Minister pays tribute to Canadian welcome for Famine emigrants
Speaking today (Thursday) on the first day of the 2015 International Famine Commemoration in New Brunswick, Canada, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, Heather Humphreys TD, paid tribute to the help and support provided by the people of Canada to Irish emigrants fleeing the Famine in the 1840s.
During her four day visit to Canada Minister Humphreys will meet with political and business leaders and local Irish community organisations and academics in across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Minister will travel to Halifax, Saint John, Moncton, Miramichi and Prince Edward Island.
Speaking today Minister Humphreys said:
"Over the coming days we will commemorate the victims of the Great Irish Famine; a tragic period in our history, when our ancestors endured starvation and unimaginable hardship. Tens of thousands of Irish people arrived on the eastern shores of Canada during the Famine years. They were shown incredible compassion by the people of Canada, many of whom risked death and disease to help the Irish after their gruelling transatlantic crossing.
“The devastating legacy of the Famine is evident across the eastern region of Canada, where up to 20,000 Irish famine victims lie buried. Thankfully, many thousands more survived the journey and their subsequent arrival in a foreign land. This was in no small part thanks to the compassion shown by the Canadian people. The Irish people will never forget the generous welcome given by the people of Canada to the desolate masses that arrived on their shores.
"This year’s International Famine Commemoration is not just an opportunity to remember the tragedy of the Great Famine, it also gives us a chance to celebrate the huge contribution which Irish emigrants have made to Canada. This influence is particularly apparent across New Brunswick, where almost a quarter of the population claim Irish ancestry. On a personal note, I am looking forward to exploring links with my own county of Monaghan, from where thousands of emigrants departed in search of a new life in Canada during the Famine.
"A key aim of the International Famine Commemoration is to raise awareness of famine issues in the modern world. One of the legacies left behind by the famine in Ireland is the deep compassion which is felt by Irish people for those who suffer from hunger today and a resultant strong commitment to humanitarian aid and relief. The International Famine Commemoration serves an important role in generating discussion, at national and international levels, regarding aid and emergency assistance for those in need today.”
Note for Editors:
Ireland and Canada during the Famine:
Ireland and the Maritime provinces of Canada have a long history of association. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were all places where early Irish migrants settled in the 18th and early 19th century, well before the famine in 1847. Tens of thousands of Irish people went on to flee to this part of Canada when the Great Hunger struck.
There are numerous stories of the heroism of Canadian medical staff who ministered to the fleeing Irish. Many those first responders paid with their own lives.
All along the great St Laurence Seaway and river up to 20,000 Irish famine victims lie buried in mass graves in St John, Montreal, Grosse Ile, Hospital Island, Miramichi, Cornwall, Toronto and Hamilton. It was a migration of almost biblical proportions. The Irish people will always be grateful for sanctuary that Canada represented during those dark days when most of the ports in the United States were shut to Irish migrants.
The National Famine Commemoration Committee
The first National Famine Commemoration Committee was established in July 2008, following a Government decision to commemorate the Great Famine with an annual memorial day. The main objective of the National Famine Commemoration Committee is to consider the most appropriate arrangements for an annual national commemoration of the Great Famine.
The general legacy of emigration, cultural loss and the decline of the Irish language, together with the specific issues of food security and the strong commitment of the Irish people to humanitarian aid and relief, are particular themes that have been explored by the committee during its work.
The membership of the National Famine Commemoration Committee includes a range of parties, including representatives of relevant Government and non-Government organisations, as well as individuals with particular interests or expertise in relevant issues. The committee is chaired by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
In September 2015, the Annual Famine Commemoration was staged for the first time in Northern Ireland, in Newry, Co. Down, The attendance at Newry was among the highest of any of the annual Commemorations to date and the event was attended by public representatives and members of the public from across the region.
The International Famine Commemoration
Since 2009, the National Famine Commemoration programme has included an annual International Famine Commemoration at a location abroad – the table below details the sites of previous International Famine Commemorations.
Canada (Toronto and Quebec)
USA (New York)
USA (New Orleans)
The International Commemoration was established by the National Famine Commemoration Committee to highlight Ireland's continued links with the Diaspora and to celebrate the contributions of those who emigrated and of their descendants abroad.
Summary of itinerary for the 2015 International Famine Commemoration:
Thursday October 22nd, Halifax:
- Meeting with Mayor Mike Savage
- Visit Novia Scotian Crystal, founded by Irish immigrants
- Visit Celtic Cross memorial
- Meet with President of St Mary’s University
- Address meeting of local political leaders, Irish community groups and trade and economic contacts
- Visit Irish Town
Friday October 23rd, St John
- Address Business Breakfast
- Address Famine Commemoration at Celtic Cross, St Patrick’s Square
- Meet with Irish Canadian Cultural Association
Saturday October 24th Miramichi and Moncton:
- Meeting with Minister for Tourism, Heritage and Culture
- Visit Middle Island
- Address Famine Commemoration at Celtic Cross, Middle Island
- Visit Irish Families Monument, Moncton
- Address meeting of local community and political leaders
Sunday October 25th Charlottetown:
- Lay flowers at Irish Famine Memorial, Longworth Ceremony
- Meeting with local Premier
- Address gathering at Irish Cultural Centre