Four days of Mayo Famine Commemorations came to an end in Ballina at the weekend with the unveiling of a statue to the c 137 Mayo girls sent to Australia from Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar and Westport workhouses 1848-50 under the Early Grey scheme. The events also honoured all the county’s famine victims, those who died and those forced to emigrate.
The four page programme incorporated the unveiling of a commemorative quilt with all the names of the girls seen on patches by people from around the world, including some of the descendants of the famine girls. The quilt was an initiative of the Ballina Costume Company.
Over the four days an exhibition on the Ear Grey scheme and the Mayo girls was held in the Jackie Clarke collection. An illustrated talk by author Terry Reilly featured the central character in his book, Mayo’s Forgotten Famine Girls, was given in Ballina Library on the Thursday night.
The culmination of the week was the unveiling of the bronze statue outside Ballina Library. Thus was performed by three of the daughters of the donor, Frank Kerins, Fiona, Michelle and Samantha, and wreaths were laid by Pearse Farrell, representing the Australian Ambassador, Richard Andrews; by the Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor; the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Blackie Gavin, and the Ballina Organising Committee of the events. An ecumenical prayer service was conducted by Bishop of Killala John Fleming, the Revds Stephen McWhirther and his wife, Jennifer, and the Revd Molly Dethridge, Presbyterian Church.
Gifts to mark the occasion were presented by master wood turner, Willie Creighton, while the Men In Arbour Hill, through Governor Liam Dowling and Mark O’Brien, presented a beautifully designed travel box, a representation of the wooden box in which the girls carried their possessions to Australia.
Foxford Brass Band entertained the crowds gathering around the statue, while earlier inside the building the St Mary’s Secondary School Choir, under director Regina Deacy, sang the Irish and Australian National Anthems, the Orphan Girl and You Raise Me Up in front of composer Brendan Graham and the capacity attendance.
Names of 137 read out by students and forage members drawn from throughout Mayo
Earlier that morning a Commemoration Mass for all our famine victims was celebrated by Bishop John Fleming in St Patrick’s Church, Ballina .
The attendance included Michael Blanch, chairman of the National Famine Commemoration Committee.
All events attracted capacity attendance.