Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial
At the time of the famine, and for centuries before it, Ireland was not an independent country free to determine its own destiny. By virtue of English military conquest, Ireland had become part of what came to be know as the British Empire. In the process, many Irish Catholics were forced to become tenant farmers or landless laborers who survived by growing their potatoes on small, poor quality plots of land.
When the potato crop first failed late in 1845 Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, ordered food supplies sent to Ireland for distribution to the hungry at low cost. Peel believed
Above all, Russell believed in protecting the rights of private property owners and in the promotion of a free market economy in both Britain and Ireland. In fact the government believed so strongly in the economic principle of noninterference in trade that it allowed the export from Ireland of abundant supplies of meat and grain during all the famine years. Policies such as these outraged public opinion around the world and forced the British government, eventually, to provide direct famine relief.
Early in 1847, "Black '47" as this year is known in Irish history, the British government reluctantly established soup kitchens throughout Ireland to feed people at public expense. Remarkably, these soup kitchens provided food for
During the later years of the Famine many survivors were too weak or sick to work and so they could not pay rent which they owed to their landlords. It is estimated that nearly fifty thousand entire families were evicted from their homes for nonpayment of rent between 1849 and 1851 alone. For most of these people, emigration was the only alternative to death from starvation or disease on the roads or in the grim and deadly government sponsored 'workhouses" in Ireland.
So it was that many thousands of sick, hungry, dispossessed people-often bringing with them little more than the clothes on their backs- boarded ships bound for the United States or other countries. These small vessels, often called "coffin ships," were sometimes small, unseaworthy, unsanitary, and greatly overcrowded. Numerous
By Donald Donovan Deignan, Ph.D.
This memorial is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Great Famine of 1845-1851. It also pays tribute to their immigrant descendants who, generation after generation, have so greatly enriched the life of America in general and of Rhode Island in particular.
Some Irish-Catholic immigrants came to Rhode Island before the Great Famine. Several thousand worked on public construction projects like Fort Adams and the Blackstone canal in the 1830s. Despite backbreaking labor, they earned only a thin slice of economic salvation in exchange for a heavy loaf of discrimination. The state's Yankee population, descendants of early English settlers, despised the Irish here as much as they had within the confines of the British Isles. Ancient prejudices reappeared.
In 1842 a civil upheaval in Rhode Island- the Dorr Rebellion- aimed to expand the right to vote to most white males, including Irish
The Famine Generation that sought refuge here in the 1840s and 1850s, impoverished and unskilled, supercharged the dislike of the Irish by their increasing presence. NO IRISH NEED APPLY signs pock-marked many of the state's factories and workshops, segregating these families into dead-end jobs, poverty, and drinking. Our ancestors filled the poor houses, orphanages, and unmarked graves.
As their numbers grew, however, the Irish reset their social compass in this new land. They built magnificent places of worship, established literary and temperance societies, and flooded the Democratic party with organizers and orators. They marched proudly in an almost unbroken succession of St. Patrick's day parades, joined nationalists and independence groups to assist Irish Freedom, and welcomed revolutionaries and politicians from the "Old Sod" who made obligatory stops here on national tours.
Irish women found sustenance as seamstresses, textile mill operatives, domestic servants, and teachers.
Before the dawn of the twentieth century, the Irish became the largest ethnic group in Rhode Island, the nation's first state with a Catholic majority. Legendary political figures stood on the shoulders of their common countryman to bring power, patronage, and pride to the state's urban corridors. During the 1930s the offspring of the Great Famine faced the Great Depression. Nationally, they supported Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Locally they participated in the Bloodless Revolution in 1935 that constitutionally unseated the same politicos in charge of the state since the Dorr War in 1842. A constellation of Hibernian figures, weaned on the legend of the Irish diaspora but trained in American ways, broke the final barriers of discrimination and eventually filled every political office and occupational niche.
In 1906 a famine refuge, Patrick J. McCarthy, became the first and only Mayor of Providence. he often ended his speeches with an impromptu rendition of the Irish patriotic song,
McCarthy recounted that "landlordism and the penal laws" forced his family from Ireland. The mayor, in death, thanked his adoptive homeland for accepting him. He concluded with an unusual plea- a voice from the tomb. He beseeched Irish descendants to never forget the sacrifices of Gaelic pioneers in the state:" May their history be written that the future generations may learn of the heroic efforts and suffering of Irish Catholics at home and abroad for faith and fatherland."
As you read these words in this Hallowed place, you help fulfill McCarthy's last wish: to keep the story of our ancestors fresh and alive in the spirit though the bodies have turned to dust. We pay homage to Mayor McCarthy who made it in Rhode Island in his own lifetime-and the tens of thousands who waited in ethnic purgatory for a descendant to carry the Irish-American dream to fruition. They toiled increasingly so that we, their progeny in Rhode Island, could reach the promised land. This monument, and the energy and research that made it possible, marks the fulfillment of that vision.
The greater the glory to Irish-Americans in Rhode Island today, who, in the name of their forebears, stand against intolerance,
By Scott Molloy, Ph.D.
Erected 2007 by The Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee.
Location. 41° 49.397′ N, 71° 24.478′ W. Marker is in Providence, Rhode Island, in Providence County. Marker is on Dyer Street, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in the park along the water. Marker is in this post office area: Providence RI 02906, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Arcade (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); HMS Gaspee (about 600 feet away); Giovanni Da Verrazzano (about 700 feet away); World War I Memorial (about 700 feet away); Rhode Island Korean Veterans Memorial (about 800 feet away); Stephan Hopkins (approx. 0.2 miles away); The History of The Weybosset Bridge (approx. 0.2 miles away); Providence (Water Street) (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Providence.
Also see . . .
1. The Great Famine (wikipedia). (Submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts.)
2. Great Famine. (Submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts.)
3. Irish Potato Famine. (Submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts.)
Categories. • Disasters •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts. This page has been viewed 948 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts. 20. submitted on June 13, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts. 21. submitted on June 11, 2012, by Bryan Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.