Deputy Head of Mission Michael Lonergan, Embassy of Ireland, Washington DC
My name is Michael Lonergan. I am the Deputy Chief of Mission here at the Irish Embassy in Washington DC, and formerly I served as Consul General in Boston.
Although, of course, I had always been aware of the importance of the Great Irish Famine, An Gorta Mór, in Irish history, it was only when I came to Boston in 2009 that I think I became fully aware of just the enormous place it occupies in the folk history of Irish-America. I was in Boston when we unveiled the new famine memorial in Charleston, and obviously I took part in a lot of events where we used the wonderfully evocative famine memorial in downtown Boston, which really is a great symbolization of the story of the Famine. I was there when we made Boston the international city of famine commemoration in 2013 when President Higgins came and gave a very rousing speech in Faneuil Hall to 600 people all about the Famine and its importance.
So many Irish-Americans trace their roots to people who came either during the Famine years or in the immediate aftermath. It is understandable that it occupies this enormous place in the history of Irish-America. I think that there are still so many resonances of the Famine to this day.
We still have a million and a half people less on the island of Ireland than we had in 1841 – something that is unique around the world to have a smaller population than we had one hundred and seventy years ago, and that’s entirely down to the Famine. The social geography and demographics suggest that if we hadn’t had the Famine the population of the island of Ireland now would be fifteen million people, which is something to ponder about. That is over double what it currently is. It would be an entirely different kind of Ireland, and entirely different kind of economy and economic model over the last one hundred, one hundred and fifty years, and so on.
So we can see that the Famine is one of these great departing points of Irish history, where we went down one very dark road where things could have gone in another direction.
So I think that events like this here in the Embassy commemorating the Famine are hugely important. It is great to have Christine Kinealy here tonight speaking from Quinnipiac. It is great to have the people from Strokestown yesterday. I think the very popular role played by Famine Studies, by historical lectures, by the increasing number of books and research papers on this topic underlines the great interest that lies out there – not just in Ireland or in Irish-America, but worldwide in famine.
Finally, it also reminds us very importantly that famine is unfortunately not just a historical phenomenon: famine is still an issue today in many parts of the developing world.
So for all these reasons I think that this is a very good event to have, and we are delighted with all of the support that we have got from the local community here. I know that the Roadshow as it travels around the country will attract large crowds wherever it goes. Thank you very much.