Photograph caption: From left: Chris McKay (Finance Director, Glasgow Celtic FC), Paul Cosgrove (Head of Art & Sculpture at Glasgow School of Art, who advised the committee at design and tender stage), Paddy Kelly (Committee member), Grainne Soal, John McCarron, Carol Boyle (Committee member), Peter Lawwell (CEO, Glasgow Celtic FC) and Mark Hanniffy (Irish Consul General in Scotland) at the Famine Memorial prize winner announcement.
A talented Donegal sculptor has had his design chosen for Scotland’s first-ever Famine Memorial, in a competition organised by Glasgow’s Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór (Great Hunger Memorial Committee).
John McCarron, from Slavery outside Buncrana, in Inishowen was announced as the winner at a glitzy event in the Barras Art and Design Centre, Glasgow.
According to Jeanette Findlay, Chair of Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór, the atmosphere in the centre was “electric” as “hundreds” of people “came along to see the unveiling of the final design for Glasgow’s first Great Hunger Memorial.”
Speaking to Donegal Now following the announcement, John said he was “thrilled, delighted and honoured’ his design had been chosen as the permanent memorial to the Irish people who died of starvation or were forced to emigrate during An Gorta Mór (The Famine).
The clearly emotional artist added: “The fact that my sculpture, ‘Tower of Silence’ will now stand outside Glasgow’s St Mary’s Church, Carlton, on the corner of Abercrombie Street, means so much to me. Don’t forget, this was the Church of Brother Walfrid who founded Glasgow Celtic Football Club, to feed the starving Irish people in Glasgow.
“But, more importantly, what I realised as I got more and more involved with the project and visited Glasgow and spoke and listened to the people who took part in the public consultation, was that the Irish community in Glasgow and throughout Scotland, has a deep emotional investment in the Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór project.
“I am full of admiration for their drive, energy and ambition to get a fitting memorial erected, the first-ever in Scotland, to the Famine Irish.
“I am also thrilled, delighted and honoured Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór chose my design, my vision for how the memorial should look. I am really looking forward to getting to work on the project now and hopefully we will see it in situ in 2019,” said John.
John, who has worked with renowned Derry sculptor, Maurice Harron on impressive public art installations including CS Lewis Square in Belfast, was quick to acknowledge his mentor following the Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór decision.
John revealed the Glasgow Famine Memorial, which will feature three, thin, gaunt, emaciated, semi-abstract figures, one of them a woman holding a child, standing on top of a square, three-metre-high, stainless steel plinth, will be constructed at the Maurice Harron Studio, Carronamaddy, Burt.
John’s Famine Memorial will also feature engravings of a verse from the poem ‘The Stricken Land’ and the words An Gorta Mór.
John added: “Maurice Harron’s reputation as a sculptor is unparalleled nationally and internationally. You only have to think about his remarkable public realm works including: ‘Let the Dance Begin’ in Strabane; ‘Railway Workers’ at The Dry Arch Roundabout in Letterkenny; and ‘Finvola, the Gem of the Roe’ in Dungiven, to realise the talent of the man” said John.
Speaking to Donegal Now on behalf of Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór, Aislinn McVeigh said the Committee was “pleased to be working with John.”
Aislinn said: “We know John is going to do a tremendous job and create a really fitting memorial to our ancestors.
“Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór wanted to make sure the selection process was transparent and involved the community and the Committee. Our extremely successful public consultation elicited a huge and warm response from the multi-generational Irish community in Glasgow.
“The excitement and engagement with the consultation was very heartening and very moving.
“The Famine Memorial will clearly fill a great need in our community to properly acknowledge and remember our past. The committee examined the feedback on the models derived from the consultation very carefully. After consideration, John's emotive and apt submission was chosen,” said Aislinn.
There are very close links between Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór and Ireland, Donegal and Inishowen.
Aislinn McVeigh mentioned she had just returned to Scotland from a visit to her granny, Kay Murray, who lives in Killea.
She added: “Our members also have family from Gweedore, Rathmullen, Ballybofey, Carrigart and Buncrana.”
Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór has been involved in ongoing fundraising for the Famine Memorial and is determined to step up the fundraising effort, now the final design has been chosen.
Jeanette Findlay (Chair, Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór) said the fundraising phase would also be community-led in keeping with the ethos of the project.
Jeanette said: “We want to get as many people involved as possible and whatever size of gift, it will make a huge impact. We need to raise in the region of £80,000 (€90,226.00).
“John’s poignant design inspired both the Committee and the multi-generational Irish community of Glasgow, who took part in the public consultation last month and came again in large numbers to hear the winner announced.
“The memorial was commissioned to commemorate the millions who died of starvation or were forced to flee the effects the Great Hunger from 1845-52. Hundreds of thousands of those displaced immigrated to Glasgow, making the city what it is today.
“This has been a long journey having started this project in 2015. Friday night was an important milestone for the project and for Glasgow. People had to emigrate or starve to death because of the British-engineered programme of starvation and eviction of the Irish people; hundreds of thousands came to Glasgow. It is only right their legacy and struggle are commemorated by their descendants in a permanent and fitting way,” concluded Jeanette.
There were several special guests at Friday night’s event including, the Irish Consul General in Scotland, Mark Hanniffy; the Chief Executive of Celtic PLC, Peter Lawwell and the Head of Sculpture and Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art, Paul Cosgrove who has offered his expertise to the committee throughout all the stages of the design competition.
For more information on Coiste Cuimhneachain An Gorta Mór’s Famine Memorial, the groups website, which includes a portal for donations is: https://angortamorglasgow.com.
The social media presence for the group is Twitter: @gortamorgla and Facebook: An Gorta Mor Glasgow.
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Now editorial team. Between 9am and 5pm Monday to Sunday please call 074 9112712. Between 5pm and midnight please call or text 086 792 2103. Or you can email [email protected] at any time.