Phoenix Remembers
the Great Hunger

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the National Famine Commemoration, Stephen St. Car Park, Sligo.

By Irish America Staff
October / November 2019

The 2019 International Commemoration of the Great Irish Famine will take place in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, November 3.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, Josepha Madigan T.D., made the announcement in July. 

“This year’s commemoration represents an opportunity to not only recognize the work of the Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library in Phoenix itself, but to honor the memory of those who left Ireland during the Famine itself, the subsequent years of emigration which saw many Famine Irish and their descendants make an enormous contribution to the western U.S., and the ongoing role of the Irish diaspora and Irish Americans in Arizona and throughout the western U.S,” Madigan commented.

This will be the fifth time the commemoration has been held in the United States, having previously been hosted in New York, Boston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Phoenix will be the westernmost venue to date.

An Gorta Mór Great Hunger Memorial in Phoenix, Arizona.

With a total of 10 international commemorations since its inception in 2009, the event has also been held in Toronto, Quebec, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The commemoration in Phoenix coincides with the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the city’s Great Hunger Memorial, commissioned by the Irish Cultural Center in 1999. Designed by Phoenix artist Maureen McGuire, the memorial takes the form of a dolmen and stands on the grounds of the center. 

McGuire, who grew up in an Irish enclave of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, also designed the stained-glass windows of the center, which themselves are works of art. The entire complex looks like it just got transported from an Ireland of centuries ago. 

The center contains three buildings – the Great Hall, the Cottage and the Castle – that surround a central Clos, or large courtyard, and An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger Memorial). The Great Hall contains Irish artwork, a fireplace with stone from County Clare, and hosts regular dancing, swordfighting, and other cultural activities, while the Cottage is a replica of a typical 1850s Irish cottage.

Towering over both, the Castle houses McClelland Library and serves as a place to study genealogy, attend classes, and view exhibits from Irish history. In fact, a color fascimile of the famed eighth-ninth-century New Testament manuscript the Book of Kells resides there on permanent display.

Regular, seasonal, and annual events at the complex include Christmas at the Castle, the Winter Solstice Celebration, genealogy workshops, family story hour, celtic singing, ceili dancing, and more. You can also take classes in music, dancing, art, genealogy, language, and drama. Tours are available during normal open hours and start at the Cottage.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the annual national commemoration revolves between the four provinces. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. officiated at the 2019 National Famine Commemoration which took place in Sligo on Sunday, May 19, paying tribute to the more than 2,000 famine victims who are buried on the grounds of what is now St. John’s Community Hospital in Ballytivnan, a townland in Calry Civil Parish, in Barony, County Sligo. 

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