Report by Gary White Deer
They began in late May of this year on a Saturday afternoon, 85 walkers starting from the old Famine storehouse in Falcarragh, the Afri banner carried by a South African and Ghanian living in Donegal, people all flowing together through the town and then surging on past the edge of things, out by Saint Finian’s. Minutes before, a flower basket had been lowered from the same storehouse window that grain had once been sold from during Famine times, grain sold to waiting families who were starving.
The flowers were meant for the mass Famine grave at Dunfanaghy, a small yellow bouquet passed from hand to hand. The air was cool and thick and the clouds brimmed with the smell of rain. The walkers proceeded in a long and winding line as they came onto the back roads and laneways, curving and twisting before Muckish Mountain, moving slowly out of the Gaeltacht toward a distant Famine workhouse. They were from all over Ireland, but many were from Northwest Donegal and so Ulster Gaelic was spoken up and down the winding line.
Gaelic was also the language of the Famine, and the walkers were following in the footsteps of ancestors to remember the victims of Ireland’s Great Starvation, as well as all those who still suffer from hunger and oppression. And they walked to carry the message of food sovereignty, a warning to not ever depend on a single crop, nor a crop seed that carries calculated impotency. These were the thoughts and feelings that held the thin line together and kept it going forward.
Then a group of walkers in the quiet of the day, placed the yellow flowers beneath a Celtic cross that stands upon the mass Famine grave at Dunfanaghy, the small bouquet lying bright against grey rock, an act of remembrance that had traveled nine miles and almost two hundred years. The walkers finished up at the Famine workhouse, now a museum, where there was tea and food and music. Two Church of Ireland ministers gave talks there about the time when families weakened by hunger and disease had entered the workhouse, or the old fever hospital nearby.
As people dispersed, the skies opened and there was rain. The journey of healing was complete.
(Special thanks: John Cognaghan, Máire Nic Fhearraigh, Sian McCann, Paul Kernan, Letterkenny Inter-Cultural Club, Isabel Ní Chuireain, Andrew Roddy, Sweeney Bus in Falcarragh, Dunfanaghy Over 50 Club, Falcarragh Seniors, Rev. David McDonald, Rev. John Merrick, Sean Ó Gaoithin, James Woods, Sally and her wonderful family, Cordelia Nic Fhearraigh, Mary Grain, Conor Ó Braonain, Pobail le Chéile An Fál Carrach and the staff of the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Museum)