Reflections from The Famine Walk Weekend
By Liam Murtagh
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As part of the Famine Walk weekend, a seminar entitled ‘Food for Thought’ took place on Friday 18th May in Castlebar. It was organised by FEASTA, the Foundation of the Economics of Sustainability and other groups and marked the 20th birthday of the founding of Feasta and the legacy of one of its founders, the late radical economist and author Richard Douthwaite.
Mark Garavan of Feasta highlighted the fact that about 100,000 people died during the Famine in Co Mayo – that’s about the size of the population of the county today. He drew parallels between social policy in the Great Famine and the situation today in many powerful countries when he said that in Ireland some £9.5 million was eventually spent on late and poorly designed ‘relief’ during the Famine period while £14 million went to sustain the military and police forces.
Keynote speaker Peadar Kirby, in a bilingual address, explored ecological parallels in culture, language and resilience – with a backdrop of the Famine, which he said was often termed ‘an Drochshaol’ (the bad life). He focused on the impending challenges for humanity of the crises of climate change and the extinction of species. He concluded by saying that we will need to draw on various resources including from resources from within our cultural traditions of language and spirituality to deal with these challenges that we face.
Reflections and Solidarity at Afri Famine Walk
The fate of people in famine situations and other disasters linked to injustice and oppression was highlighted and reflected on at events in Co Mayo organised by Afri on 19th May. Their 30th Famine Walk from Doolough to Louisburgh is an annual commemoration of the Irish Famine. Afri is an organisation that works on the promotion of global justice and peace, and the reduction of poverty.
The Afri Famine Walk retraced a journey of horror which occurred on 30th/31st March 1849. Two poor-law commissioners were to assess people in Louisburgh, entitling them as ‘paupers’ to meagre relief rations. The inspection never happened, but the people were instructed to appear at Delphi Lodge at 7am the following morning. They walked the hilly road in wintry, snowy conditions. At Delphi Lodge they were refused food, or admission to the workhouse, and so began their weary return journey, on which many, even hundreds, died.
Afri recalls the dead and displaced of the Great Hunger – and all those facing the same avoidable cruelties in today’s world. The Famine Walk leaders who were selected to represent the spirit of resistance and transformation addressed the walkers in a packed Louisburg Hall before the walk. They included Richard Moore, who was blinded as a 10-year-old child by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier in Derry during the Troubles. Richard was inspired by his own experience and by Afri’s work to found the charity ‘Children in Crossfire’. Another 2018 walk leader was Fatin Al Tamimi, Chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war. Fatin spoke about the current suffering of the people of Gaza and her personal desire to be reunited with her sister who is living there.
At Delphi Lodge the walkers were addressed by Joe Murray of Afri and by the Manager of Delphi Lodge, Michael Wade who welcomed everyone. After a tree planting ceremony, singer Lisa Lambe gave a haunting rendition of the song ‘The West Awake’ before the walkers started on their journey through the stunningly scenic Doolough Valley and on to Louisburgh. Like the 1849 walkers, not all the 2018 walkers, including myself, could manage the full journey. However, unlike the 1849 walkers we received help in that we were transported for the later section of the journey to Louisburgh.
Liam Murtagh is involved in Transition Monaghan and regularly writes a ‘Sustainability Matters’ column in the Northern Standard newspaper.
Saturday 3rd February 2018
Solas Bhríde, Kildare Town
Registration at 10.20am
“Life has given me many challenges, which I choose to take as opportunities to learn and grow. This is my choice. I learned this on death row. I chose life, health, forgiveness, and love. That choice saved me from bitterness and hatred that would have destroyed me from within. I have dedicated myself to an end to violence – in all its forms. This is the way I honour the lives that were sacrificed along the way. This is the way I give back to the universe. Love is the answer. Fear is the enemy. We must choose the world we want and work towards making it happen every day in our own lives.”
These are the inspiring words of death row survivor, Sunny Jacobs, whose life reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, with injustice heaped upon further injustice, creating circumstances that would have crushed many people. An innocent woman wrongfully convicted of murder, her husband was executed, she lost other family members and she spent many years awaiting her own execution. But Sunny came shining through it all with dignity, strength, courage, compassion and hope. She is the perfectly encapsulation of this year’s Féile Bríde’s theme: ‘light out of darkness’.
Sunny and Peter Pringle, the last person to have been on death row in Ireland, have devoted themselves to promoting healing, peace and reconciliation. Together they have established The Sunny Centre – a sanctuary for others who suffer injustice, especially people who are wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit and have spent time under sentence of death. We will hear their extraordinary stories at Féile Bríde this year.
Other speakers include the distinguished academic and activist Peadar Kirby, who plays a leading role in the Cloughjordan Eco-Village; UCC Professor Emeritus and life-long peace activist John Maguire; Hanny Van Geel of La Via Campesina, which promotes the rights of peasant communities around the world, and who describes herself as ‘rooted in farming’; and Rose Hogan who has a life-long commitment to agro-ecology and sustainable agriculture.
In a world marred by war and the woeful destruction of our exquisite planet, Féile Bríde is but one example of the many, many people and groups throughout our world who hope for and work towards a better future, a more just world and for the light to overcome the darkness.
And as the Spring birdsong heralds the end of another winter, we will also have music because, as Hans Christian Anderson said, “where words fail, music speaks”.
10.45am Fáilte, Solas agus Ceol: welcome, light & music
11.00pm Caring for our Global Village – Peadar Kirby
12.00pm Food for Life – Hanny Van Geel & Rose Hogan
1.00pm Lunch and tree planting
2.00pm Peace Meal Change– John Maguire
2.50pm Tea break
3.15pm Light out of Darkness
The Sunny Centre
To see who’s going on facebook go here.
Afri’s Féile Bríde conference is part of a week long events being held in Kildare organised by the Brigidine Sisters and Cairde Bríde. For information about the other events that week visit the Solas Bhríde website or download their programme Feile Bride Programme.
A short film made by RoJ about the Food Sovereignty event held in NUI Maynooth in April.
Date: April 13th 2017
Time: 10am to 3.30pm
Please confirm attendance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
April 17 is the International Day of Peasant Struggle – a day to recognize and acknowledge the difficulties faced by diverse food producers amidst a world in which one-tenth of humanity experiences hunger. There is no better time of the year to discuss and debate how we can create alternative food futures in Ireland and beyond. Whether by adopting food sovereignty or some other framework, at issue is finding ways for urban and rural dwellers, peasants, landless people, small-scale farmers, and coastal communities to work on mechanisms that can nourish and empower food producers and consumers like never before. The task to is identify and raise the profile of projects and practices that might build a sustainable, democratic, and just food system. During this one-day event held at Maynooth University, we invite attendees to contribute and share their experiences about creating alternative food futures. Continue reading “Creating Alternative Food Futures: Food Sovereignty in Ireland and Beyond”
Famine Walk 2016: Memory, Solidarity, Sovereignty
Saturday, May 21st, Registration from 12.45pm (€20 per adult participant)
Delphi Lodge to Louisburgh, Co. Mayo
Rafeef Ziadah (Palestine)
Francisco Cali-Tzay (Guatemala)
Clare O’Grady Walshe (Ireland)
Cathryn O’Reilly (Dunnes Stores Strike)
Music: Máirtín O Connor
(special fundraising gig for Afri with Máirtín & family in the Derrylahan, Louisburgh at 8.30pm on Saturday 21st)
Afri attended the Climate March in Dublin on the 29th November to join with people around the world who were marching ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris calling on world leaders to take immediate action on climate change.
Film by Dave Donnellan
Afri Coordinator, Joe Murray stated, “One of the problems about the debate on climate change is that people keep speaking in the future tense…about what will happen to our children and our grandchildren. Unfortunately, however, climate change is not a future tense issue, it’s a real and present danger. Another myth is that climate change only affects countries of the Global South. While it is true that countries in the southern hemisphere are among the most seriously affected, it is also having a profound effect on all countries, including Ireland.
The message is clear: we cannot wait for our governments to act on such a crucial issue. We, the people, must lead and they will be forced to follow.”
After the March Afri and Food Sovereignty Ireland launched the Food Sovereignty Proclamation at the Department of Agriculture. Food Sovereignty is an effective response to the challenges posed to food systems by climate change. To read the proclamation and to sign it you can visit the Food Sovereignty Ireland website here.
“They walked to carry the message of food sovereignty, a warning to not ever depend on a single crop, nor a crop seed that carries calculated impotency.”
Report by Gary White Deer
They began in late May of this year on a Saturday afternoon, 85 walkers starting from the old Famine storehouse in Falcarragh, the Afri banner carried by a South African and Ghanian living in Donegal, people all flowing together through the town and then surging on past the edge of things, out by Saint Finian’s. Minutes before, a flower basket had been lowered from the same storehouse window that grain had once been sold from during Famine times, grain sold to waiting families who were starving.
The flowers were meant for the mass Famine grave at Dunfanaghy, a small yellow bouquet passed from hand to hand. The air was cool and thick and the clouds brimmed with the smell of rain. The walkers proceeded in a long and winding line as they came onto the back roads and laneways, curving and twisting before Muckish Mountain, moving slowly out of the Gaeltacht toward a distant Famine workhouse. They were from all over Ireland, but many were from Northwest Donegal and so Ulster Gaelic was spoken up and down the winding line. Continue reading “‘In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors’”
‘From Famine to Food Sovereignty’ was the theme of the 2014 Afri Famine walk in The Doolough valley in May. Here is a short film about the Walk made by Dave Donnellan