Saturday 4 May 2013


with Guest Blogger, Paddy Waldron.

The day that we have been waiting for since I first suggested bringing the National Famine Commemoration to Kilrush in a facebook post back on 10 January 2012 has finally arrived.

I arrived in Halla an Phobail in Doonbeg just before 1pm to look at Famine Projects by the schoolchildren of Doonbeg Parish.  The quality of both the historical work and the artwork was outstanding.  I learned lots of new bits of local history from the projects.

All the schoolchildren of the parish filed into the hall along with their teachers, some parents, and the artists who had been helping them with their projects.  The major works were a collection of 168 pottery spoons, one for each year since the arrival of the potato blight in 1845, and a large colour reproduction of the Illustrated London News sketch of Judy O'Donnel's habitation under the bridge at Doonbeg, produced under the guidance of Astrid Adler.

Dolores Murrihy, who co-ordinated the project with the teachers of the parish, and myself each said a few words.  I asked the teachers to let the pupils off homework one day next week as a reward for the quality of their work.

Fr. Haugh then said a special famine mass in Doonbeg church at 1:30pm which I couldn't attend as I wanted to attend the funeral mass of my 4th cousin Connie McInerny in Kilkee church at 2pm.  I met two Paddy Murrays at the funeral - one from Moveen, my 2nd cousin and Connie's partner; the other from Kilfearagh, the sculptor who has been commissioned to produce the piece which will be unveiled by President Higgins on next Sunday week.  Paddy the sculptor invited me to make a quick detour en route from the church to Lisdeen Cemetery to check out his progress on the sculpture which is looking great.  The main concern today was to find out what size curtain the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht need to bring for the unveiling ceremony.

I met lots of other cousins at the funeral, some that I knew from real life, some that I knew only from facebook, and some that I'd never met before.  Unfortunately it began to rain as we left the cemetery.

I made a quick pitstop for a late lunch at the Stella Maris in Kilkee, over which I tried to gather my thoughts for the few words that I had been asked to say in Carrigaholt later.

Carrigaholt hall was looking good when the steering committee began to arrive at 5pm.  Paddy Collins was getting the PA system up and running before going to work in Naughtons in Kilkee.  Paul O'Brien brought his box of copies of sketches, newscuttings and other famine-related images and we soon had an instant exhibition on the walls.

Then we headed back to the square in pouring rain for the official launch of the ten-day programme of events.  John Corry, Town Clerk of Kilrush and Kilkee and chairman of the steering committee, struggled with an umbrella, two microphones and a soggy notepad containing what he wanted to say, but we managed to arrange a system where one person held the brolly and microphones while another spoke!  Mairead O'Brien, Mayor of Kilrush, put on her chain of office, said a few words, and declared the commemoration officially open.  Then I said a few words about the historical connections between Carrigaholt village, Moyarta parish, Kilrush Poor Law Union and the Great Famine.

Then it was over to Rob Hopkins and his Crack'd Spoon Theatre Company for a truly magnificent open air re-enactment of events in the Kilrush Union in 1849. Rob himself played Captain Arthur Kennedy. Unfortunately there was no cast list and I knew very few of the other actors - probably just Laura Foley Lyons who was playing Louisa Isabella Keane née Westby, the wife of Marcus Keane, remembered as the exterminator general of Clare.  Captain Kennedy protested at a social gathering of the local landlords and their families, all dressed in period costumes, about their treatment of their tenants.  Colonel Vandeleur and family arrived by horse-drawn carriage.  All was narrated by a press man, playing the role of the Illustrated London News's reporter.  The heavens opened and made the dismal scenes outside the gate all the more realistic.  Marcus Keane evicted the dying women and children being administered to by a priest in a scalpeen outside the gate.  The man of the house resisted eviction with a pitchfork and was shot dead (most realistically) by one of the soldiers in the eviction party.  A Whiteboy appeared on the scene and met a similar fate.  Miss Kennedy brought a lump to my throat as she appeared to distribute clothing to the poor.  The quality of the production matched anything one might see in the Abbey Theatre.

It was hard to gauge the size of the attendance as their were so many actors participating in the performance, mingling with the public, and all were sheltering under umbrellas.

Then it was back to the hall for a very interesting lecture by Tom Power from the Sydney Famine Commemoration Committee about the orphan girls from Clare workhouses who were sent to Australia under Earl Grey's scheme during the famine.  The first glitch in the proceedings came when it was realised that the person who was supposed to bring the projector to show Tom's slides of the Sydney famine memorial had left it in Kilrush!  The forgetful one knows who he is, but I will spare his blushes ... While we waited for the projector to arrive, Mary Murrihy played the recording of her husband P J's West Clare Famine Song and Assumpta Kennedy, at very short notice, gave a beautiful rendition of Lone Shanakyle, composed by her ancestor Thomas `The Poet' Madigan, which she is scheduled to sing again for President Higgins on Sunday week.

After Tom's lecture, Mairead O'Brien, Paul O'Brien (no relation), Mary Rose Counihan, Randal Counihan (her husband) and myself adjourned to The Long Dock where we treated Tom Power and his wife Trish to dinner. Laura Foley Lyons reappeared, having been suddenly transformed from Mrs Westby Keane into the Festival Queen for the Carrigaholt Oyster Festival, which was also launched this evening.

There were about 80 people in attendance for the lecture, from far and wide, and from primary school children to octogenarians.

I took 44 photographs during the day and hoped to upload them all to facebook this evening, but Fotobounce tells me `Unable to upload image. Tried 5 times and gave up'.  I'm too tired now to figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Our sympathies go out to the families in the peninsula who have been bereaved during the week - the McInerney, Murray and Walsh families who now farm the land where the Village of Moveen depicted in the Illustrated London News once stood and who have been bereaved by the deaths of Connie McInerny and also of James Walsh; and also the people of Knockerra and Killimer, where the Famine Exhibition scheduled for Saturday evening has been postponed due to a bereavement in that parish.


  1. Lovely contribution from the Doonbeg kids! Love those spoons! What a busy day!

  2. The spoons fascinated me as well and I'm so glad the children have been so involved... It's by participating in things like this that the history remains pertinent.


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