• LOCATION 39 | A Guide to Galway by Bike: Hidden Gems, Haunting Stories and Stunning Vistas

    Famine Memorial 2

    It's dedicated to Celia Griffin, one child of many who died on the streets of Galway during the famine.

    The potato was introduced from the Americas to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1500s. The population of Ireland adopted the spud as its main staple as one acre of land could feed a family of five or six. Between 1800 and 1841 the population grew from 5 million to 8 million. A family of six would eat 5 tonnes of potatoes a year, with the majority surviving on them alone. In 1845 a blight arrived in Ireland from North America and infected the crop. Between the years of 1846 and 1850 over a million died of starvation and disease, while 1.5 million would emigrate. It was a traumatic event in the history of the country. The potato continues to be a staple of the Irish diet today, with the average adult consuming 120kg a year.

    The story of the 6-year-old Celia Griffin is a potent one and emblematic of the fate of many children during on Gorta Mor (The Great Famine) which lasted from 1845 to 1850. Celia was brought up on the Martin Estate in Connemara. The family were starving and like many began the long walk to Galway City to avail of relief. The arrival of these people from the hinterland was not welcomed by many townspeople and in some cases, the army was dispatched to stop them from entering for fear of looting the produce which was stored at the docks for export.

    It is known that Celia and her siblings were fed at the Orphans Breakfast Institute on Lombard Street before being taken into the Convent on Presentation Road. However, she later collapsed and died. Following an inquest into her death, it was found that there was not a particle of food in her stomach and she was effectively just skin and bone. The monument is a symbol to represent the multitudes of children lost to the famine and the potential that was snuffed out by political indifference.

    During the starvation, many soup kitchens were established in the city, feeding up to 7,500 people a day. There were several workhouses also established, however by the time many were admitted they were too weak to work, in 1847 11,000 people died in the workhouse alone. Several vessels that brought cornmeal as part of the relief efforts doubled as passenger ships to America. However, such were the cramped conditions on these voyages and the prevalence of a disease that they were dubbed Coffin Ships. The city suffered a decline of fortunes after the famine with many of the large landlords going bankrupt and having their property acquired under the Encumbered Estates Act.

A Guide to Galway by Bike: Hidden Gems, Haunting Stories and Stunning Vistas