10 October 2016

Refugee crisis in Europe compared
with the Great Famine in Ireland

Canon Patrick Comerford speaking at the National Famine Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery with President Michael D Higgins

This month’s edition of ‘The Church Review’ [October 2016], the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine, carries these photographs and half-page news report on page 14:

Refugee crisis in Europe compared
with the Great Famine in Ireland

European nations failing to respond to their humanitarian obligations to refugees should learn the lessons of the Great Famine, President Michael D Higgins told the annual National Famine Commemoration last Sunday in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

President Higgins claimed some of the rhetoric used today about people crossing the Mediterranean “marine grave” was similar to media reports during the worst period of Ireland’s 19th century catastrophe.

President Higgins unveiled a Celtic cross memorial to the one million Famine dead following the failure of the potato crop. Between 1845 and 1849, over a million people died of hunger and related diseases, and two million fled a country “with no hope.” Many who emigrated faced fresh marginalisation on arrival on foreign shores.

President Higgins asked: “Is there not a lesson for all of us, as we are faced in our own time with the largest number of displaced people since World War II, as the Mediterranean becomes, for many, a marine grave, as European nations fail to respond to their humanitarian obligations?”

Canon Patrick Comerford, who represented the Church of Ireland at the commemorative service, said in his prayers: “As we remember those who were driven from this land in their hunger, in their thirst, and in their quest for justice and mercy, and how they left on the high seas, let us pray for those who are driven from their own lands as they hungered and thirsted for justice and mercy.”

He added: “Let us pray in particular for the people of Syria, for those who are on the high seas in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and those who flee places where climate change and our inaction deprives them of justice and forces them to choose between, on the one hand, hunger and thirst at home, and short measures of justice and mercy in the countries they reach.”

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Ms Heather Humphreys, said that at the height of the Famine, 50-60 funerals a day were taking place in Glasnevin, making it one of Ireland’s largest Famine burial grounds.

The chair of Glasnevin Trust, Mr John Green, described Dublin as “a refugee city” during the Famine.

Prayers were also led by Bishop Eamon Walsh (Roman Catholic Church), Rachel Bewley-Bateman (Society of Friends), Dr Fergus O’Farrell (Methodist Church), Leonard Abrahamson (Jewish Representative Council), and Imam Mohammed Ibrahim (Islamic Cultural Centre).

The chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy, Mr Neil Holland, was among foreign ambassadors and diplomats who laid wreaths at the memorial.

Canon Patrick Comerford and Imam Mohammed Ibrahim at the National Famine Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery

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