Donegal Famine Walk: A Portal of Hope

Rosemary Grain
Rosemary Grain

Whenever Rosemary Grain looks out her office window, she steps through a time portal. Below her third storey office, hungry families once gathered holding half a crown. A bag was lowered from the window, and the coin was placed inside. Then food was lowered back down through the same window. Why the bag? So workers wouldn’t catch Famine fever.

Now called The Yard, previously Mc Carthy’s store, the building in Falcarragh where Rosemary works was once a Famine storehouse. “The starving waited anxiously at a spot near the front door for the food to be lowered in a bag from where my office is on the top floor. Those distributing the food were terrified of catching any diseases from the poor famine victims of the parish. I often look out the window and think of the desperation our ancestors must have gone through.and how fortunate we are to live here now,”  says Rosemary, administrator and Information worker at The Yard, which houses Pobail le Cheile Community Development (LCDP).

At the end of this month, the old Famine storehouse will host “In the Footsteps of our Ancestors” a Famine commemoration walk, which will leave from The Yard and head to the Workhouse Museum in Dunfanaghy. “It’s a great way to commemorate the famine. The involvement of Waylon Gary White Deer is very symbolic because Choctaw Indians, sent money to the Irish during the famine.  The Choctaws themselves had suffered great tragedy, having been displaced from their homelands and forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s – the infamous Trail of Tears. They sent $174 to Ireland.” Rosemary adds. 

Sian McCann
Sian McCann

Sian McCann is the manager of Dunfanaghy’s Workhouse Museum. Now a heritage centre, the building was once a portal of hope for those who were in desperate need of food and shelter. “I know workhouses aren’t viewed in a very positive light due to the harsh conditions of the times, but this workhouse has developed an exhibition that tries to set it’s history context and allows you to reflect about the way things were and how it might have been if you lived then,”  says Sian. How does she feel about the Famine walk? ” I’m delighted that we are to be involved in the commemoration walk as anything that promotes what the Workhouse has become is very welcome and it also reminds us how lucky we are to be living in the 21st Century and not during the Famine times.  We obviously don’t want to forget our history but it’s very important that The Workhouse is able to change with the times and we now have a very positive community image and we try to make everyone feel welcome when they visit.”

“We have four goals” says Máire Nic Fhearraigh, a walk organiser. “We wish to honour the memory of Ireland’s Famine, invoke healing through remembering, stress food sovereignty, and stand in solidarity with those who suffer from hunger today” The walk is part of the Choctaw Famine Landscape Project, sponsored by Afri and Concern Worldwide. “We invite everyone” says Máire, “to come and step through this very special portal of time together”

Walk Schedule:

Friday, 29 May 8:00 pm in The Yard, Falcarragh: Famine history talks.

Saturday, 30 May, 1:00 pm: Walk begins from The Yard in Falcarragh to Dunfanaghy Workhouse Museum. (Approximately 9 1/2 miles) 

Guest speakers, music, poetry, tea, coffee, refreshments on arrival. Shuttle bus available for return journey.

See who’s going on facebook: here

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