Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 09:21 UK

Ireland to mark famine disaster

Illustration of Irish Famine (Mary Evans Picture Library)
About one million people died in the famine in the 1840s

The victims of the Irish Famine are to be remembered in an annual official memorial day, which is to be established in the Republic of Ireland.

It is believed that about one million people in Ireland starved in the 1840s after the failure of the potato crop.

Hundreds of thousands of others emigrated during the disaster, sparking a worldwide Irish diaspora.

The Irish government has set up an expert group to organise a yearly event.

Making the announcement, Community Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv said a committee would consider the various possibilities.

The minister, a grandson of former Taoiseach and President Eamon De Valera, said: "The effects of the Great Famine are still evident today and its legacy has given Irish people an appreciation of issues such as food security and a strong commitment to humanitarian aid and relief.

"If the Famine didn't happen, there could be 12 million people living in Ireland and eight million could be native Irish speakers."

The Famine resulted in large Irish communities settling in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

"These diaspora communities - the Irish abroad - still demonstrate a significant affinity with their migrant predecessors of the Famine," said Mr O Cuiv.

Michael Blanch
Michael Blanch felt the famine's place in history was neglected

The Famine has also been blamed for the decline of the Irish language.

The Dublin-based Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, has run a lobbying campaign for five years for such a memorial.

Taxi driver Michael Blanch, who set up the committee, first held a commemoration in central Dublin in 2003 when only he and his wife Betty attended.

The committee has since held an annual procession from the capital's Garden of Remembrance to Famine sculptures on the banks of the River Liffey.

"Today is a great day to be Irish. The Famine was a sad part of our history but has been badly neglected by successive governments," he said.

"The victims of the Famine and generations of Irish emigrants who contributed so much to Ireland will be given the respect and recognition they deserve."

An annual Famine commemoration day has been held in Montreal in Canada since 1859.

The population of Ireland, which exceeded eight million in the Census of 1841, was reduced by approximately 1.5 million through death and emigration.

Only 10 years later, the 1851 Census recorded a population of only 6.5 million.

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