THE Féile na Beatha/Festival of Living – From Hurt to Healing to Sustainability begins this week in Carlow.

The festival brings together a group of like-minded people to facilitate free events which provide an opportunity to reflect on the impact of An Gorta Mór/The Great Hunger in Carlow and what we can do together to help shape a better and more sustainable future.

Féile na Beatha is built around the Carlow Famine Walk, which was initiated in 2015 by Afri, an organisation that promotes global justice and peace and South East Technological University.

SETU chaplain Fr Martin Smith brought Joe Murray of Afri to visit Carlow’s Famine graveyard and pointed out that the college was built on the site of the old workhouse.

About 3,000 bodies are believed to be buried in the graveyard – a stark reminder of the hardship endured by the people of the region during the darkest period of our history.

The walk from the SETU campus to the Famine graveyard provides a way of remembering those who died in the Carlow region, the million who died throughout Ireland and the million-plus who were forced to flee their homeland during An Gorta.

In 2022, speaking about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are central to Féile na Beatha, Jannette O’Brien of Carlow County Council highlighted their purpose of promoting peace, prosperity, planet and people.

During the evening event, Dr Denise Lyons, lecturer in social care in SETU, spoke about the importance in “learning from our history to help us have more empathy for people today, from hurt to healing” and the significance for social care students of SETU’s location.

Jim Donnelly spoke about the work he did with the participants of Irish Wheelchair Society Carlow and staff members Dolly Dunne and John Hendricken. History enthusiast Anthony Brophy shared stories from Carlow people who lived and died in workhouse, themes which were reflected in the lecture by Dr Regina Donlon from Carlow College.

A short documentary of the 2022 event titled ***Féile na Beatha: from hurt to healing to sustainability*** is available to view on www.afri.ie or through the link  https://youtu.be/1SlvkPt_7oE

The 2023 festival volunteers include staff and social care students from SETU Carlow Campus and Carlow College, Carlow County Development Partnership, A Partnership with Africa (APA) and Carlow County Council, all under the inspirational guidance of Joe Murray of Afri.

This year, the Féile na Beatha/Festival of Living began yesterday (Monday) with an art exhibition in Carlow College. ***The Displaced*** is a series of 30 powerful sculptures by local artist Jim Donnelly, which serve as a reflection of the impact of the Great Hunger in Ireland. The exhibition is free to attend and runs until 24 March.

APA’s Get up and Goals charity shop project is a new collaborator in the Festival of Living 2023 and this year with funding from Irish Aid and Afri, APA is hosting a free art workshop on Saturday 11 March from 11am to 1pm in the APA charity shop on Hacketstown Road.

A second workshop focused on climate action with a furniture upcycling demonstration by the Rediscovery Centre will take place on Thursday 26 March from 11am to 2pm in the shop. Book a spot for one or both of these free workshops by emailing getupgoals@gmail.com.

The Famine Walk is on Wednesday 22 March at 12.30pm, leaving from the SETU building and walking to the graveyard, and all are welcome to come along.

The grand finale of the festival is a free public discussion on the main themes of the festival and includes an exhibition of artwork, music and poetry from 7pm in Carlow College.

The 2023 organising group of Joe Murray, Fr Martin Smith, Ger James, Denise Lyons, Jim Donnelly, Stephanie McDermott, John McHugh and Mella Cusack confidently foresee that this exciting initiative will grow and develop in future years.

Famine festival will reflect on Ireland’s darkest hour

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