A return to his home town and the official duty of unveiling a memorial plaque, commemorating the memory of those Great Hunger victims who died in the Athlone Union Workhouse, awaited Deputy Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran on Saturday morning.
The brainchild of the Athlone Down Memory Lane group, the detailed memorial plaque, is placed at St. Mary’s Hall for public viewing.
Speaking prior to the official unveiling, Deputy Moran noted the historic, but sad aura which encompassed the workhouse during this particular period of time.
“Here in Athlone this morning, through the unveiling of this memorial plaque, we are commemorating and sharing the important stories of the people of this place. They are, in many cases, tragic stories of poverty, hunger and loss.
“The newspaper accounts of those who lived and died in Athlone Workhouse makes for sad reading. Athlone workhouse operated from 1841 to 1921.
“It opened its doors to paupers on October 21s, 1841 and admitted its first inmates a month later on November 22. It was designed to accommodate 900 inmates.
“However, by 1848, an astonishing 1,899 people were living within its crowded walls with many others being turned away.
“Earlier that same year, the newspapers had reported that two young boys, John and James Colohan, had died here from ‘extreme cold’, having been turned out of Athlone workhouse.
“Athlone suffered greatly during the Great Hunger years and conditions in the workhouse were dire. Food shortages were common, sanitation was poor and diseases such as typhus fever, cholera and dysentery were widespread.
“A fever hospital was built which later became known as St. Vincent’s Hospital which by 1915 had 200 patients.
“It is important to reflect and remember the hardships, the pain and the suffering of our past generations and to commemorate those from Athlone and surrounding areas who died during those terrible years,” Deputy Moran remarked.
Deputy Moran commended all those involved with the community initiative, in particular, Liam Gaffey and the Athlone Down Memory Lane group whose idea it was to erect a commemorative plaque.