News and Views

UCC hosts National Famine Commemoration 2018

9 May 2018
Picture shows L-R UCC President, Professor Patrick O'Shea, Mike Murphy, Geography Dept and Virginia Teehan, Director of Cultural Projects, UCC Image: Tomás Tyner

An online project that will allow people to see how the famine affected their locality will be launched at the Annual National Famine Commemoration in Cork this Saturday, May 12

Commemorative events will take place this week leading up to the main event presided over by the President, Michael D Higgins on Saturday, at 2pm in UCC. All are welcome to attend.

 The activities will include:

  • Launch of Great Famine Online project where people will be able to check how the famine affected their locality
  • Viewing of a replica mud cabin, An Bothán, in which the poorest of the poor lived and died. The cabin has been built beside the Quad, UCC
  • Public lecture on Mapping The Great Irish Famine by Mike Murphy, Department of Geography, UCC with Introduction: Professor W.J. Smyth. The lecture is a chronological journey using the rich images from The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Friday, 11th May, 7.30pm Aula Maxima, UCC
  • Cork City Council and Cork County Council events around the city and county 
  • The National Famine Commemoration Saturday, UCC Main Quadrangle, May 12, 2pm.

President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins will preside over the ceremony which will include music by The Vanbrugh, Niall Vallely, Karen Casey, massed Choir, band of the Southern Command readings by Lord Mayor, County Mayor and UCC President, Patrick O’Shea.  The event is open to the public and a large crowd is expected

  • Visit of the Navy ship involved in rescuing people in the Mediterranean which will be open to the public

You can view all the activities of the week at

"The Irish Famine still evokes a lot of emotion for people both at home and abroad," says Virginia Teehan, Director of Cultural Projects at UCC and a member of the Steering Committee on the National Famine Commemoration at UCC.  “The National Famine Commemoration taking place at UCC this week gives us an opportunity to rethink how it has shaped an Irish psyche and how it continues to connect us to each other and to the rest of the world,”  Teehan oversaw and curated a major exhibition on the Great Irish Famine which travelled to Tufts University in Boston in 1996 for the 150th Anniversary of the Famine.

 “The history of the Irish famine”, she said “resonates very strongly perhaps even more strongly there than it does here at home. It can be very emotional for people as it relates to personal histories”. Many people in the USA speak of Irish ancestry and they trace their forefathers who emigrated from here during the 19th century according to Teehan.

“They still feel the impact of that migration in their modern lives whereas those of us who remained at home have grown with this island as it has shifted and emerged over the last 173 years.  The meaning of the famine is different for us here and it can be hard sometimes even to pinpoint exactly what that meaning is for ourselves.

“I think the State Commemoration in 1995 which marked the 150th anniversary was the first time that modern Ireland began to explore how the famine impacted on us as a society. We are still on that journey and part of that is understanding how social and economic forces can disenfranchise people. You see these matters examined by the Mary Robinson Foundation, for example, and these are issues of social justice rather than issues of food scarcity. People need to be mindful that famine is not always about the scarcity of food but about political systems and people’s ability to access food. This is still the case in contemporary famines, as will be discussed in the conference on Global Hunger Today this Thursday and Friday”.

That is why she believes that it was so important to have a famine hut or An Bothàn created on the UCC campus.

“It is a symbol of the poverty and the deprivation in which people can find themselves in.  It also represents the hopelessness that social and economic systems can create and it is a very strong symbol creates a greater understanding than just words of how people lived back then.

“The impact the Famine had on the people of Cork is reflected in the spirit of generosity that continues today with Cork Penny Dinners which was founded during Famine times as a soup kitchen. It is now one of Cork’s oldest caring organisations,” remarks Teehan.  One of the readings at the ceremony on Saturday is about a soup kitchen in Barrack Street in Cork. The Cork Examiner reported on March 15th, 1888 that following the example of London and Dublin, the “zeal of charitable ladies” in Cork had been stimulated and a meeting was held in the Imperial Hotel to raise funds to set up a facility at No. 5, Drawbridge Street. Tickets were sold at one penny each to bring some relief to people. That charity continues and Cork Penny Dinners is now based on Hanover Street.  "The inclusion of the Cork Penny Dinners/High Hopes Choir at the National Famine Commemoration," she says "is another example of the parallels which run connecting issues of social justice and the Irish famine."


President Michael D Higgins will preside over the ceremony on Saturday, May 12th and An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney T D, Minister of  Foreign Affairs and Trade will host the event (representing Minister Madigan) which is open to the public and begins at 2pm. The ceremony will include a number of readings by Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Tony Fitzgerald and County Mayor Cllr Declan Hurley and a reading by Professor Patrick O’Shea, President of University College Cork. The Vanbrugh Quartet will play two pieces of music which have been specially commissioned from composer Seán Doherty. One is Professor Boole’s Farewell based upon the George Boole archive and his description of Ireland when Boole arrived in Ireland in 1849 and the second piece of music is called Fr McCarthy’s Lament 1847 based on a letter written by the Parish Priest of Watergrasshill to The Cork Examiner in 1847 describing the conditions at the time.  Special guests include Niall Vallely, Mary Mitchell Ingoldsby, Karen Casey and Brid McGowan. The UCC Choral Society, UCC Choir and Cork Penny Dinners High Hopes Choir will also perform. 


Media: For further information contact Ruth Mc Donnell, Head of Media and PR, Office of Marketing and Communications, UCC  Mob: 086-0468950




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