Four days of Mayo famine commemorations in Ballina

The presentation of a representation of the wooden travel box in which circa 137 Mayo workhouse orphan girls’ carried their possessions to Australia in 1848-50, and the unveiling of a quilt bearing their names, will feature as part of four days of The Great Famine Remembrance, which take place in Ballina from Tuesday October 16 to Friday October 19.

The beautifully designed travel box has been hand-crafted by men in Arbour Hill, where the joinery shop has in the past also produced Doll Play houses for Crumlin and Temple Street Children's Hospitals.

The commemorative quilt is the brainchild and work of Ballina Costume Company and various groups and organisations throughout the county, and also in Australia, where descendants of the girls have been involved. Both items will remain on public display in perpetuity in Ballina.

The commemorations get underway in the Jackie Clarke Centre in Ballina on Tuesday, October 16 at 6.30pm, when the quilt will have its reveal. Also on the night there will be the opening of an evocative famine exhibition, a performance by Atlantic Rhythm and music and song, with refreshments courtesy of Cot and Cobble restaurant.

On Wednesday October 17 an all-day famine exhibition runs in the Jackie Clarke Centre from 10am to 5pm and will include a fascinating famine workshop for secondary schools from 12 to 2pm, while on Thursday night, October 18 at 8pm, an illustrated talk will be given by Terry Reilly in the local library. Entitled Winnie’s Story, it tells of the life and times of Winifred Jane Nealis, one of the girls sent to Australia from Ballina workhouse and a central character in Mayo’s Forgotten Famine Girls.

The fourth and final day, Friday October 19, commences with a Mass of Remembrance for the orphan girls, their descendants and all the famine victims of the county, in St Patrick’s Church, Ballina at 10am, which will be celebrated by Bishop John Fleming. The church overlooks St Joseph’s Hospital, the site of the workhouse and its adjacent burial ground.

The ceremony for the unveiling of the bronze statue memorial commences at 12 noon at Ballina Library, with musical presentations by the local St Mary’s Secondary school choir and Foxford Brass Band. The unveiling of the statue will be performed by Ballina businessman, Mr Frank Kerins. An ecumenical blessing will be imparted by the leaders of churches in the town, while Foroige members from the workhouse areas from which the girls were sent, will roll-call their names.

Floral tributes will be laid in remembrance of the girls and all from the county who died during the great famine. Ardagh Foroige members, who have been involved in the planning, will be dressed in period costume, complete with distinctive workhouse bonnets.

The planning and execution of the Famine Girls’ commemoration has been carried out by a hardworking local committee, schools, representatives of many organisations, and Michael Blanch, chairman of the Committee for the Commemoration of the Irish Famine Victims, Mark O’Brien, Assistant Chief Officer, Arbour Hill, and many more.

The attendance will include the Australian Ambassador, Richard Andrews, and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education. Refreshments will be provided courtesy of the Ice House, Ballina.

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