AN TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has said that there has been no event "more traumatic and devastating" to Ireland than the Great Famine of 1845-1852.
Speaking at the National Famine Commemoration in Strokestown in Roscommon on Sunday (where a new state-of-the-art National Famine Museum is set to open in June), Martin said that in those years "the loss of life and dramatic escalation of emigration" was unimaginable.
The ceremony also included military honours and a wreath-laying ceremony by Ambassadors to Ireland in remembrance of all those who suffered or perished during the Famine
"Its indelible marks are still there in our culture, our society, our politics and our place in the wider world," he said.
"As those terrible days become more distant from us they have receded as a defining part of our family stories, but their centrality to our national story remains as important as ever.
"A rapid and profoundly radical series of changes began to an extend which was impossible for people to understand at the time and which are still difficult to comprehend given their scale and brutality."
The Taoiseach said the statistics "do scant justice to the suffering and the devastation of their way of life as experienced by the people of Ireland during An Drochshaol, but they still have the power to shock."
"One quarter of the population of this island dies or were driven to emigrate.
"And of course it was poorer communities which felt the full force of the Famine. Places which had been filled by unique stories, music and dialects were pushed to or beyond the edge of extinction. In the face of dispossession and pushed to the margins of colonial society, they had survived and retained a spirit and energy which shines through when you look at the collections of poetry, music and tales gathered in the century before the Famine."
He commended the nationalist and republican politics which followed in the decades which led to the independence of Ireland, and how Ireland becoming self-determining and a democratic state saw the country never have a famine again.
"One of the many reasons why the people of Ukraine prize their freedom so dearly is that they too bear deep scars from a Famine which destroyed millions of lives. The Holodomor of 1932-33 was a crime against humanity – a famine imposed on what is one of the largest food producing countries in the world.
"When the people of Ukraine voted for independence they did so in a spirit of self-reliance and without rancour. They chose for themselves a simple flag of a clear sky over fields of wheat.
"If we are to honour the victims of our Great Famine, if we are to be true to the spirit of trying to rid the curse of famine from our world, then we must be resolute in standing for cooperation between nations on the basis of humanitarian and democratic values."
At the ceremony, wreaths were laid by His Excellency, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; Councillor Joe Murphy Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, Mr. Jim Callery the founder of The National Famine Museum and Clare McGrath, Chair of Irish Heritage Trust.
Singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke also performed songs from his work, Chronicles of The Great Irish Famine.
Minister for State Jack Chambers also spoke at the ceremony, saying the Great Famine "was truly the darkest period of our history."
"Today's ceremony is an opportunity to commemorate and honour the suffering and resilience of victims of the Famine years.
"It is appropriate that the Commemoration returns to this historic site in 2022 as the final preparations for the reopening of the National Famine Museum following major refurbishment are being concluded."