A Job Well Done!

Much has happened since the start of the campaign to erect a memorial to those who died and to those dispersed across the world, particularly to Wales, as a result of the Great Hunger, the Potato Famine, in my native Ireland which at the time was wholly a unit within the United Kingdom.
The memorial stone was unveiled on Wednesday 17 March (St. Patrick's Day), 1999 at which ceremony I was privileged to be in attendance, partaking in a lunch reminiscent of the sort of fare which victims of the Famine might have received at a soup kitchen, set up to relieve their hunger,
In October this year (2000) as I watched a series of five programmes ('The Irish Empire') on BBC TV, which compressed many centuries of Irish history into a few hours, and the musical journey around Ireland, on BBC Wales TV, presented by Frank Hennessy in three half-hour episodes,, ending in my area of origin, Northern Ireland, I wondered whether the viewing public extended beyond the Irish Diaspora and descendants.
I also wondered whether in future years the stone will spark some interest and keep the connection fresh for those whose forebears were emigrants of the famine period or who may themselves be emigrants and in later years made the same journey.
Whatever their reason for leaving, personal (like myself), political, economic necessity, social pressure, fear, or a combination of them, our island of origin and its people has made a significant contribution, well beyond its size,in many fields of human endeavour, in art, literature, theatre, medicine, and even in politics. Although in the latter, on its home ground, it has a lot to learn from many areas where the caravan of the Diaspora has rested or made permanent camp.
The Green Dragon has been a very important element in the scheme of things as it has, through the research of its contributors, focussed on the lives and deaths of the people prior to and at the time of the disaster, its aftermath and their passage to Wales and elsewhere, their problems as they sought to settle and their eventual acceptance into the indigenous community.
I first made contact with its first and only editor, Barry Tobin, at the Famine Day School at the Caerleon Campus (University College of Wales, Newport), on Saturday 8 February 1997, when he sold me a copy of the first issue and said he was looking for contributions so I volunteered. Since then I was pleased he afforded me space in each subsequent issue.
With the website which Barry set up the material contained in all the published editions since December, 1996 provides very valuable information for students of history, at present and in the future.
At the same time, with Barry's kind assistance, the progress or lack of it in the Northern Ireland situation, discussed in articles which I submitted and which net surfers could read and hopefully find of value, were also posted on the web.
The contact I made with him at that Day School spurred me into putting into print my thoughts and opinions on the Peace Process. This culminated in the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday 10 April, 1998, which I outlined and commented on in issues 7, 8 and 9.
Previously, over many years, I had written to British Labour Party leaders, from Neil Kinnock onwards, and to the front bench spokespersons urging a rethink and a more realistic approach to the question, including a critique of their 'Towards a United Ireland' policy document.
When the late John Smith visited Cardiff during his bid for the leadership of his party, I questioned him about Northern Ireland and publicly presented him with a copy of my own submission to the Opsahl Commission which he undertook to read and consider. In due course he replied sympathetically but without commitment.
This commission played a very useful role in stimulating discussion throughout Northern ireland and the Republic. Its report in June 1993 was published in book form and included summaries of almost 500 submissions - mine appears on page 227. The originals are now part of the archives of the Linenhall Library in Belfast. I donated a copy to Cwmbran Public Library which is available on loan.
Paul Murphy MP, before and after his job in the Northern Ireland Office, Kevin McNamara MP, Mo Mowlam MP and many others received letters from me on the subject before and after the general election 1997 and as and when the opportunity arose I joined in several radio discussions on Radio Wales (Vincent Kane 'Meet for Lunch'), Any Answers (Radio 4), Brian Hayes (Radio 2), with Vaughan Roderick (Radio Wales) and on a few occasions John Turner's Bristol Radio programme.
But the Green Dragon has been a much more valuable medium for time and space on radio and the letter columns of the Belfast Telegraph, the Newsletter, the Irish Times, the South Wales Argus, the Guardian and the Western Mail, which all received letters from me on the subject, restricted as they are, do not allow one fully to develop an argument.
While its circulation and readership is much smaller than any of the papers mentioned it has the merit of having a clientele deeply interested in Irish history and current events and receptive to articles, whether they agree completely with the author's views or not, which are of substance and approach the subject seriously.
The Green Dragon, merely by its existence and being sent to many prestigious libraries around the world, including the British Library, Trinity College Dublin and the National Library of Wales among others will ensure that the views and research it contains will be available widely to future generations of students and researchers.
I am personally grateful that part of the Green Dragon website has been set aside for 'Boyd's Box' which, while the magazine's presses are resting, has enabled me to continue comments on the intricacies and convolutions of the political parties as the Peace Process stutters, stumbles, stops and falters.
On a personal basis, the advent of the magazine started me searching the channels of my memory and stimulated me into recalling issues and events which I both witnessed and participated in from when, at the early age of ten, I began to take notice.
Putting them on to paper and forwarding them to the editor was a rewarding and enjoyable experience, reliving them in hindsight and questioning whether things might have with advantage been done differently.
So in this final edition, I take the opportunity to thank all those who initiated the campaign, for making a mark in stone registering a tragic historical event which, although it has been surpassed in horror, was a significant turning point, impacting beyond the shores of our two islands, as indeed, in its own small way, has been a job well done by the campaigners and the Green Dragon.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran.

Published in The Green Dragon 11, Summer 2002

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