The Great Famine in Ireland: the Wales Famine Forum
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 (especially Quebec),
Australia, New Zealand and to Great Britain itself.
Many thousands arrived in Wales, especially in the new industrial areas in the south.
At a meeting of the Cardiff Irish Language Society, Comhluadar Caerdydd,
on 30 September, 1994, the matter of what was to be done about the coming 150th anniversary of the
Great Famine in Ireland (1845 ‑1849) was raised. It was decided to place the matter in the
hands of the Secretary (Patrick Egan) and the Chairman (Barry Tobin) who would meet within a few days
to discuss the matter and recommend a course of action.
The question was resolved by the acceptance of their conclusion that it would be too much and too
inappropriate for a small and very language specific group to handle. It was therefore decided to call a
public meeting, with the kind permission of the Parish Priest, Father John Maguire from
County Cavan, at Saint Mary’s Church Hall, Talbot Street, Canton, Cardiff.
That meeting on 12 November, attended by Father Maguire and 21 other people and chaired by Harri
Pritchard‒Jones, decided to set up a Steering Committee which eventually led to the formal launch of
The Wales Famine Forum as an independent organisation at a meeting on 25 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.
Programme for 1995:
1. Wednesday 27 September:
Free Public Lecture in the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay (in which
the writer Roald Dahl was christened); 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,
and the Irish Famine.’ Papers were presented before a capacity attendance of 100 people by Doctor
Christine Kinealy, University of Liverpool, Doctor Paul O’Leary, University of Wales, Aberystwyth,
Doctor 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‑hour 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. Patrick’s
visit was arranged as follows:
a) Wednesday morning: Saint David’s Sixth Form College, Cardiff: Talk to 50 students and their
b) Wednesday evening: The Strikers’ Club, Merthyr Tydfil: Free Public Lecture attended by almost 40
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) Thursday evening: 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. Among those present that evening
was Rhodri Morgan, later First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales.
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.
6. Our Committee met fourteen times during 1995.
Programme for 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
Sean Cleary, Cardiff during the Irish Famine, 1845 – 1850. The lecture was followed by
an evening of Irish music.
3. The Autumn 1996 edition of our magazine in Welsh, Y Ddraig Werdd
4. Friday 18 October: 7.00 p.m.:
Tabernacl Caerdydd, the Welsh Baptists’ Church in the
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) Côr Plant Caerdydd, a choir drawn from all the Welsh‑medium schools in Cardiff.
c) Cór agus Ceoltóirí na hAislinge, a choir and traditional musicians who regularly sing
and play during the weekly Mass in Irish at 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.
5.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.
6.Saturday 26 October:
11.00 a.m.: Saint John’s Church, Saint John’s Square,
Memorial Service for the victims of the Irish Famine. This Anglican Service, which formed part of that 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.
7.Saturday 2 November: 10.30 a.m.:
Chapel of Nazareth House Convent, Colum Road, Cardiff:
Mass on All Souls Day for the victims of the Great Famine. This Mass was said in the Tridentine Latin
11. Our Committee met seventeen times during 1996.
Programme for 1997:
1. Saturday 1 February, 1997:
On Christmas Eve, 1846, a small ship full of refugees from the famine sailed
from Baltimore, a little fishing
port about 9 miles from Skibbereen. Buffetted by storms and afflicted by fever and other illnesses the
little ship 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. A special Memorial Mass to
mark this anniversary was celebrated in Newport.
2. Saturday 8 February:
Caerleon Campus, University of Wales College, Newport: Day School
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
referred to above.
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’; Doctor Paul
O’Leary, University of Wales, Aberystwyth: ‘Pestilence on their backs, famine in their
the famine Irish in south Wales’; and Martin Culliford, Newport: ‘The Irish communities
in Newport and the Valleys’.
Saint Peter’s Parish Centre, Richmond Road, Roath, Cardiff: Sean
a schoolteacher and local historian, spoke on ‘The Irish in Cardiff after the Famine’. This
was followed by an evening of Irish and Welsh music and song presented by local performers.
At St. David’s R.C.Cathedral, Charles Street, Cardiff a special
was celebrated by the Administrator, Fr. Bernard Whitehouse, to mark 30 years since the last Mass was
said in St. Paul’s R.C. Church, which served the people of Newtown, an Irish quarter in the docklands from
That community was scattered following a decision, about 1966, to demolish most of the houses in order
to make way for industrial development.
The Mass was followed by a party in the Cardiff Bay Hotel, which overlooks Tyndall Street in the heart of
what was once Newtown.
This day was marked by a ‘Great Famine Memorial Walk’,
attended by the Irish Ambassador, Mr. Ted Barrington. The Walk began at the site of the former Anglican
(Church in Wales) All Saints Church. The churchyard, which is now a playground, was the last resting place
for many Irish people who died in Cardiff in the first half of the last century, before the opening of the
city's first municipal cemetery in the late 1850s. There the former Vicar of St. David’s Church in Wales, Ely,
Cardiff, Corkman Canon Jack Buttimore, conducted a Memorial Service.
The walkers went next to the site of the former (demolished in the late 1960s) St. Paul’s R.C. Church in
Tyndall Street, around which so many people of Irish descent in the now scattered community of Newtown
once arranged their lives. There Father Ieuan Wyn Jones conducted a R.C. Memorial Service.
The walkers then went to the city centre, stopping on the way to view the statue of Cardiff's most famous
boxer, Jim Driscoll, which had been unveiled the previous day.
The Famine Walk ended at Saint John’s Church in Wales in the city centre. St. John’s is
church, dating from the Norman period. In its Churchyard, as at All Saints, there are the graves of Irish
people who died at a time when only Anglican churches could conduct burials. The Memorial Service there
marked the end of the first Famine Walk in Cardiff, perhaps the first in Wales.
1.Trip to Great Famine sites in Dungarvan and Skibbereen in May. About 19 people from Cardiff took part
in the 5 day visit which included a visit to the Emigration Museum at Cobh in Cork harbour, the port from
which in the age of ocean liners, so many emigrants sailed to a new life.
1. Ireland’s Great Famine and Famine in the World Today
This was the theme of a conference arranged by the Wales Famine Forum which took place at Tabernacl
Caerdydd, the Welsh Baptists’ place of worship in The Hayes, Cardiff, since 1825, on Saturday 27
The event was launched by Conor O’Riordan, the Consul General for Ireland in Wales, who compared
he had read and heard about Ireland’s Great Famine with what he had seen and experienced when he
accompanied David Andrews, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, on a visit to the famine fields of Somalia in
The Consul General was followed by the Reverend Denzil John, the Minister of Tabernacl Caerdydd. He
has been personally involved in aid projects in Nicaragua and the Sudan and he spoke on ’Christ as
He was followed by the Reverend Jeff Williams, Director of Christian Aid, Wales, who spoke about the
Christian Aid strap line, ’Life before Death’.
The next speaker was Sister Patricia Maxwell, from County Leitrim but based in Wales who spoke on
’Living and dying in Sierra Leone’, a moving account of the 8 years she spent in that small
country in West
The last and principal speaker was Don Mullan who travelled from Dublin for the event. Associated by
many with Derry’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January, 1972, which he witnessed as a 15
year-old and later described in a remarkable book, he spoke on ’Ireland’s Great Famine
– Lessons for the Modern World’.
The principal lesson he drew was that famine, both in Ireland long ago and in the world of our own time,
is ‘systemic’, that is, it is a consequence of an unjust political and economic order.
The Cardiff University Centre for Lifelong Learning and the Wales Famine Forum jointly sponsored a free
public lecture by the Irish journalist Tim Pat Coogan to commemorate the end of the Irish Famine 150 years
Tim Pat Coogan, the former Editor of the now defunct Irish Press, is a regular columnist in
He is the author of a biography of Michael Collins, a history of the IRA and a book on the Irish diaspora,
Wherever Green is Worn, published September 2000) which includes
the Irish in Wales, probably the first book of its kind to give them more than a passing footnote.
Over 100 people filled a lecture theatre to hear ‘Tim Pat’ Coogan look at past and present links
and Wales as well as Northern Ireland. The event was chaired by Conor O’Riordan, Consul General of
Ireland in Wales.
Hosted by the Cardiff University Department of Lifelong Learning and arranged in association with The
Wales Famine Forum, this lecture by Professor Cormac Ó
Gráda of the
Department of Economics at University College Dublin was planned for a date in March. However, it was
delayed by the foot and mouth outbreak and was eventually delivered in the Cardiff University Law Building
on Thursday 25 October as part of Cardiff’s ‘One World Week’ programme.
3. Saturday 3 November: Translations, a Study Day on the implications of
translation into English for creative writing, especially poetry, in Welsh and in Irish.
The presenters were Professor Joseph P. Clancy, Professor Declan Kiberd of Dublin, the Welsh poet, Menna Elfyn and
the Irish poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.
Arranged by Doctor Claire Connolly of the Cardiff University School of English, Communication and
Philosophy with the support of the Department of Lifelong Learning in association with the Wales Famine
Forum, this event took place in the Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff with the kind permission of Cardiff City
and County Council.
Financial and other support support was received from the Cultural Committee of the Department of
Foreign Affairs, Dublin, the Welsh Academy, 'Comhluadar Caerdydd'
and the Consulate General of Ireland in Wales.
4. Thursday 15 November: Émile Nelligan (1879 – 1941), the most celebrated poet of
Canada, was the son of an Irish emigrant who settled in Montreal. He died on 18 November 1941 and this
was marked by a Memorial Mass and ‘wake’ at the Cardiff
The attendance included Monsieur Denis Turcotte of the Quebec Government’s
Délégation Général in
London, Jim Carroll the Consul General of Ireland in Wales and Madame Claude Rapport, the
The event was arranged by the Wales Famine Forum with the support of the Chaplain, Father John