The Famine Graveyard, Sligo

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A few weeks ago I went to the famine graveyard in Sligo. I couldn’t get in as the gate was locked. I phoned Sligo County Council to see if they knew anything about why the gate was locked and was put through to the parks department. They had no idea why it was locked and no idea who I should contact.

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I went into town and called into the tourist office to see if they had any idea about the locked gate. They didn’t and again phoned the council….they got speaking to someone else who didn’t even know Sligo had a famine graveyard!

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As I was no further forward I gave up for that day. I did hear from Joe of Sligo Heritage and Michael from Wild West Irish Tours that there was a way into the graveyard from St. John’s Hospital so I returned to find the way in.

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I was shocked and quite frankly appalled that the way into the Famine Graveyard is now alongside a row of huge bins. This is so disrespectful for the poor souls who lost their lives during the famine. If the main gate can’t be opened for some reason and the only way in is through St. John’s hospital surely they could move the bins elsewhere in the grounds, not right in front of the graveyard.

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The plaque, above reads: Rielig an Ghorta Mhóir. You are entering a long abandoned Famine Graveyard. Here on the grounds of County Sligo’s 1841 Workhouse, lie buried the ravaged bones of unumbered thousand unameless souls – “I witnessed the women and little children, crowds of whom were to be seen scattered over the turnip fields, like a flock of famished crows, devouring raw turnips, mothers half naked, shivering in the snow and sleet, uttering exclamations of despair whilst their children were screaming with hunger…The workhouse is full, and police are stationed at the doors to keep numerous applicants out…”  Captain Wynne, District Inspector, Christmas Eve 1841.

Unfed, unwashed, unmourned, Here lie the remains, To we, the survivors, the scared rite of burial, Into our hands their trampled bones, perpetual vigil.

Sponsored by the County Sligo Famine Commemoration Commitee.

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Of course it’s very hard to read the plaque because there is a rubbish bin obscuring it!

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I hope someone who can do something reads this blog and gives the poor souls in the graveyard the dignity that they didn’t get in life, by either opening the main gate or moving the bins. The rest of my photos are here.

17.10.12 An Update. The bins are still at the gateway but the HSE are doing their best to try to get them moved to another location. They have come up against bureaucracy but will continue to try to find a solution to this situation. Thank you to all who took the time to comment and I will continue to post updates as, and when, I get them.

 Feb. 2014 – Bins were moved from the gate.

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36 thoughts on “The Famine Graveyard, Sligo

  1. Stella says:

    Val
    I have visited several famine graveyards and have found them very moving places to visit. To see that this one is not treated with the respect that it should be treated with, is awful.
    I hope that the Health Board will take steps to rectify the situation.
    Stella

  2. SMurphy says:

    Val, Thank you for posting this.

    A question — Does St. John’s Hospital own the land where this is? I cannot fathom they own the Cemetery, so this is trespass which could (and should) be legally prosecuted. It is disgusting disrespect for those Ancestors (who’s Shoulder’s We stand) that perished in the Famine.

    I as a member of the The Ancient Order of Hibernians (in America) have alerted the National Board. I am personally calling the Sligo Council Members (http://www.sligococo.ie/YourCouncil/CouncilMembers) to immediately order st. John’s Hospital to REMOVE THE BINS.

    This Hallowed Ground. It cannot be tolerated one moment more.

    We (AOH Michigan, Adrian St. Patrick’s Division) built and own a Irish Famine Monument (An Gorta Mor) in Brooklyn, Michigan, and keep it well maintained as it too is an extension of all Famine Monuments.

    Please join me in calling, emailing, and writing the Hospital and Sligo Council to fix this and never let it happen again –it is right and proper thing to do.

    I can only Hope St. John’s Hospital and Sligo Citizens resolve this and show some respect for those who passed in the Famine.

    SMurph
    Michigan

    • magnumlady says:

      Thank you for your reply. Yes St. John’s own the land where the bins are….and the HSE (health board is in charge of the famine graveyard). There was a meeting during the week about the situation. It seems the main gate was locked due to vandalism….but even if this is the case I can’t see why the bins at the other gate can’t be moved to a different location in the hospital grounds.

  3. Duncaolog says:

    SMurphy: Thank you for your concern. However action is being taken with goodwill now and the Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee are happy with that at the moment. No need to escalate this into a big row. Val: The bins are in process of being moved. Thanks all, Joe Mc Gowan, Chairman Co. Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee

  4. Kathleen Beck says:

    I believe the reason for the main gates being permanently locked is to prevent the gates being stolen. Wrought iron gates are being stolen from all over Ireland. There seems to be a blackmarket for them. I suppose the gates could be unlocked and secured if need be to try and prevent theft but like all securing devices they can be overcome with determination. There is no answer to criminals who are bent on making money illegally.

    • magnumlady says:

      Yes it could well be that Kathleen. I have no problem with the other entrance as long as the bins are moved and it would be helpful to have a sign at the main gate pointing people to the new entrance.

  5. Vida Egan says:

    I am ashamed to say that I was born and raised in Co. Sligo and never heard tell of the Famine Graveyard. Why on earth were we not as children tought such important things at school. It seems to me that during the 50’s we were only fed with the knowledge that there was nothing in Ireland for us so we had to emigrate. If only the then Government had been as kind to their own people as they now are to emigrants, Ireland would have been a much better and happier place with those of us who were forced to emigrate now living in the country we love but can not afford to return to. RANT OVER.

  6. Seosamh says:

    Isn’t it great that in this day and age of the soul-less ‘new Ireland’ that there are still people who still even notice such things, and are prepared to do something about it. I myself have been in dozens of these places over the past several decades. The state of most of them is appaling, really shameful. It says a lot about the Irish as a people all right. Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

  7. Keith Coleman says:

    Thank-you for the tenacity and determination to get into the site, I appreciate you bringing this information to light. This graveyard is treated in exactly the same way the Irish were during the holocaust, with extreme indifference! I hope your efforts to find someone who cares will bring a renewed effort to the respect due. Thank-you on behalf of all those who are buried there. Well done!

  8. Murph_ says:

    Dear Val and All Magnum Lady’s Blog Readers:

    Any update on the matter and the Bins “Issue” ? And if they were removed? It’s now Months Later (Feb. 11, 2012). Joe McGowan post dated Oct 5, 2012 “…The bins are in process of being moved….”

    I pray and Hope these matters of concern were resolved. How Garbage Bins were ever placed on or near a Famine Burial site is something I would like to know, as
    the Co. Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee, and all, should surely give the care such a Burial Site deserves — perhaps many of Your, Mine and All of Our Ancestors are Buried there (and tends to bring the same emotional response).

    I, like many, had Ancestors die in the Famine. God only knows if they are Buried there.

    Of those who were lucky enough to Survive the Famine, some remained in Sligo (albeit South Sligo) and decendents are there to this Day. My GrtGF emigrated to Boston.

    So, this is the reason it concerns Me Greatly that the Earthly Remains of these poor Souls — who perished in probably most horrific manner possible, starving to death — are Buried in this manner. Absolutely Nothing We can do about that now. But WE CAN ensure where Famine Burial sites like this are given the Sacred Respect such Sites deserve.

    If I/We can do anything to make sure this Co. Sligo Burial Site is preserved, maintained, and indeed — improved — Please let Me know! Concerned Organizations exist and only need to know of the Need.

    My 2012 trip was delayed as I, with Others want to make “The Gathering 2013” a success, and many of Us delayed travel so We can spend more time in Sligo visiting, and look forward to it.

    SM

    after my Father passed who was in South Sligo for the first 3 years of His Life (Age 1-4)

    • magnumlady says:

      I went back on Friday and sadly the situation is much the same but on the same day the chairman of the Famine Committee went for a meeting with the hospital matron and a new site has been given for the bins…there is a lot of red tape and health and safety issues before they can be moved though. I’ll keep you updated, the wheels move slowly but it seems they are moving.

  9. magnumlady says:

    Reblogged this on Magnumlady's Blog and commented:

    Just reblogging this. Today is National Famine Commemoration Day and the bins still remain at the only open entrance to the graveyard. Please, if you think this is wrong can you write a letter to The Matron, St. John’s Hospital, Sligo and make your views known.

  10. Fernando says:

    I’m visiting Sligo and as I’m staying at the Clarion Hotel, I’ve driven by the gate and yes, it seems to be locked. Tomorrow I’ll go and see. Hope I can find the way in through the hospital :S

  11. David O'Hara says:

    Val, This is sterling work! Well done. Whilst I am so proud to be from Sligo my pride is tempered by ‘this sort of thing’! It is OUTRAGEOUS that our authorities can put is so far in debt whilst allowing numerous situations, such as this on you hi-light so well to pertain! Shame on those members of our Civil authorities who allow these situations to happen! Sharing this post on every platform!

  12. Tina says:

    Astonished to see nothing done since you first highlighted this Val. Sligo is better than this. Will do what I can. Job well done getting the story to paper.

  13. SMurphy says:

    David,

    Please note Val (valiantly) posted Her Photos and the Blog post almost a Year Ago (Oct. 2012).

    If some disrespect the dead – how do they treat the living? Glad my Ancestors are not Buried there !
    SMurphy

  14. Amy says:

    Hi, I’ve just returned home from a few days holiday in the beautiful Sligo. One day we went to the famine graveyard & came in through the main gates off the Clarion Road. We had a walk about & then a man (who worked there!!) came in & got talking to us. His information was very informative but he said he’d only been working there about a year & at that he only works half days. He opens the gates in the morning & comes back in the evening most days (if he can) to lock the gates. If he is unable to come in the evening, he’ll lock them early afternoon at the end of his shift. Perhaps since he only started working here recently, is the reason why a couple of years back, some of you couldn’t get in. He told us about the plaque at the other end but we had another place to go & so came back the hospital end the next day to read it. It’s such a pity the famine graveyard is not advertised better. If it was, I’m sure it’d get a load of American tourists interested… & yes, bins are moved 🙂

  15. beigemcintosh says:

    thank you for this post….i live in Canada and i have traced my ancestry to Sligo Ireland….my great great grandmother, Mary Clark was born there in 1834….and most likely emigrated to Canada during the famine…..I hope to visit this area someday and appreciate all that you are doing to honour the ancestors….blessings.

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