MAYOR of Clare, Councillor Joe Arkins was requested to facilitate the refurbishment of a Famine memorial in Ennistymon during a recent visit to Chicago.
Concerned about the tarnished state of the memorial, a number of Clare exiles in Chicago approached Councillor Arkins during his recent trip to Wisconsin in the US to represent the county at the Milwaukee Festival. Representations were also made to the mayor when he visited a similar structure in Gaelic Park, New York.
An Gorta Mór Memorial was erected in memory of the victims of the Great Hunger and was dedicated in Ennistymon on August 20, 1995 – the 150th anniversary of the tragedy. It is located across from a deserted workhouse, where an estimated 20,000 Irish people died and a mass graveyard for children, who perished and were buried without coffins on the Lahinch Road between Ennistymon and Lahinch.
The memorial was erected by a combined effort of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and Clare County Council.
Councillor Arkins told a recent Ennistymon Electoral Area meeting that the monument is an important tourist attraction, which should be preserved by the council in recognition of the initial investment by the AOH.
Senior executive engineer, Stephen Lahiffe queried who is responsible for the upkeep of the monument. Mr Lahiffe pledged the council would arrange to have it assessed in order to quantify the necessary refurbishments.
He explained he is anxious to have the issue about who is responsible for regular maintenance clarified, so the matter could be regularised.
Councillor Arkins stressed that while the AOH played a major role in the provision of the monument, there was an understanding or expectation that it would be maintained by a public authority, like the council. He pointed out it looks bad when a group spent money erecting a monument and were then expected to maintain it.
He was supported by Councillor Richard Nagle, who stressed the land where the monument is located is owned by the council, which has the right to go in and clean it up. Councillor Nagle said it is an important tourist amenity, which attracts visitors on a daily basis almost throughout the year and should be kept in “pristine condition”.
In 1995, hundreds of AOH members from all over Ireland and America booked out the nearby Falls Hotel and attended a commemorative mass before marching down the Lahinch Road toward the monument with several pipe bands.
Unveiling the structure, then Minister of State, Fine Gael’s Donal Carey, noted it was the first national monument in all of Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger, thanks to the AOH.
The monument, created by Alan Ryan Hall from Valencia Island, Kerry, depicts an account found in Book 4 of the archived papers of the workhouse preserved in the Ennistymon Library. The account centred on a note that was pinned to the torn shirt of a barefoot orphan boy, who was left at the workhouse door on the freezing cold morning of February 25, 1848.
The note read, “Gentlemen, there is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch aged about four years. He is an orphan, his father having died last year and his mother has expired on last Wednesday night, who is now about being buried without a coffin unless ye make some provision for such. The child in question is now at the workhouse gate expecting to be admitted, if not he will starve.”
One side of the memorial depicts a child standing before the workhouse door, while across from that is the head of an anguished mother and two hands clenched in frustration or anger above the sorrowful text of the pleading note.