Taoiseach Leo Varadker plants an oak tree at the Commemoration
Ballingarry's Famine Warhouse was described by An Taoiseach Leo Varadker at the National Famine Commemoration on Saturday as the scene of an intersection of two important events in Irish history - the suffering of the Famine and 1848 Rebellion - and a fitting location to remember those who suffered and died in those disasters.
Speaking before a crowd of hundreds outside the Warhouse on Saturday afternoon, he said they were gathered to remember those who perished in the Great Famine and those who sought to respond to that disaster by creating a new future through the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848.
"One was a natural catastrophe, the other a military disaster - both however shaped us as a people - and Ballingarry is a fitting location to acknowledge and remember all those who suffered and died and honour their legacy."
He described the Great Famine as a "cataclysm on a scale never witnessed on this island and yet people endured, survived, emigrated and, above all, remembered."
"It has become part of our national consciousness and, indeed, part of our national sub-consciousness."
He pointed out that one positive legacy of the effects of An Gorta Mor was the compassion we have shown as a country for other peoples and nations undergoing humanitarian crises whether through famine, natural disasters or war.
"Just as our people found assistance and opportunity when they needed it, we now work to support those who need our assistance to escape from hunger."
The Taoiseach spoke of the contribution of Ireland to helping other countries who have gone through similar events including the Naval Service helping people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek a better life, our soldiers on peacekeeping duties with the UN in various countries and our investment in delivering nutrition to mothers and their children.
"Perhaps the best way we can remember those who perished in the Great Famine is to show empathy with their modern-day equivalents and reach out and share and welcome those suffering whether from natural disaster or oppression," he said.
Minister for Culture, Heritage & Gaeltacht Heather Humphries, who is chairwoman of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, said the story of the Widow McCormack and her children, who were caught up in the 1848 Rebellion and later emigrated, reflected the story of so many people of that era.
"While each community has had its own unique story to tell of the Famine, the common thread that unites each host community has been the memory of the human and societal cost of the destruction wrought by an Gorta Mór," she said. "Not only were individual lives lost but families and indeed whole villages were destroyed through death, disease and emigration."
The ceremony was attended by representatives of the UN High Commision for Refugees, ambassadors and diplomats from 47 countries, representatives of the European Commission and European Parliament, local Oireachtas members and councillors as well as a large contingent of local people.
There was a significant local involvement in the Commemoration. There were musical performances from Prof. Micheál Ó'Súilleabháin, the Cecilian Choir of the Ursuline Secondary School in Thurles, local musicians and Banna Cluain Meala.
Poetry was read by Carrick-on-Suir poet Michael Coady and Carmel O'Brien and students from Ballingarry's Presentation Secondary School.
Tipperary Co. Council Chairperson Dr Phyl Bugler, read from a priest's contemporary account of the Famine and local historian Dr Thomas McGrath described how the tumultous events during the 1848 Rebellion at Widow McCormack's home in July 1848. Prayers were led by Fr Derry Quirke and Rev. Barbara Fryday.
The Commemoration also included a military parade, military honours, the planting of an oak tree, the unveiling of a commemorative plaque and laying of a wreath by the Taoiseach, followed by the laying of wreaths by the ambassadors and diplomats of the 47 countries present.
The poignant ceremony concluded with the playing of a piper's lament, a minute silence, the playing of of the Last Post and Reveille, the raising of the national flag and the national anthem.
Read The Nationalist out on Wednesday for more detailed coverage of The National Famine Commemoration.