Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

DSC_4290My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.

This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.

It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!

While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.

Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.

While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.

While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!

You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/

About the Monument

Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.

Bridget Donovan wasn't on the list... missing in action yet again!!

The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.

The Plaque

The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:

“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”

Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.

Bridget would have worn something like this simple dress...Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

I have written about Bridget Donvon’s Journey more extensively in my other blog: Finding Bridget, which you can check out here: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

You can also read about our Irish night where we cooked up an Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and had it with Australian Pavlova to commemorate 160 years since John Curtin, an Irish Sailor who went on to become a Stove Maker in Sydney’s Surry Hills: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/

xx Rowena

2 thoughts on “Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

  1. Elizabeth Hein

    The monument sounds like a lovely tribute to all the people who left Ireland during the famine. Many people emigrated to the United States during the famine,as well. Some of my ancestors left Ireland and settled in New England. I know very little about that part of my family other than they all seemed to work on the railroad.

  2. roweeee Post author

    There are two fabulous books by Irish author, Brendan Graham about a women’s journey through the Irish Famine and out to Australia and Boston.Brendan Graham is also a very accomplished song writer. He wrote “You Raise Me Up”, which I really should learn to play on my violin. It’s such a beautiful and inspiring piece of music.

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