The Famine Walk project is an annual walk commemorating those who died in the Irish Famine and about linking the famine experience in Ireland with contemporary issues of famine and food insecurity in the world.
It aims to raise awareness about current injustices by reflecting on our own historical experience. History is often understood as something that relates only to the past; this project looks at the relevance of our history today.
- 200 members of the general public
- 4 walk leaders from local community and beyond:
- Singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke
- 30 schoolchildren from a local national school (Holy Family National School in Killeen). The acrostic poetry created by the students on the what they thought the famine meant and the charcoal drawings of famine cottages can be viewed online at the Louisburgh & Killeen Heritage website.
- 15 students from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) (as a means of extending its development education impact)
The Famine Walk was held in May 2013 – This event has happened annually since 1988. Visit to GMIT to extend development education impact in November 2013, as well as follow up visit in February 2014.
Recommended timeframe – over the course of an academic year.
3 Big Ideas
The project has explored the importance of food sovereignty as a response to famine and hunger in our world. The three big ideas of the project are:
- Retracing the footsteps of a walk from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge taken by 600 destitute people in the Spring of 1849.
- Inviting a person from the developing world to be part of the walk as an expression of solidarity.
- Symbolic opening of the gates of Delphi Lodge to walkers carrying the names of those who died on the original walk.
- Famine Walk brochure explaining the history and significance of the walk.
- Banner and placards with names of those who died on the original walk of 1849 and those who died from famines recently in the developing world.
- Tree and potatoes which were planted during the walk, as a symbol of hope.
- “Walk in progress” signs as well as reflective writings relevant to the theme which are displayed along the walk route.
Afri material in relation to Famine Walks for the previous 25 years was useful during this process.
As the 150th anniversary of An Gorta Mór approached in 1995 Afri believed it was important to commemorate this tragic event in Irish history in order to remember the famine dead, to learn the lessons, and to explore its relevance for today. In 1988 Afri staff, Don Mullan and Joe Murray, brought together a group of people with relevant expertise in relation to famine and history – including local people – and initiated the first Famine Walk.
- We studied history of the famine period and discovered the story about the tragedy of Doolough.
- We visited the Doolough valley with a view to retracing the famine walk of 1849.
- We met people in the local community in order to work out the practical details of organising such a walk.
- We invited walk leaders.
- We publicised the event.
Case Study: walking in solidarity for food sovereignty
The 2013 Famine Walk was entitled “Opening the Gates, Sowing New Seeds.” The theme was food sovereignty for all, as a response to the scandal of extreme food shortages in one part of the world and the gross excess in the other.
In 2013, for the first time, the gates of Delphi Lodge (from which the original walkers were turned away in 1849) were opened and the walkers were welcomed in, carrying the names of those who died in the original walk and also names of some who have died in recent famines. The opening of the gates was a richly symbolic act and had a strong educational strand, representing a much needed opening of gates to marginalised and excluded people by governments and financial institutions. It also represented a demand to make food sovereignty, the elimination of poverty and the preservation of the planet the number one global priority.
The Famine Walk is an example of good practice in development education as it has a creative, active and participative approach to development education. Unlike many development education events which are classroom bound, it involves many different elements, including walking, music, tree planting, theatre, talks, and an opportunity to discuss the content while walking. Afterwards, at Board level and with the local community groups, Afri engages in a process of reflection in order to learn lessons for future use.
- Carefully chosen walk leaders/speakers
- Incorporation of music at the beginning and end of the event
- Planting of a tree and potatoes – the tree will remain as a focus in a reflective garden in Delphi Lodge remembering past and current famines
- Having a natural finishing point for the walk in Delphi Lodge – this is a new dimension to the Famine Walk
- Linking the walk to Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
- Having a short film of the event which is displayed on our website.
- Weather was atrocious (but perhaps appropriate)
- Whereas the location is extremely historically appropriate and an area of great natural beauty, it also requires considerable effort and commitment for participants to travel to such a remote location
The fact that the proprietor of Delphi Lodge approached Afri after 25 years of holding the Famine Walk in Louisburgh with a view to getting involved in the Famine Walk is an indication of the degree to which the Famine Walk has succeeded in becoming a significant annual event, both nationally and in the local area. Delphi Lodge realised the potential benefit of being linked to this event, despite the fact the message of the event challenges the historical role of Delphi Lodge during the Irish famine.
We measured our goals by surveying participants. The GMIT link, in particular, provides a target group with which more in-depth surveys can be carried out.
Links to Project Activities
- Brochure for the Famine Walk 2013
- Report on the Famine Walk 2013
- Reporting in local newspaper The Mayo News (14 May 2013 by Áine Ryan)
Short film about the Famine Walk 2013. Opening the Gates: Sowing New Seeds by Dave Donnellan:
One of the signs carried on during the 2013 Famine Walk, carried an inscription “They All Had Names” to indicate that many of those who died on the walk during the famine, and in continuing famines today, remain nameless and forgotten.
Afri also launched at the 2013 Famine Walk a report on famine graveyards in Ireland province by province entitled “They All Had Names” (2013) (Copies of this publication are available from the Afri office. If you would like to buy a copy please contact the Afri office: 01 8827563/ 8827581 or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org).