Poignant ceremony for unveiling of city’s Famine ship memorialJuly 6, 2012 - 7:00am
By Bernie Ní Fhlatharta
Up to 100 people attended the unveiling of the Famine Ship Memorial at Grattan Road beach on Wednesday in what was a simple but poignant ceremony.
It is apt that the two sandstone monuments flank an existing piece of limestone which is a memorial to a six-years-old girl, Celia Griffin who died of hunger on the streets of Galway during the Great Famine.
Both the Famine Ship Memorial and the Celia Griffin projects were the brainchild of Mark Kennedy, who at 75, has already embarked on his next project – trying to get the Jeanie Johnston ship to Galway.
Mark said he was delighted with the unveiling ceremony, which was performed by Captain Brian Sheridan of the Galway Harbour Company and the blessing which was given by Fr Fergal Mac Eoinín, the prior of the Claddagh Church.
Against the backdrop of Galway Bay at the location of the existing Celia Griffin Monument, the hour-long ceremony also included music from the Mervue Youth Choir and Don Stiffe, who sang a song he composed in Celia Griffin’s memory.
Afterwards there was a reception in the Claddagh Hall where people could see a collage of photographs and drawings of some of the ships which transported people to America during the Famine. That poster can be seen upstairs in The Winding Stairs in Mainguard Street.
“At school we all heard about the coffin ships, but many more survived the journey and successfully brought what I call refugees from the Famine to the US.
“The sandstone monuments which are in the shape of a ship’s sail, each have 50 of the 100 ships known to have brought Irish people, many of them from the West of Ireland, across the Atlantic,” said Mark.
Mark mooted the idea to recognise Galway Famine victims about four years ago and acknowledges the research and help that many gave to make Wednesday’s Dedication Day and unveiling ceremony a reality.
But Mark is not sitting back on his laurels. He is already negotiating to bring the Jeanie Johnston to Galway, a replica of a famine ship and which is now practically rotting away in Dublin Docks, according to Mark.
“We had the largest number of Famine casualties here in the West of Ireland so we have a proper claim on the Jeanie Johnston, which was fully restored with Government funding but which somehow got into the hands of a private company.
“I would love to see her in the mud dock here in Galway as a visitor centre but this project is in the early stages,” he said.