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Forgotten victims of the Famine to be remembered in Newry

THE 'forgotten' victims of the Famine will be among those remembered when the annual commemoration crosses the border for the first time.

The 2015 Famine Commemoration will take place in Newry, Co Down on Saturday, September 26 - marking the 250th anniversary of the start of the 'Great Hunger' first began.

By 1911, the island's 8.5 million population had shrunk to just 4.5 million, due to the devastating effects.

In recognition of the fact that the Famine affected all parts of the island, the location of the annual commemoration has rotated in sequence between the four provinces since it began in Dublin in 2008.

The Republic's minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys welcomed Newry's "strong application, the enthusiasm shown by the local community for the project and their determination to mark the occasion in a fitting, respectful and inclusive manner".

It is supported by the Northern Ireland Executive through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Dcal), with the newly-established Newry, Mourne and Down District Council playing "the lead role in organising".

"While the scale of suffering was greater in some parts of Ireland than in others, all parts of the island suffered great loss of life and the destruction of families and communities through emigration," Ms Humphreys said.

Dr Éamon Phoenix said recent re-search "undermines the old idea that Ulster was spared the worst of the effects of the famine".

"In Co Fermanagh, one third of the population died, people from both traditions," he said.

"The Lurgan workhouse for the poor was the third highest for mortality, after Skibbereen in Co Cork and Glenties in Co Donegal.

"These were from diseases of the famine, fever, typhus and cholera that they carried pestilence with them on the road into the towns. Lord Lurgan, a local landowner was one of the victims.

"In Belfast, thousands of people died from famine fever and cholera. Friar's Bush graveyard in Stranmillis has an area known as Plaguey Hill and is the last resting place of 2,000 victims of disease during the Great Famine who died in Belfast.

"Country people, many who were Irish speaking, knew Belfast was Ireland's only industrial city and took the road north, looking for a bowl of soup, a bed in the work house and possibly a cheap ticket to America or even Liverpool."

Dr Phoenix said Newry is an appropriate host for the anniversary as one of the ports through which famine victims fled to Britain and America.

It was also the home of John Mitchel, an Irish solicitor and young Irelander who was transported to Van Diemen's Land where he penned 'The Jail Journal' in which he coined the phrase: "Nature sent the blight, but England sent the famine."

The last commemoration in Ulster was at Clones, Co Monaghan in 2011, attended by Ms Humphreys.

"As an Ulster woman, I look forward to participating in the event in Newry in September," she said.

Dcal minister Carál Ní Chuilín described it was a "landmark initiative in Newry (which) will help communities across this island to better understand the impact and legacy of the famine on all sections and traditions in our society".

* TICKETS: A set of six famine tickets and wooden box used in famine relief in Omagh in 1847 donated to Linen Hall Library PICTURE: Mal McCann

* CEMETERY: Friar's Bush graveyard in Stranmillis - the last resting place of 2,000 victims of Great Famine who died in Belfast

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