A beautiful and deeply significant plaque has been unveiled at the Famine Pot near the shores of Lough Eske.
It commemorates the generosity of the Choctaw Indian Nation of Native Americans whose generosity kept people in the Lough Eske area alive during the Great Hunger.
The rain was pelting down as people of all ages gathered for the recent unveiling. But everyone who was there felt privileged to be part of something very special.
Pupils from Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí set the tone, playing a selection of traditional airs.
The Famine Pot
Local raconteur Patsy McNulty then outlined the history of the Famine Pot. He explained that in 1847 at the height of the Great Hunger, the Quakers – also known as The Society Of Friends - had 900 such pots made and distributed throughout Ireland. The pot at Lough Eske is one of the largest.
“They sponsored ships to carry food over from America,” said Mr McNulty “We have a lot to be grateful to them for.”
Food was paid for by donations from around the world. As well as the Choctaw people who were themselves living in poverty, donors included the Sultan of Turkey and the Donegal Association of Philadelphia.
Each day, either a vegetable broth or Indian meal porridge was cooked in the huge pot.
“It was so hot you couldn’t go near it,” said Mr McNulty. “Back then, the spout was a lot longer than it is now.”
He went on to explain that everybody was entitled to one pint, which they then took home. They made it last for three meals. In this way, many who would otherwise have starved were able to survive the failed potato crop years.
When the Great Hunger finally came to an end, other uses were found for the 250-gallon pot.
“We know that over the years, it was used in the saw mill and for dipping sheep,” said McNulty.
In 1998 a committee was formed to save the Famine Pot. Members were Joe Mundy (RIP), Patsy McNulty, Mairead McNulty, Kathleen O’Donnell, Cathal McGonigle and James McAllister (RIP). With the support of Coillte, a stone hut was built to house the pot. The stonework was carried out by Joey Kane and the roof was built by Jackie Irwin.
The Spirit of Generosity
Seosamh Mac Suibhne from Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí explained the significance of the plaque which depicts the painting Clan Spirits – The Gift of Life by Waylon Gary White Deer, a Choctaw artist living in Donegal. The original painting was commissioned by Donegal County Council and hangs in Donegal Castle.
“It shows three women from different tribal clans,” he said. “Out of their hands is coming the magic of generosity.”
Mr Mac Suibhne spoke of the strong links his school had fostered with the Choctaw Nation.
“Our school is twinned with the Choctaw Community School in Arizona. Like the Choctaw Nation, we were a small community under colonial rule. People were dying in the workhouse in Donegal Town and being buried in the mass Paupers’ Grave. The Choctaw people were suffering greatly too.
“The spirit of our ancestors is being remembered here today.”
He also reminded those gathered that there was no famine in Ireland. There was plenty of food in the country, yet a million Irish people died and another million emigrated because it was not shared.
In keeping with the spirit of the generosity of the Choctaw people and others from around the world, Mr MacSuibhne leads an annual Famine Walk. Participating primary schools gather together and remember those who died in Ireland and also those who are suffering around the world today.
He told the Donegal Post: “Each child donates €1 which goes to Médecins Sans Frontières. We need to keep the spirit of generosity alive.
“There is so much focus on celebrating sameness, being part of the same religion or the same political party. We want celebrate diversity and generosity.”
The plaque at Lough Eske was unveiled by Jimmy Strongheart of the Montana Blackfeet Nation. Mr Strongheart also played a piece of music on a wooden flute. He said he was honoured and privileged to have been asked to take part in the ceremony.
Many members of the Lough Eske and wider Donegal Town community were also present, as were representatives from Coillte.
Further music was provided by young people living in the Lough Eske area.
Refreshments were served after the ceremony.
Bernard McGlinchey who was MC for the day thanked everyone for coming along. On behalf of the Lough Eske Community Group he also thanked Gaelscoil na gCeithre Maistrí; McGinty’s Fruit; Harvey’s Point; Donegal Satellite TV; Super Valu Donegal Town; St John Bosco Centre; Lough Eske Castle; Emerald Trading; McNulty’s XL; and computerman.ie.
The plaque itself was commissioned thanks to the generosity of a donor who did not wish to be named. Mr McGlinchey said he and the rest of the committee were very grateful for this kindness.
The Famine Pot is situated just beyond the Harvey’s Point turnoff, overlooking Lough Eske. With an adjoining car park, picnic benches, stunning views of Lough Eske and the Bluestack Mountains, and with links to the existing Coillte walks through the forest, the Famine Pot is well worth a visit.
It acknowledges the challenges of the past while allowing people a tranquil escape from their busy lives. And with this new plaque, it also celebrates those who despite having very little, were able to look beyond race and nationality to extend their generosity to save fellow human beings in a far-off place, namely, Lough Eske, Co Donegal.
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