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‘Talismanic’ Tutu mourned


MEMORABLE MAYO VISIT Desmond and Leah Tutu led the Afri Famine Walk in the Doolough Valley in 1991. Pic: Derek Speir

Afri pays tribute to patron Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Anton McNulty

AFRI, the charity which organises the annual famine walk in Doolough, has paid tribute to the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who took part in the walk in 1991.
A human-rights activist and campaigner against apartheid in his native South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu died at the age of 90 on St Stephen’s Day. He was a patron of Afri, an Irish peace and human rights organisation.
Archbishop Tutu’s first visit to Ireland in 1984 was organised by the charity, and he returned again in April 1991, when he led the annual Afri famine walk.
Visiting Louisburgh, the archbishop officially opened St Catherine’s Heritage Centre. During his address he referred to the Famine exhibition in the centre. In a plea to leaders of the Western world to end world hunger, he said the Famine graves in the area were a stark reminder of what happened to people when they were poor and oppressed. All who died from starvation needed to be remembered ‘so that they will influence what we do’.
Archbishop Tutu was joined on the Doolough Famine walk by his wife, Leah, along with over 1,000 people. More than 600 people are reported to have died along the route from hunger during the Great Famine in 1849. Speaking following Archbishop Tutu’s death on St Stephen’s Day, Joe Murray from Afri, who was a personal friend, described the cleric as ‘one of the true great giants for peace and justice in the world’.
“He was an incredible human being, and I feel privileged to have known him over so many years. He was a person who walked his talk and overcame huge adversity to continue spreading a message of hope in the world. He radiated a great warmth and humanity and was never afraid to smile, yet he never shied away from the issues.
“He also opposed militarism, including the horrendous weapons industry, which the Irish Government has now decided to get involved in. Desmond Tutu’s message is more important than ever, and it is vital we honour him but also to act on this message by continuing to be courageous and hopeful, even when the odds are against us. It is for us now to continue his great legacy,” he said.
An online event celebrating Archbishop Tutu’s life was by organised by Afri last week, with a number of national and international activists and artists spoke and performed. The speakers included Willie Corduff from Rossport, who campaigned against the Corrib Gas pipeline and who received support from Archbishop Tutu during the campaign.
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins also paid tribute to Archbishop Tutu, saying he will be remembered for his work in drawing global attention to the horrific inequalities of apartheid.
“He was and remains a talismanic figure, a courageous practitioner of peaceful activism. He never held back or counted the cost. He leaves an extraordinary legacy in human-rights activism of the best kind for South Africa and the world,” he said.