Ireland's Famine

Article excerpt

In the United States, as well as in Ireland, a variety of commemorative events will mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Irish Famine. Beginning in 1995 and continuing to the year 2000, organizations in cities around the country will be erecting memorials, conducting symposiums and lectures, and holding commemorative events. These events are often announced in local newspapers, Irish-American publications, and newsletters of Irish societies and associations.

Ireland itself has the ultimate memorial to those who died--the Famine Museum, opened in May 1994, in Strokestown, County Roscommon. Here in the stable yards of Strokestown Park, the multimedia museum offers a unique experience of this tragic period of Irish history.

From the main street of the town, one passes through a Georgian Gothic triple arch, then along a wooded drive toward an imposing mansion, built in the 1730s by the Mahon family. Strokestown Park is a strangely fitting site for the Famine Museum. Major Denis Mahon, the landlord of the "big house" in the 1840s, was responsible for the eviction and forced emigration of thousands of destitute, hungry tenants. He was assassinated by them in 1847. Conflicting accounts of his murder, delivered over a background of whispers, can be heard in one room of the museum. Other rooms are devoted to the potato, its introduction and blight; political history, highlighted by panels of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspaper cartoons and photographs; and hunger in the world today. Town documents and Mahon family papers exhibited throughout the museum illuminate the social and economic conditions that led to the famine. …