacts from the period are on display including the ‘Lady Caroline’ poster, which advertised transport to Canada for those who were forced to emigrate due to the Famine.
In the afternoon of each day there were workshops with guest speakers, who spoke about different aspects of this period; literature, emigration and music.
The first speaker was renowned writer Marita Conlon-McKenna, author of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’, who spoke to the pupils of St Clare’s Abbey about her research into this subject and her experience of being an author.
Speaking after the talk St. Clare’s Abbey teacher Clare Donnelly said that “The children thoroughly enjoyed the experience, such a real life insight into the Famine, Living history truly at work. It was so well organised and the actors were entrenched in character. Marita Conlon-McKenna was inspirational. Listening to her stories and experiences was so enjoyable. The children were enthralled by her vivaciousness and enthusiasm.”
Other guest speakers included Geraldine Bradley, whose workshop involved the children learning songs relating to the famine and they were shown how to use a spinning wheel. Dr. Patrick Fitzgerald also visited the Museum to speak about emigration and how it effected families in Ireland.
Chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Cllr. Naomi Bailie stated that the workshops offered students “a greater understanding of what life was like for families during one of the bleakest periods in Irish history“.
This is the eighth year in which the Great Famine has been marked with a formal Commemoration and the first time that the Commemoration will take place in Northern Ireland.
In recognition of the fact that the Great Famine affected all parts of the island, the location of the annual Commemoration has rotated in sequence between the four provinces since the first Commemoration took place in Dublin in 2008 and falls to Ulster in 2015.