Great Famine Memorial in Cardiff

The Wales National Great Famine Memorial was unveiled and dedicated in Cardiff’s Cathays Cemetery on Wednesday 17 March, 1999 – St. Patrick’s Day. In welcoming the dignitaries and a crowd of several hundred people John Sweeney, Chairman of the Wales Famine Forum which had planned the memorial and the ceremony, said:

“St. Patrick’s Day in 1999 will always be remembered as the day when the people of Wales paid homage to the more than a million people who died in what is often referred to as The Great Famine of 1845 – 1849, but is more accurately described as The Great Hunger.

This so called famine, which left no group or county untouched in Ireland, was a testimony to man’s inhumanity to man, to the slavish following of ideology and prejudice followed by one of the greatest feats of spin in history – to blame‑shame the Irish for their own misfortune.

This great catastrophe has taken the Irish the best part of 150 years to put behind them.

Many of those who died did so without the dignity of a Christian burial and most of them are buried in unmarked graves.

This Celtic Cross, generously donated by Mossfords Monumental Sculptors, Cardiff, and erected at an additional cost of 3995 on a site donated by Cardiff City and County Council will ensure that the victims of the Great Hunger will not be forgotten.

This memorial is also for the thousands of Irish people who have lived and died in Wales, including the between 300–400 refugees from the Hunger who, victims of fevers – cholera and typhus, are buried in an unmarked grave in this cemetery.

The Wales Famine Forum was set up in 1995 to mark the 150th anniversary of The Great Hunger, which not only changed the face of Ireland but the shape of many other parts of the world, including Wales.

My own ancestors, and those of many here today, found refuge in Cardiff and other parts of Wales after fleeing the wretched conditions in Ireland in the 1840s and 50s. Life was anything but easy in those days, but Ireland and Wales are now the greatest of friends, as illustrated here today by the presence of the Consul General of Ireland, Conor O'Riordan, Welsh Office Minister, Jon Owen Jones, the Lord Lieutenant, Captain Lloyd Edwards and the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Marion Drake and so many other people from all walks of life.

It is a joy to see representatives from all the Christian denominations here today, but I must mention the Religious Society of Friends, the ‘Quakers’. When hunger raged through Ireland it was the Quakers who set up soup kitchens and at one stage were feeding as many as 300,000 a day. They are a great example today when we could all do something to help ease famines being experienced in many parts of the world.

Thank you all for being here especially the children from St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s R.C. primary schools, from the local Gladstone Primary School, from Ysgol Mynydd Bychan (the local Welsh language primary school), and the young musicians from Corpus Christi R.C. High School.”

Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham led the prayers at the ecumenical service which included readings by the Reverend Anthony Crockett, representing the Archbishop of Wales, Cork‑born Canon Jack Buttimore, retired Vicar of St. David’s (Church in Wales), Ely, Cardiff, and the Reverend Denzil John, Minister of Tabernacl Caerdydd, the Welsh Baptists’ place of worship in the Hayes, Cardiff, since 1825.

The Wales National Great Famine Memorial was unveiled by Welsh Office Minister Jon Owen Jones, representing the Secretary of State foe Wales, and the Consul General of Ireland in Wales, Conor O’Riordan. A wreath was laid by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Marion Drake and the Lord Lieutenant, Captain Norman Lloyd Edwards.

Bishop Daniel Mullins of Menevia (Swansea and west Wales), a native of County Limerick, paid a moving tribute to the people who had fled from Ireland and settled in Wales at the time of the Great Famine. He said:

“Many of us are the inheritors of what the famine‑Irish created in Wales. They had a strong faith, hardened by suffering and lived out within the community which is the Church. They brought hopes for a better life, for themselves and certainly for their children and grandchildren.

The Irish who settled in Wales, the forebears of so many in Cardiff and across south Wales, were courageous and daring. They knew what it was to be despised and insulted in public places and in popular publications.

Their response was to parade in their Sunday best and to forge instruments for mutual support and advancement.

In the practice of their faith, when a hundred got together and needed a place of worship, they built a church to seat a thousand. They developed their own social arrangements that would help the orphan and the widow, the sick and the elderly. Their care for others reached out beyond their own community.”

Tyrone O’Sullivan, the Chairman of Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, the last deep pit in Wales, whose grandfather was from East Cork and who helped to recover his father's body after a fatal accident underground, paid tribute to the contribution made by the Irish to industry in Wales. In a call for peace in Ireland and the world he said, “If we love only ourselves we will not love our neighbours, we must love one another to bring peace and harmony.”

Veteran Irish broadcaster Seán Mac Réamoinn, who came with his wife from Dublin for the ceremony, introduced the final hymn, and accompanied by musicians from Corpus Christi High School, the strains of ‘Hail Glorious St. Patrick’ echoed over the cemetery where there is a mass grave of 349 refugees who died of cholera after coming to Wales.

The above is a modified and expanded version of two articles on this event by the late journalist and historian John O’Sullivan published in the April 1999 edition of the Catholic People, the Cardiff Archdiocesan newspaper. They are reprinted here as a single article with the permission of the author and of the Editor, Fr. John Owen.

: John O’Sullivan, 1999.

Published in The Green Dragon No 9, Winter 1999/2000.

The Wales National Great Famine Memorial