‘Irish Women in Literature’

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It was lovely to revisit Strokestown Park House to participate in their two day Irish Women in Literature Symposium which was opened by Councillor Orla Leden, Cathaoirleach of Roscommon and had a special focus on the forgotten women of Irish Literature

Professor Christine Kinealy of Quinnipac University gave us a fascinating account of the life of Fanny Parnell and her writing and immense contribution to Irish Nationalism.

Professor Luke Gibbons of Maynooth University, provided an absorbing insight into the world of Irish Women Writers some who hailed from Roscommon. He talked about the huge success enjoyed  by the work of Charlotte O Connor Eccles, , Grace Little Rhys, and the  prolific Bitha May Croker who  wrote 50 novels and had ‘The Road to Mandalay’ filmed. Much of their work is unfortunately now out of print but certainly these women deserve to be remembered for their contribution to Irish literature.

Nuala O’Connor talked about her work and read from ‘Miss Emily’ and a wonderful short story that has just been published in her new collection ‘Joyride to Jupiter ‘.

On Friday Dr Margaret Corporaal, Assoc Professor of Radboud University, Holland  gave us an in depth  talk about the life and work of Mary Anne Sadlier , who emigrated to Canada in 1844 and with her writing came to represent  the voice of the Irish Catholic Diaspora.

Strokestown Poetry presented a talented group of Roscommon Poets Reading from their work with Jessamine O’Connor finishing up a wonderful few days by reading from The Hermit Collective.

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 Jason King, Mary Butler, Nuala O’Connor, Orla Leden, Caroilin Callery, Christine Kinealy & Marita Conlon-McKenna

The Famine Way Walkers – Remembering The Great Famine

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The national famine way walkers crossing the gangplank.

Well done to The National Famine Way Walkers led by Caroilin Callery who completed their 150km long journey from Strokestown Park House to Dublin’s Eden Quay on Thursday 1st June. They were walking to commemorate the 1490 evicted tenants of Strokestown Park House, who were being sent by their landlord on assisted passage to Canada in late May 1847.

These men, women and children led by the bailiff and his men followed the path of The Royal Canal as they walked all the long way to Dublin. Although tired and exhausted, I’m sure hope and excitement must have filled their hearts as they saw the River Liffey and boarded the ships that would take them to Liverpool. From there the group would begin the long sea voyage across theAtlantic to Canada.

Many already weak would not survive the poor conditions at sea; others on their arrival in Quebec would die in the crowded fever sheds of Grosse Isle. For those that survived, Canada offered an opportunity for new life, a new beginning and a freedom that they had not known before as they began to settle and create a new life away from Ireland.

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The national famine way walkers in Dublin City.

As the walkers appeared wearing famine costume and crossed Dublin’s busy city street a hush fell among all of us gathered to greet them.

They walked slowly along the cobbles by Rowan Gillespie’s haunting bronze famine figures, real and imagined mingling, as they continued on to the Jeanie Johnson ship which is moored nearby on Spencer Dock on the quays. Crossing the gangplank on to the ship some gave a small wave as one by one they boarded. Their faces and movements symbolised all those that must have boarded such ships during the dark days of the Great Irish Famine.

Watching them it felt like the ghosts of the 1,490 had returned to Dublin and walked our streets once more.

Thank you to everyone involved for bringing this important part of our history to life

President Higgins – start of National Famine Way

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Caroilin Callery and Famine Way Walkers with President Michael D. Higgins.

President Michael D. Higgins came to Cloondara to celebrate and mark the Two Hundred Year Anniversary of the opening of The Royal Canal, which has been restored and is an important part of our waterways. He also launched the National Famine Way Walk which follows along the Royal Canal from Cloondara in County Longford to Dublin.

The National Famine Way commemorates the 1490 evicted tenants forced by  landlord Denis Mahon of Strokestown  Park House in Roscommon to walk to Dublin to board ships that would take them to Liverpool and then on to Canada in May 1847. Many unfortunately perished on the arduous journey.

Young and old, women and children, the evicted tenants, who were being escorted by a bailiff, had to be given shoes to help them walk as they did not even possess any of their own.

President Higgins spoke movingly to the large crowds about The Great Irish Famine and all those who were forced to emigrate.  He unveiled a sculpture of a bronze pair of child’s shoes to represent the 1490 tenants, before sending The National Famine Way Walkers off on their five day journey.

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The Famine Way Walkers with Jim Callery of Strokestown Park House

I found it strangely emotional to watch The Famine Way Walkers as they are a grim reminder of all those who footsore and hungry had to make such journeys during Ireland’s Great Famine.

The walkers include Caroilin Callery of Strokestown Park House and a number of Irish Famine academics and experts who set off in torrential rain on their long 155km walk from Richmond Harbour in Cloondara, County Longford to Dublin’s Eden Quay.

I am hoping lots of walkers and walking clubs, schools and students and history lovers will come out to join them on their way.

Check out their route on nationalfamineway.ie