The Wales Famine Forum, 1995 – 1997

In September 1845 potato blight began to destroy the potato crop in Ireland where over three million of the poorest people had little else to eat. This happened again in 1846, 1847, 1848.... Over a million people died and two million emigrated to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and to Great Britain itself. Many thousands arrived in Wales, especially in the new industrial areas in the south.

In November, 1994, a public meeting, arranged by Comhluadar Caerdydd, the Cardiff Irish Language Group, was held at Saint Mary’s Hall, Talbot Street, Canton, Cardiff. The purpose of that meeting, arranged with the support of the Parish Priest, Fr. John Maguire, chaired by Dr. Harri Pritchard‑Jones, and attended by about 25 people, was to discuss the forthcoming 150th. anniversary years of the Great Famine and to decide what, if anything, should be done.

It was agreed that this major social upheaval should be remembered as a particular aspect of the history of Ireland and Great Britain which has had major effects on the development of Welsh society.<\br>
As a result the Wales Famine Forum was set up in Cardiff in February 1995 with the following aims:

a)To promote interest in the history of the Great Famine.

b) To encourage research into what happened to the famine refugees who reached Wales and into their own and their descendants’ role in and influence on the development of Welsh society.

c)To find suitable ways of remembering and commemorating the Great Famine and its victims, especially those who died on route to or after reaching Wales.

d)To draw attention to poverty and famine in today’s world.

Events During 1995:

1.Wednesday 27 September: Free Public Lecture in the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay; Joe Murray of AfrI (‘Action from Ireland’) speaking on ‘Ireland’s Great Famine and its relevance for today’. About 90 people attended.

2.Saturday 14 October: Day School at the Aberdare Hall, Cardiff. This was arranged at our request by the Department for Continuing Education of the University of Wales, Cardiff, on the theme, ‘Wales and the Irish Famine’. Papers were presented before a capacity attendance of 100 people by Dr. Christine Kinealy, University of Liverpool, Dr. Paul O’Leary, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Dr. Peter Gray of Downings College, Cambridge and Dr. John Davies, the Welsh historian, author of the Penguin ‘History of Wales’.

3.Saturday 28 October. Saint David’s Hall, Cardiff: Exhibition on the Great Famine and Irish Immigration to South Wales together with a two‑our programme of Irish Music and Dance in conjunction with the Cardiff One World Week Group.

4. Wednesday / Thursday 1 / 2 November. Visit of Patrick Cleary of Skibbereen, joint author with Philip O’Regan of the book, Dear Old Skibbereen(May 5. Patrick’s visit was arranged as follows:

a) Wednesday morning: Saint David’s Sixth Form College, Cardiff: Talk to 50 students and their teachers.

b) Wednesday evening: The Strikers’ Club, Merthyr Tydfil: Free Public Lecture attended by almost forty people.

c) Thursday morning: Bishop Hedley R.C. Comprehensive School, Penydarren, Merthyr Tydfil: Talk to a large group (60+) of pupils and teachers.

d)Thursday afternoon: Cardiff Central Library: Free Public Lecture attended by 52 people.

e)Saint Peter’s Rugby Club, Cardiff: Free Public Lecture. About 200 people turned up of whom about 120 were able to get into the bar to hear the lecture.

5.Sunday 19 November. Saint David’s R.C. Cathedral, Cardiff: Great Famine Memorial Mass celebrated by His Grace the Archbishop of Cardiff in the presence of the Lord Mayor, the Irish Ambassador and other dignitaries as well as about 600 members of the public.

Events During 1996:

1. Friday 15 March. Saint Peter’s Parish Centre, Cardiff: Social Evening with Irish Music and Song in anticipation of Saint Patrick’s Day.

2. Friday 27 September: Saint Peter’s Parish Centre, Cardiff: Free Public Lecture by local historian, Sean Cleary, ‘Cardiff during the Irish Famine, 1845 – 1850’. The lecture was followed by an evening of Irish music.

2.Friday 18 October: 7.00 pm. Tabernacl Caerdydd, the Welsh Baptists’ Church in the Hayes, Cardiff: Service of Commemoration and Reconciliation for the victims of the Irish Famine and the victims of famine, war and poverty in today’s world. The Service took place in Welsh, English, and Irish and was supported by the presence of the following choirs:

a) A specially formed choir from Saint Patrick’s R.C. Primary School, Grangetown, Cardiff.

b) C™r Plant Caerdydd, a choir drawn from all the Welsh‑medium schools in Cardiff.

c) ‘Có agus Ceoltóirí na hAislinge’, traditional musicians and singers from the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Bray, County Wicklow.

The Irish Ambassador, Mr. Ted Barrington, and Mrs. Barrington, attended this Service which formed part of the 1996 ‘One World Week’ in Cardiff.

3. Sunday 20 October: Saint Peter’s Church, Saint Peter’s Street, Roath, Cardiff: Seán Ó Riada’s Mass: the Mass in Irish composed by Seán Ó Riada, the founder of the group later known as ‘The Chieftains’, was sung by the Gaelic Choir of the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Bray, County Wicklow.

4. Saturday 26 October: 11.00 a.m.: Saint John’s Church, Saint John’s Square, Cardiff: Civic Memorial Service for the victims of the Irish Famine. This Anglican Service, which formed part of this year\’s ‘One World Week’, took place in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Cardiff. The Church of Ireland was represented by the Very Reverend Dr. R.B. MacCarthy, the Provost of Tuam (Galway), who preached the sermon.

5. Saturday 2 November: 10.30 a.m., Chapel of Nazareth House Convent, Colum Road, Cardiff: Requiem Mass on All Souls’ Day for the victims of the Great Famine. This Mass was said in the Tridentine Latin Rite, and over a hundred people were present.

6. Friday 8 November: 7.30 p.m.: Saint Mary’s R.C. Church, Stow Hill, Newport: Requiem Mass for the victims of the Irish Famine. This Mass was followed by a social evening in the adjacent Saint Mary’s Hall. About two hundred and fifty people were present.

Events During 1997:

On 23 December, 1846, the ‘Wanderer’, a small ship full of refugees from the famine, sailed from Baltimore, a little fishing port about 9 miles from Skibbereen. Buffeted by storms and afflicted by fever and other illnesses, the little craft limped into the thriving port of Newport on 1 February, 1847. This ‘voyage of tears’ marked the start of migration from Ireland on a scale not previously seen. This anniversary was remembered during the 10-00 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s R.C. Church, Stow Hill, Newport on Saturday 1 February, 1997.

2. Saturday 8 February: Caerleon Campus, University of Wales College, Newport, from 10.00 a.m.: Day School arranged, at our request, by the Department for Continuing Education, University of Wales, Cardiff and the Department of History, University of Wales College, Newport, to mark the anniversary of the voyage of the ‘Wanderer’ . The theme was ‘The Irish Potato Famine and the Irish Community in Gwent.’. The speakers were:

Patrick Cleary, Skibbereen: ‘The Potato Famine in South‑west Ireland’,

Dr. Louise Miskell, who is based in Aberystwyth: ‘The Anti‑Irish Riots in South Wales’,

Martin Culliford, Newport: ‘The Irish Communities in Newport and the Valleys’.

The Chair was taken in the morning by Noreen Bray of BBC Wales and in the afternoon by Paul Flynn MP for Newport West. Almost 90 people attended this very successful and stimulating event. We are very grateful to Dr. Maddy Gray of the University of Wales, Cardiff, and to Les James of the University of Wales College, Newport for all the arrangements, to the speakers for their stimulating papers, and to Noreen Bray and Paul Flynn, MP for conducting the lectures and leading the discussions so admirably.

3. Thursday 8 May: Saint Peter’s Rugby Club, 118 Newport Road, Cardiff, 8.00 p.m.: Public Lecture, by Sean Cleary: ‘The Irish in Cardiff after the Famine’. This was followed by an evening of Irish and Welsh music and song presented by the well known singer, Dave Burns.

5. Friday 24 October, 7.30 p.m.: Saint David’s Cathedral, Charles Street, Cardiff: Special Memorial Mass to mark the closure on 22 October, 1967, of Saint Paul’s Church, Newtown, Cardiff. This was followed by a buffet reception and social at a hotel just across the road from the former Irish community of Newtown.

6. Saturday 25 October, 11.00 a.m.: Great Famine Memorial Walk. The walk began with a brief memorial service in the former churchyard (now a play area) of the former All Saints Chuch, Trinity Street, where early immigrants from Ireland were buried. The walk then continued to the site of Saint Paul’s Church in Tyndall Street and on to the nearby remains of the former Irish settlement at Newtown before proceeding to the to St. John’s Church (Church in Wales) in the Hayes for concluding prayers and light refreshments.