Ramblings and the 2017 Famine Walk

Afri Famine Walk 2017, Doolough, County Mayo. Photo by Derek Speirs

Sometimes you really do count your blessings.  There I was, in November 2016, setting out from Louisburgh Co. Mayo on a cold wet autumn morning, wondering whether my right leg, mildly strained in a recent tennis match, would manage the eleven-mile famine walk to Doolough.

How trivial an ‘injury’ in the context of the 1849 tragedy the walk commemorates.  Hundreds of starving men, women and children, ordered to tramp those eleven miles to Delphi Lodge, were denied an audience, let alone the relief they sought, by the men of power.  Many died by the roadside on their despairing return trail.

Afri’s Famine Walk happens each May, but this was a re-enactment for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ series.  Local historian Mary O’Malley painted a poignant scene around her own family story, and Joe Murray set the context of Afri’s work for justice, human rights and sustainability. 

Yours truly was to handle ‘the broader history’; thank goodness for Cork University Press’s superb Atlas of the Great Irish Famine!  Its unique blend of scholarly analysis and humane reflection dispelled some of my clouds of ignorance about that great lacuna in our history and culture.

The Atlas breaks the twin silences of the survivors and the scholars, whilst respecting the irrevocable silence of the over one million victims.  It allowed me to sketch some of the broader background to Doolough’s tragedy, along with some nuggets of salutary and surprising information.

Things I never knew: fish and seafood did form part of the pre-Famine fare of those who could obtain them.  Ireland’s potato-based diet, though fatally precarious, made the pre-Famine population healthier than the European average.

By the Nineteenth Century almost all major Irish towns were ports.  Westport had nearly half its population in manufacture in 1821 – but in cottage and artisan production which soon drowned in the tide of new imported factory commodities.  Continue reading “Ramblings and the 2017 Famine Walk”

Short film about the 2017 Afri Famine Walk in Mayo

For 30 years Afri has walked the famine road through the Doolough Valley in County Mayo. It is a walk like no other, abounding in memory, music, history, solidarity and spectacular beauty; retracing the steps of the dispossessed of the past and forging solidarity with the banished and oppressed of today.

The 2017 walk linked the experience of Irish people fleeing on coffin ships or being condemned to workhouses during An Gorta Mór in the nineteenth century with those crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy, rickety boats today, some of whom, if they survive, may end up in Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in Ireland.

A short film of the walk was made by RoJ (see above)

Reflections from the 30th annual Famine Walk

Reflections on the 30th Famine Walk from Rob Fairmichael

‘Music from A Dark Lake’ – CD of music from the Doolough Famine Walk available to buy from Afri now! Buy online at www.afri.ie/donate or contact us directly

On 20th May 2017 a couple of hundred people set out  on the 11 mile walk from Doolough/Delphi Lodge for Louisburgh in bright, early summer weather, and it remained dry and bright. They had earlier heard Joe Murray, Danny Cusack and Donnah Vuma speak, and Joe Black sing. The theme, of this the 30th annual walk, was not just the commemoration involved in the Famine Walk but the inhumanity of the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers in Ireland today which treats people not as human beings but as numbers. A tree was planted in Delphi Lodge which again welcomed walkers, a stunning contrast to 1849. These are The Facts.

But what about The Feelings? Every walker has their own feelings, their own reason for undertaking this 11 mile walk.  Remembrance and commemoration are the principal reasons and some people would fast during the walk as an act of solidarity. There is also the challenge of a long walk, and if people are not able then a shuttle car takes them onward. There is beautiful scenery, interesting conversation – on the theme or everything else under the sun – and interaction with others. Those who stay in Louisburgh for the evening enjoy ceol, ól agus craic. But for most being there is also a physical statement of their commitment to justice and peace in the world today. Continue reading “Reflections from the 30th annual Famine Walk”

Famine Walk 2017: From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?

‘Bog Cotton’ by Choctaw artist Waylon (Gary) White Deer. The painting, among other things, features the Workhouse and the Direct Provision Centre.

From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?

Saturday 20th May, Doolough Co. Mayo

Registration from 12.45pm in Louisburgh Town hall

Beginning at 1.30pm

Walk Leaders: Donnah Vuma, Abjata Khalif, Danny Cusack

Music: Joe Black

***Register online here***

See also 2017 Famine Walk brochure

For 30 years Afri has walked the famine road through the Doolough Valley in County Mayo. It is a walk like no other, abounding in memory, music, history, solidarity and spectacular beauty; retracing the steps of the dispossessed of the past and forging solidarity with the banished and oppressed of today. 

Extraordinary people have walked this road over three decades and extraordinary stories have been told: stories of food and famine; of oppression and denial of human rights; of wars, violence and the impact of climate change; but also stories of courage and determination; of inspiration, illumination and motivation. And music, song and theatre from some of our greatest artists have been integral parts of every walk. Continue reading “Famine Walk 2017: From Hunger and War…to a Home and a Welcome?”

Date for your diary: 30th Afri Famine Walk

Donncha O Dulaing (centre) leads the first Famine Walk in 1988

Thirty years on the ‘Famine Road’ have generated many memorable moments and iconic images.  On the first walk in 1988, walk leader Donncha O Dulaing arrived by helicopter to join Niall O’Brien, recently released from prison in the Philippines, and Mayo woman Caitriona Ruane, recently  returned from  Central America, before leading us off  on the first ‘chapter’ of this extraordinary journey.

The following year, Brian Willson, having lost both legs while attempting to stop a train delivering arms from the US to Central America, was applauded as he bravely crossed the finishing line.

Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah were almost blown away with the force of the gale that blew up when they led the walk in 1991.  It helped us all to understand a little better how it would’ve been for the hungry poor of 1849.

The voices of Juana Vasquez and Dario Caal, representing the Maya from Guatemala, echoed off the mountains as they spoke at the edge of Doolough about the importance of solidarity and how they believed they were walking with the spirits of our ancestors through the sacred Doolough valley in 1995.

And then the gates of Delphi Lodge were opened to the walk in 2013.  We walked through the gates solemnly carrying the names of those who had died in the tragedy of 1849 and the names of those who died of hunger in our own day, in our world of plenty.  We planted an oak tree, we planted potatoes supplied by Willie Corduff of Rossport and we listened to the deeply emotional rendition of ‘Connacht Orphan’ sung by its author, Declan O’Rourke.

Join us for the 30th Walk on May 20th 2017 where more extraordinary moments are sure to be generated.

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Afri’s annual Doolough Famine Walk was featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ show and was selected as BBC Radio 4’s ‘Pick of the Week’ on Sunday 19th February.  Listen to the show here.

To register online go here or check out our facebook event page.  If you  are planning on doing the Famine Walk please contact the Afri office for a sponsorship card – admin@afri.ie or 01 8827563.

 

General Information

  • Please assemble in Louisburgh for registration at 12.45pm. 
  • There will be an approximately 15 min opening ceremony, including speakers and music – this is a very important part of the Famine Walk and we would encourage all participants to be present for this part of the event.
  • Buses will bring walkers to start point from 1.30pm. 
  • A tree will be planted at the start of the walk at the Famine Memorial in Delphi Lodge before walkers return to Louisburgh. 
  • There is no parking available at Delphi Lodge. 
  • The walk is approximately 11 miles (18 km) and a shuttle car will be available along the route if needed.
  • Comfortable shoes, raingear and water are strongly recommended.
  • Tea/coffee (but not food) will be provided at a halfway point along the way.  There will also be toilet facilities at the halfway point as well as along the lake.
  • IN THE INTEREST OF HEALTH AND SAFETY, PLEASE WALK ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD FOR THE DURATION OF THE WALK.

Sponsorship

We are asking participants to consider raising sponsorship for Afri, so that we can continue our important work.  If you would like to do so, please get in touch with the Afri office and we will post you out a sponsorship card.  If you would prefer not to raise sponsorship you can register online here or pay €24 on the day – which includes the registration fee and cost of the bus to the start of the walk.

Walking With Spirit

Famine walk leader, Linda Ervine, right, holding the Afri banner crossing over the Peace Bridge in Derry with the Guildhall in the background. Nuala Crilly of St Columb's Park House is holding the banner on the left.  Photo: Rob Fairmichael
Famine walk leader, Linda Ervine, right, holding the Afri banner crossing over the Peace Bridge in Derry with the Guildhall in the background. Nuala Crilly of St Columb’s Park House is holding the banner on the left. Photo: Rob Fairmichael

A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered on the Guildhall steps in Derry on a wet weekday afternoon, 21st September 2016 (International Day of Peace), for a famine walk. They were welcomed by Mayor Hilary McClintock.  From the Guildhall the walk went to the former Poor House at Glendermott Road and then on to St Columb’s Park House for refreshments and chat. As a regional and transport hub, Derry would have received many starving incomers during the Great Famine, presenting themselves at the Poor House door where the famine walk stopped and remembered those who suffered and died.

Organised by Waylon Gary White Deer for Afri, with Concern backing, the walk leader was Linda Ervine of the Turas Irish language project at East Belfast Mission, some of whose members came on the walk. Linda Ervine drew attention to the fact that the Protestant community, and she is from a Presbyterian background, also suffered in An Gorta Mór, but that history had been hidden. Other speakers included Waylon Gary White Deer, Rob Fairmichael for Afri, and Helen Henderson of St Columb’s Park House, and sean nós singer Noeleen Ní Cholla performed a couple of songs including Éirigh suas a stóirín.

This Walk was part of Afri’s Famine Landscape Project and was organised in partnership with St. Columb’s Park House.

Famine Commemoration: Without Food, Without Voice, Without Name

Damien Dempsey leads the walk from the Garden of Remembrance to Glasnevin cemetery organised as part of the Afri-Choctaw Famine Project. Photo by Derek Speirs
Damien Dempsey leads the walk from the Garden of Remembrance to Glasnevin cemetery organised as part of the Afri-Choctaw Famine Landscape Project. Photo by Derek Speirs

“The Famine is an awful wound on the Irish psyche and we don’t talk about it enough. I think we should have a national day of grieving when we all go a river bank or the sea or a lake and just grieve for all who died of hunger and as a result of Colonialism.”

These were the words of Damien Dempsey as he spoke at the Famine Walk which began at the Garden of Remembrance and ended at Glasnevin Cemetery on Saturday, August 27th 2016.  The theme of the walk was ‘Gan Bia, Gan Béal, Gan Ainm” (Without Food, Without Voice, Without Name) and it was organised as part of the Afri-Choctaw Famine Landscape Project.

The event was introduced by Choctaw Gary White Deer and the context and relevance of the walk was outlined by Joe Murray. There was music from RoJ and Paul as well as David Fury before we headed for Glasnevin in glorious sunshine. Continue reading “Famine Commemoration: Without Food, Without Voice, Without Name”

Famine Walk in Drumshanbo, Leitrim

resizeTo mark the national famine commemoration day a famine walk was held in Drumshanbo on Sunday, September 11th 2016. The walk took place from St Patrick’s Church to the famine graveyard a short distance away, where a wreath was laid and a tree planted to the memory of the famine dead.  The walk was organised by Bryan Ryan a student of Drumshanbo traditional music school run by Mossie Martin.

The walk consisted of over sixty people which included Sinn Fein councillor Brenden Barry and Nancy Woods of Drumshanbo Comhaltas as well as poets and musicians from around Leitrim, A bass drum played by Ronan McManus of the four Green fields flute band lead the walk as it made its way to the famine graveyard where over 500 victim’s of an Gorta Mor are buried.  The graveyard was attached to the old pre emancipation Church of Murhaun which stood there in 1744 before St Patrick’s Church was built in 1851 closer to the village. Continue reading “Famine Walk in Drumshanbo, Leitrim”

Damien Dempsey to lead Dublin Famine Walk

Choctaw Gary White Deer in Glasnevin Cemetery
Choctaw Gary White Deer in Glasnevin Cemetery

A Great Hunger commemoration walk led by Damien Dempsey will proceed from the Garden of Remembrance to Glasnevin Cemetery on Saturday, 27 August, at 2:00 PM. The theme of the walk is “Gan Bia, Gan Beal, Gan Ainm” (Without Food, Without Voice, Without Name) and is being sponsored by Afri.

Glasnevin Cemetery has the largest mass grave in Ireland, with tens of thousands of victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger interred. Names of all Famine victims have been kept in the Glasnevin registry, highly unusual for Famine mass burials. “Through remembering, healing happens” said walk organiser Choctaw Gary White Deer. In 1847, the Choctaw donated monies for Irish Famine relief.

“It’s our duty to pass on the true history, brutal and beautiful, to the children, and they might see they have more in common than they thought with less fortunate people around the world now” Damien Dempsey said. “Everyone is very welcome to come along” he added.

Other walk leaders include: Choctaw Gary White Deer, musician RoJ, and Justine Nantale (Uganda).

Spirit Felt During Famine Walk

Nóilín Ní Cholla sings sean nós song An Mhaighdean Mhara to walkers at Famine Graveyard in Dunfanaghy
Nóilín Ní Cholla sings sean nós song An Mhaighdean Mhara to walkers at Famine Graveyard in Dunfanaghy

“We were very pleased with this year’s Afri Famine Walk in Northwest Donegal” said Máire Nic Fhearraigh, a walk organiser. “Participants came from as far away as Dublin.”

Called “Seeds of Hope and Remembrance”, the nine-mile journey originated on Saturday 4th June in Dunfanaghy and ended in Falcarragh. Walkers stopped along the way to lay flowers at a Famine mass grave. “When Noleen Ní Cholla sang a beautiful sean nós song at graveside, it stirred something there. Everyone felt the spirit of what we were doing. We carried that spirit with us on our walk” Nic Fhearraigh added. Continue reading “Spirit Felt During Famine Walk”