On Saturday I am attending ,with my two friends from the Ullans Academy, Liam Logan and Ruairi O'Bleine, the 2011 National Famine Memorial Day. I had hoped my friends James O'Fee and Andy Tyrie would also be able to attend, but they could not because of personal committments. We have been invited by Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, through the Taoiseach's Office. The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure of the Stormont Assembly and several MLAs, were expected. My friend President Mary McAleese had accepted an invitation to lead the official representation at this year's National Famine Commemoration and would be accompanied by her husband Martin. This was one of the last of her Official Engagements as President and would be a specially poignant one. The commemoration will comprise a programme in which the local communities in County Monaghan will be prominently involved followed by the formal State ceremonial event, which will include military honours and wreath laying ceremonies.
Respected historians have pointed to the significant impact of the Famine in Ulster as a whole and to the particular impact in south Ulster. Indeed, Clones was amongst the hardest hit areas in all of Ireland. Before the Famine, Monaghan and neighbouring parts of Fermanagh had one of the highest population densities in all of the island of Ireland. In 1841, the population of the Clones Poor Law Union was 42,225. However, by 1851 this had fallen by 27,487, a decline of 35% and the number of inhabited homes dropped by 2,000. As Brian McDonald states in the Clogher record: ‘More than 2,000 families gone from townlands and parishes, the traces of potato ridges, the fallen thatch and crumbling walls the only tangible evidence of their having lived and loved this place they knew as home’.
At least 13,000 people died from starvation and disease in Monaghan between 1847 and 1850. By the end of March 2007, the Strangers’ Burial Ground of St. Tighernach’s Church of Ireland was full. A memorial plaque at the Clones Famine and Workhouse mass grave bears the following moving inscription: ‘Erected in memory of all the people from Clones Union who died because of the Great Famine 1845-1850; Also those who died in the workhouse 1845-1921; The meek shall inherit the earth…’ Famine relief schemes were set up throughout the country during the Great Famine and one of them in Clones gave rise to the world renowned Clones Lace. In 1847 Rev. Thomas Hand and his wife Cassandra arrived in Clones from Surrey and were so horrified by the devastation caused by the Famine that Cassandra set up the lace/crochet making as a relief scheme. By 1851, almost every family in Clones was involved in the crochet industry.