British MP remembers Mayo Famine victims in song

Greg Mulholland is an MP and a singer/songwriter.

Greg Mulholland is an MP and a singer/songwriter.

A British MP has penned a song to remember the Mayo Famine victims, from Kiltimagh and Ballina in particular, who fled to the small town of Otley in Yorkshire in search of refuge during the Great Hunger in the mid 1800s.

Five piece folk group Summercross, of which Leeds Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mullholland is a member, have now joined forces with the Mayo Manchester Business and Tourism group to launch the song, called ‘Irish Fields’.

The song tells the story of an Otley solicitor at the time, Thomas Constable, who along with his sister Mary, offered refuge and hope to 500 famine victims escaping the mass starvation and disease which devasted the country between 1845 and 1852.

The song is to be launched at the Levenshulme Community Festival in south Manchester on November 7.

Mr Mulholland said the failure of the government of that time to respond effectively to the Irish famine was a “disgrace” but the song recalls one of the stories of hope and charity that shone through despite the “humanitarian disaster of immense proportions” unfolding in Ireland.

“One such story is that of Otley and the actions of local man Thomas Constable who saved many lives and made the town a beacon of hope for some 500 people who made it to Otley and were able to begin a new life.

“As a songwriter, I felt this was a story that should be told through music and I hope I have captured something of the individual personal story of a family who have heard from a relative about Otley and, burned out of their home, set off to try to get there, not knowing if they would make it or die on the way.

“I hope that ‘Irish Fields’ will draw more attention to this shared history between Otley and Ireland and the song is also a tribute to the 52 people who made it to Otley but were already too ill and died. This is a story that needs to be told and I hope that ‘Irish Fields’ does it justice.”

Many descendants of the Irish refugees who settled in Otley still live there today and the town also erected two memorials dedicated to the Famine victims who died there.

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