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Glasgow City Council

Dedication of Glasgow's Irish & Highland Famine Memorial

Glasgow today remembered those who suffered in the Great Famine and the enduring contribution of refugees and their descendants to the city's culture and character, at the unveiling of an Irish and Highland Famine Memorial.

Depute Council Leader Cllr David McDonald, Irish Minister Joe McHugh and historian Professor Sir Tom Devine took part in a simple dedication ceremony at Glasgow Green this morning; as the memorial garden was opened beside the People's Palace.

Featuring plants and stone native to Ireland and the Highlands, the memorial interprets the journey made by refugees, forced to flee home.

It not only recalls the suffering and loss of thousands of refugees who came to Glasgow, but the trials they faced on their arrival. Most significantly, it also recognises their role - and that of their descendants - in shaping the modern city.

Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council, Cllr David McDonald said: "Today, we acknowledge the part the Irish and the Gael played in shaping modern Glasgow.

"This memorial to a defining and desperate episode in Glasgow's history is a tribute and acknowledgement to those who experienced famine - along with those who followed and helped to build and shape this city and its unique character.

"It also offers an opportunity to reflect on how far we've come collectively as a city.

"The treatment of those who arrived on ships from Derry and Donegal and by foot or by cart from the Highlands was not always hospitable. However, 170 years on, we are privileged to be able to say Glasgow remains home to one of the world's great Irish diaspora - and a city proud to be home to more Scots Gaelic speakers than anywhere else in the country." 

Famine ravaged huge swathes of Europe in the mid-1840s and millions died or were displaced over a number of years. Ireland suffered particularly badly and it is thought that more than a million people were forced to emigrate - with as many as 100,000 of them arriving in Glasgow.

Thousands also arrived from the Highlands and Islands due to the blight, either settling in the city, or continuing their journey to the new world.

Joe McHugh TD represented the Irish Government at this morning's event, hosted by Bailie Norman MacLeod on behalf of the Lord Provost. Mr McHugh is Minister for the Irish language, Gaeltacht and the Islands and a former Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development.

He said: "I am grateful to Glasgow City Council for inviting me to represent the Government of Ireland at the unveiling ceremony for the Irish and Highland Famine Memorial.

"The Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, was a very dark chapter in Irish history, which caused a million people to die from hunger and disease and two million more to flee from their native land. The historic experience of the famine continues to have an extraordinary resonance for Irish people today, and it casts a long shadow on successive generations scattered across the globe.
 
"A large number of those who were forced to leave Ireland came to Glasgow and to the west of Scotland. It is fitting, therefore, that as we commemorate the historic tragedy of the famine, we recall and acknowledge the enormous impact that Irish famine migrants had on Scotland and the positive contribution they and their descendants have made over many decades in shaping the modern city of Glasgow.

"That recognition is important and I welcome the initiative taken by Glasgow City Council in developing this memorial."

The Depute Leader and Minister were joined at the new memorial by the pre-eminent historian of modern Scotland, Professor Sir Tom Devine.

He said: "Glasgow City Council is to be warmly congratulated on the Inauguration of the Irish and Highland Famine Memorial on Glasgow Green.

"The massive influx of refugees from the famines of the 1840s caused the greatest human crisis in the history of the city. It is important therefore that is remembered by this and subsequent generations.

"Fittingly, this is an overtly inclusive memorial which recognises the sufferings of both Catholic and Protestant Irish victims of the catastrophe as well as that of Highland Gaels.

"The memorial also provides an opportunity to mark the significant contribution which the descendants of the Irish and Highland refugees of that time have made to the economy, culture and politics of Glasgow over the last 160 years or so.

"That is a potent reminder for today of how immigration, even of the displaced and distressed, can ultimately have a positive impact on the host society."
 
The new memorial was developed by Glasgow's Memorials Working group, following a motion by Cllr Feargal Dalton, which was seconded by former Bailie James Scanlon and received overwhelming support from around the Council chamber. In doing so, the group established a broad and inclusive membership - both in terms of political groups within the council and community representatives.

It asked pupils from four city schools to work together and with the support of artists to explore not only the famine, but its influence on Glasgow - right up to the present day. Young people taking part attended Rosshall Academy, Lourdes Secondary, St Thomas Aquinas Secondary and Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu (Glasgow Gaelic School) and worked together at the Tramway's visual arts studios.

They proposed a landscaped memorial; using the land itself, native plants and materials. These designs were further interpreted and developed by council landscape architects and expert gardeners, to create the memorial. Interpretation boards and an educational display and exhibition has also been developed, with input from academics and historians.

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