Off the fence
Phil Mac Giolla Bháin
With a father born and reared in Westport, the folk memory of An Gorta Mor was always around.
It was part of the narrative of my childhood. One of my first memories was of listening to my grandmother and her sister, my aunt Nora, talk about it at the fireside in the house on James Street. Only with the passing of years can I understand what they were saying, but it is like a tape recording in the part of my head that is still a toddler. As a young man of 21, I spoke to my grandmother about those times. When she was born the Famine wasn’t even a folk memory. The survivors were still alive.
As a native born Glaswegian I can attest to the fact that the imprint on Irishness is everywhere. The city phone book is full of Gallaghers, Murphys, O’Donnels and O’Neils. The city gave the global Gaeltacht its own soccer team, though often at odds with an officialdom hostile to the club’s heritage.
I was reared to be proud of what I was - a Glasgow-born Irishman. It’s important to anyone anywhere to feel that they are respected for who they are.
I cannot say that about my native city.
Despite the huge amount of people in Glasgow who would proudly claim an Irish identity, the city’s biggest ethnic minority are invisible in the public space.
Scotland’s largest city is the only major reception centre for Famine refugees that does not have a permanent memorial to the tens of thousands of starving Irish who landed on Clydeside in those awful years.
Memorials are important. Recently in Ireland our attention was brought to two memorials in Dublin. During the Royal visit at the Garden of Remembrance and Island Bridge the British head of state played an important role in the symbolism of the reconciliation between the two traditions on the island. We saw the monarch of the ex-colonial power acknowledging the legitimacy of the freedom struggle of Irish Republicanism.
It would have been hard to envisage those acts of respect and perhaps penitence being carried out by the Queen had she not been standing in the Garden of Remembrance in front of the Children of Lir. Public monuments are important in any society. They can acknowledge a past deed or misdeed. It can be a meeting point for celebration, mourning or a warning from the past.
The only argument against commemorating the displaced on An Gorta Mór who landed in Glasgow is that it would be vandalised. Should such people control the public space of any city? Of course they shouldn’t.
The Irish Post is the weekly publication which serves the Irish community in Britain and they have launched a campaign to have a Famine Memorial in Glasgow.
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, whose father Phil was from Westport, is an author, blogger, journalist and writer.