Impressions from Famine Walk 2013

From Left: Joe Murray (Afri), Salome Mbugua (Akidwa), Fergal Anderson (Food Sovereignty Movement), Gary White Deer (Choctaw Artist), Declan O’Rourke (Musician) and Michael Wade (Delphi Lodge). Photo: Derek Speirs

2013 marked the 26th Afri Famine Walk – this walk having taken place every year since 1988. About 200 hundred people took part in the walk in atrocious weather conditions. The Walk leaders were Fergal Anderson of the Food Sovereignty Movement, Salome Mbugua from Northern Kenya and Choctaw Gary White Deer. We had music from Declan O’Rourke and Emer Mayock.

The Walk is an expression of respect, remembrance and solidarity with those who gathered in Louisburgh in search of food in March 1849.  It is also a walk of solidarity with all who have died and continue to die as a result of poverty and hunger in Ireland and throughout the world today.

This year’s walk had added significance because for the first time it retraced the exact route taken by the people in whose memory it is organised – an estimated 600 people who gathered in Louisburgh in March 1849 in the hope of meeting ‘commissioners’ who would certify them as paupers, which would entitle them to a ration of food or admission to the workhouse.  However, the commissioners failed to appear in Louisburgh and the message was conveyed that they would meet the people in Delphi Lodge instead.

The people began walking towards Delphi, just as we did.  But when they arrived they were refused food or admission to the workhouse. It was on their return journey, that many – some say hundreds – died. We remembered all of these people – we don’t know all of their names but we know that ‘they all had names’.  We remembered especially those whose names we do know: Catherine Grady, Mary McHale, James Flynn, Mrs. Dalton and her son and daughter, and the Dillon Family.  We carried their names on this year’s walk and we were not turned away but we were welcomed to Delphi Lodge. When we arrived at Delphi Lodge the gates were opened; we entered the grounds; we gathered in respectful silence and remembrance of those who died in 1849; we planted a tree and some potatoes. Declan O’Rourke sang two hauntingly beautiful songs and Emer Mayock played stunningly evocative music. And from May 18th 2013, a place of remembrance for the walkers of 1849 will be retained in the grounds of Delphi Lodge.

The gates of Delphi Lodge open for walkers.  Photo: Derek Speirs
The gates of Delphi Lodge open for walkers. Photo: Derek Speirs

The opening of the gates at Delphi Lodge was a very significant act and demonstrates, among other things, the possibility of change. And change is urgently needed in our world. We need to learn from our history in order not to repeat the same mistakes again. We need to open the gates that divide our world into rich and poor. One billion people go hungry in our world of plenty. The following are the names of just 5 who have died of hunger in recent times: Anna Ematha, Surura Bashey, Halima Abdi, Dubey Gafafa, all from Northern Kenya, and 9-year old Abebe Mesfin from Ethiopia.

The reality of a billion hungry people in our world is a scandal. It is all the more so while 17 hundred billion dollars is spent annually on the war industry. We need to change this and we need to change our attitudes and those of governments and policy makers to urgently tackle the many challenges that face us – challenges such as climate change which threatens the very future of our planet. The Afri Famine Walk is about taking steps towards that change…

Joe Murray, Afri Co-ordinator

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