Remembering our famine dead at MacDonagh Junction

SOMETIMES the words and more importantly the inferences drawn from them can encapsulate a moment or a feeling like nothing else on this earth.. And so it was on Friday that the words of poet, Maria Marshall, echoed around the Workhouse Square of MacDonagh Junction, Kilkenny as she paid her own tribute to the famine victims who were buried there and who were commemorated by art and design students from the Wexford campus of IT Carlow in a display entitled, The Great Famine Exhibition.

SOMETIMES the words and more importantly the inferences drawn from them can encapsulate a moment or a feeling like nothing else on this earth.. And so it was on Friday that the words of poet, Maria Marshall, echoed around the Workhouse Square of MacDonagh Junction, Kilkenny as she paid her own tribute to the famine victims who were buried there and who were commemorated by art and design students from the Wexford campus of IT Carlow in a display entitled, The Great Famine Exhibition.

Centre manager, Donie Butler showed a surprising talent for detecting the nuances of the piece and it goes like this:

Smartened work house walls watch

the gathered knot of word-lovers;

pale wraiths linger longingly

watching from within the shadowy windows.

Streams of sound start to flow

into the vast concourse

of mingled groups.

Battling against the competition

of clinking china, murmuring voices,

children’s high-pitched calls

some words float up and disappear

like escaped balloons, trapped beneath

the translucent roof of glass;

others shoot out crisp and clear

The listeners, still, drink in the nectar applaud lines new, and those created long ago.

The shadowy shades listen silently

they too have their memories

mostly overwhelmed by fierce famine,

relentless wandering ended in an unmarked grave beneath this crowded amphitheatre.

The exhibition was formally opened by Mr Butler and Maureen Hegarty of the Kilkenny Archaeology Society. MacDonagh Junction occupies the site of the former Kilkenny Union Workhouse, and the workhouse buildings were found to be adjacent to an unmarked and forgotten famine burial site. During the construction of the centre in 2006, this burial site was excavated and recorded. The site revealed over 970 bodies – victims of the 1845-1849 famine – a disproportionate number of these skeletal human remains being children.