This memorial is a short walk from where I live in Cambridge, Mass.
Twenty-five years ago this summer Irish President Mary Robinson dedicated what press reports described as the first memorial in America to An Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger of the mid-19th century. The recognition came at the 150th anniversary of “Black ’47”, the worst year of the Irish famine. A few months earlier Robinson dedicated Ireland’s National Famine Memorial in County Mayo.
“I wish we could say as a people that in a world of plenty there would be no famine,” Robinson told 1,000 onlookers at Cambridge Common, next to the Harvard campus, across the Charles River from Boston. Two views of the sculpture are seen above and below.
A list of more than 140 famine memorials worldwide shows a simple plaque-on-stone memorial was dedicated in 1995 in Bergen County, New Jersey. Still, 1997 marked a boom in more artistic representations of the deaths of 1 million Irish and emigration of 1 million others. The Irish Famine Memorial in downtown Boston was unveiled 11 months after the one in Cambridge. At least three more have been added in greater Boston since then.
There are also an estimated 828 million people who experience hunger every day; far too many in a world of plenty.
This post was corrected to reflect the New Jersey memorial.
Mary Robinson paraphrased these words in her 1997 unveiling speech.
In 1847 a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire provided relief to Ireland during the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor. That the ruler sent money appears beyond dispute. Whether he also directed shiploads of food to the Irish port of Drogheda, County Louth, is more of a mystery.
Freelance writer Tom Verde has produced a well-researched telling of this old tale in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of AramcoWorld magazine, which is dedicated to Arabic and Islamic cultures.
Whatever the truth, this chapter in the history of “The Great Hunger” has nonetheless been immortalized in paint and in stone, and may yet be made into a feature film—should the ambitions of Turkish producer Omer Sarikaya be fulfilled. Yet, at its heart lies the undisputed fact of a generous gesture on the part of an Ottoman ruler toward a people to whom he owed nothing but the mercy required of him by faith and personal character.
Here’s a link to the full story.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese was criticized for believing too much of the story during her 2010 visit to Turkey. Verde reports the proposed movie, in the works since 2012, will be released later this year.
The nearly 170-year-old story appears to have gained new popularity in the age of the Internet, as well as increased attention to the relations between Islam and the West.
There were nearly 50,000 Muslims living in Ireland in April 2011, “a sharp rise on five years previously,” the Central Statistics Office reported in October 2012. From 1991 to 2011, the number of Muslims increased from just 0.1 to 1.1 per cent of the total population.