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  • Writer's pictureRachael Fulton

Glasgow's Tribute to An Gorta Mor: The Great Hunger

In the streets of Dublin, statues of skeletal refugees, their heads cowed, pay silent tribute to a generation tragically lost.

Their bronze cousins in Boston throw their arms to the sky, as partnered statues look on in disdain.

In Manhattan, a patchwork of Irish stones, soil and shrubbery is knitted together over an acre and a half of Battery Park to commemorate the same tremendous loss.

These memorials are dedicated to An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger, that plagued Ireland between 1845 and 1852 and affected generations of people in communities around the globe.

Triggered by a disease which blighted potato crops and destroyed Ireland's main source of food, An Gorta Mor claimed the lives of over a million native Irish people and caused a million more to flee to other countries.

The wealthier emigrated to the Americas, while others sought shelter in cities close to home - such as Glasgow. In 1848, it's estimated that 1000 Irish people landed in the city per week, in an attempt to survive the famine.

Despite this, no bronze statue or landscape garden has yet stood to commemorate the influx of people into the city, nor the lives lost in this era.

Now, SNP Councillor Feargal Dalton is proposing that this be rectified. In a proposal backed by Glasgow City Council and Scottish ministers, the councillor wishes for Glasgow to join New York, Boston and Dublin in recognising the tragedy of An Gorta Mor with a memorial in the city.

The memorial will also represent the Scottish lives lost as a result of the famine, as many in the Highlands also perished after the the potato blight took hold, or were forced to move down from the north.

Councillor Dalton's motion to erect a memorial was supported unanimously at a full meeting of Glasgow City Council and this week the proposal was given ministerial backing.

He said: "The motion has received public statements, letters and emails of support from groups who represent communities descendent from all backgrounds in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

"The many different groups and organisations backing it is a tribute to the inclusive nature of what this memorial will achieve. I hope that rapid progress will now be made in setting up the working group that will oversee this project."

An Gorta Mor had a massive impact on Irish immigration in Glasgow and the many generations of Scots with Irish blood that have followed.

One of the groups that is most supportive of the proposed Glasgow memorial is the Irish Heritage Foundation, a group part-funded by the Irish government that helps support the Irish community and their descendants abroad.

The organisation also works with immigrants of all different nationalities that have made Glasgow their home, promoting cultural diversity within the city.

Danny Boyle, project manager at the Irish Heritage Foundation, said: "I think it's quite a relevant point to say that the remnants of the immigrants that came here recognise their responsibility to outreach to more modern immigrant communities, and impact on their welcome to Glasgow.

"People are very interested and supportive, but because it's such an emotive subject people are very sensitive to what form the memorial will take.

"That needs to be taken in to consideration.'The Potato Blight' - the language is just one example of the complexities of speaking about something like this. Immediately that puts people off and is a disingenuous portrayal of An Gorta Mor.

"The crop had failed, in Ireland, Scotland and other areas, but this was backed up by a capitalist policy from Westminster. There wasn't much opportunity for relief of poor people of any background.

"The memorial has to be something that can encapsulate the lessons to be learned, taking in the strong cultural dimensions of the people who suffered and moving forward positively."

A famine memorial working group will soon be established through Glasgow City Council's cross-party Business Bureau and plans for the project will be put into motion.

The recommendations for the project will be reported at the end of summer 2013. It is not known yet where the memorial will be erected or what form it will take.

Councillor Dalton, said: "A memorial will bring us into line with other great cities such as New York, where they make sure to acknowledge and celebrate their diversity.

"We do too in Glasgow and any memorial will simply be a physical recognition of that fact.

"A memorial will highlight that in world of continuing poverty and famine, Glasgow is very firmly on the side of justice and is a beacon of hope to those in the world who continue to suffer."

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