Derry’s First Famine Walk

Crossing Derry's Peace Bridge during the Famine Walk on the 31st July 2015
Crossing Derry’s Peace Bridge during the Famine Walk on the 31st July 2015

Around thirty people gathered at the Guild Hall on Friday, July 31st 2015 to take part in Derry’s first Famine walk.

Deputy Mayor of Derry city and Strabane District council, Thomas Kerrigan of the DUP officially launched the walk which was also addressed by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.  Helen Henderson, director of St. Columb’s Park House, spoke about the importance of the walk and the danger of history repeating itself.  She warned especially about the dangers of  TTIP  – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US.  TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, regarding things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations and has been described as “an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.”

Following the opening speeches, walkers proceeded from Guildhall Square across the Peace Bridge to the Londonderry Poor Law Union Workhouse, located on Glendermott Road, the Waterside. First opened in 1840, Derry’s workhouse didn’t close its doors until 1948. The Walk had been called “The Longest Walk”, referring to the 13 steps to the workhouse master’s quarters that starving families once had to climb to ask for admittance.

On entering, the poor were placed in ‘receiving rooms’ where details of age, sex, religion, employment or trade were recorded before being put into a probation ward. Here they were stripped of their clothes and personal possessions, washed, deloused, examined by a doctor and then dressed in the workhouse uniform to begin life in the house. Daily life was organised in such a manner as to encourage them to want to leave as soon as possible.

The severity of life in the Workhouse was increased by the psychological harshness experienced through the system of classification which separated male and female at entry. This rule effectively destroyed the individuals emotional support system of the family for as a result marriage was suspended with husband separated from wife, parents from children and sister from brother

(The Workhouse – the Waterside Community History Group)

Concluding remarks were shared by Gary White Deer and Rose Kelly and laying flowers Máire Nic Fhearraigh said: “We are walking to heal, to commemorate, and to stand in solidarity with those who still hunger in our world of plenty today”.

Afri wishes to say go raibh míle maith agaibh to walk organisers Gary White Deer and Máire Nic Fhearraigh.

Report by Joe Murray

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