Famine memorial for West of Scotland Irish unveiled at People’s Palace
By Lucy Ashton
A memorial to those who suffered in the Irish and Highland famine in the 19th century has been unveiled in Glasgow. Glasgow City Council depute leader David McDonald, Irish minister Joe McHugh and historian Professor Sir Tom Devine took part in a simple dedication ceremony at Glasgow Green as the memorial garden was opened beside the People’s Palace.
Famine ravaged large parts of Europe in the mid-1840s and millions died or were displaced over a number of years. Ireland suffered particularly badly and it is thought that more than a million people were forced to emigrate – with as many as 100,000 of them arriving in Glasgow. A large contingent of them set up home in West Dunbartonshire, Lanarkshire and Edinburgh and the Lothians. Thousands also arrived from the Highlands and Islands due to the blight, either settling in the city, or continuing their journey to the New World.
The memorial features plants and stone native to Ireland and the Highlands, and interprets the journey made by refugees. Mr McDonald said: “Today, we acknowledge the part the Irish and the Gael played in shaping modern Glasgow.
“This memorial to a defining and desperate episode in Glasgow’s history is a tribute and acknowledgement to those who experienced famine – along with those who followed and helped to build and shape this city and its unique character.
“It also offers an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come collectively as a city. “The reatment of those who arrived on ships from Derry and Donegal and by foot or by cart from the Highlands was not always hospitable. However, 170 years on, we are privileged to be able to say Glasgow remains home to one of the world’s great Irish diaspora – and a city proud to be home to more Scots Gaelic speakers than anywhere else in the country.”
Mr McHugh is the serving Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Minister of State for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands and a former minister of state for the diaspora and overseas development.
He said: “A large number of those who were forced to leave Ireland came to Glasgow and to the West of Scotland. It is fitting, therefore, that as we commemorate the historic tragedy of the famine, we recall and acknowledge the enormous impact that Irish famine migrants had on Scotland and the positive contribution they and their descendants have made over many decades in shaping the modern city of Glasgow. “That recognition is important and I welcome the initiative taken by Glasgow City Council in developing this memorial.”
Professor Devine congratulated the city council for creating the memorial. He said: “Fittingly, this is an overtly inclusive memorial which recognises the sufferings of both Catholic and Protestant Irish victims of the catastrophe as well as that of Highland Gaels. “The memorial also provides an opportunity to mark the significant contribution which the descendants of the Irish and Highland refugees of that time have made to the economy, culture and politics of Glasgow over the last 160 years or so.
“That is a potent reminder for today of how immigration, even of the displaced and distressed, can ultimately have a positive impact on the host society.”