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What do Choctaw Indians, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Abraham Lincoln have in common?

Wednesday, 9th April, 2014 2:01pm
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What do Choctaw Indians, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Abraham Lincoln have in common?
What do Choctaw Indians, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and Abraham Lincoln have in common?

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht  Jimmy Deenihan and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee, has launched a new project called "Heroes of the Great Irish Famine" which willprovide an opportunity to pay tribute to the individuals and communities whose compassion and generosity sustained the lives of those who suffered during the famine when they were most in need. 

The Minister also took the opportunity to launch a new website dedicated to providing information about the Great Irish Famine and also to provide up-to-date information on events in the run up to the National and International Famine Commemorations - www.irishfamine.ie.

A section on the Department's new website will be dedicated to those who showed kindness and humanity to the Irish people in response to the Great Irish Famine.  Members of the public will be invited to provide brief accounts of those individuals and communities at home and abroad who they feel should be recognised for their generosity.  At each location of the National and International Famine Commemoration, local communities will be encouraged to provide accounts of local 'heroes' to coincide with the planned events.  Schools will also be invited to provide information and material on people local to their area who helped those during the Great Irish Famine.

 Minister Deenihan said: "I am delighted to launch both the new website www.irishfamine.ie which will be an excellent resource for those interested in commemorating the Great Irish Famine and also the new project "Heroes of the Great Irish Famine. 

"It is anticipated that this project will provide people of all ages with a different perspective on the Great Irish Famine and will capture the interest of those who may not have previously engaged with the National Famine Commemoration programme.  It is intended that, over time, it will become a valuable information resource for adults and young people alike and will inspire them to learn more about this tragic period in our history.  It may encourage us all to be mindful of those suffering from hunger and disease in the modern world and to show similar empathy and generosity of spirit to those less fortunate then ourselves". 

"To start this project I have submitted a piece on the work of the Quakers who did so much to help victims of the Great Irish Famine by setting up soup kitchens and distributing aid to those in some of the worst affected areas in Ireland. Many of those in receipt of this aid would otherwise have starved and we should be thankful to those brave men and women who stood up for the impoverished during this terrible time in our history. 

"It is fascinating to learn that groups such as the Chocataw Indians, the Jewish Community in New York, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Committee of Colored Citizens in Philadelphia were all affected by the plight of the Irish people during this time.  I would urge members of the public to delve into this part of our history and take part in this project".

Members of the public can submit short narratives and any primary resources or illustrations to faminecommemoration@ahg.gov.ie.  

Contributionsare intended as an information resource only and to stimulate discussion and debate and are not necessarily the views of the National Famine Commemoration Committee or the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Some notable contributors to relief efforts include:

On March 23, 1847 the Indians of the Choctaw nation took up a collection of $170 for Irish Famine relief – an incredible sum at the time.  This was particularly poignant given their own history of enduring deprivation themselves. In 1831 the Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to what is now known as Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first of several tribes to make this difficult trek or Trail of Tears as it became known. The years during and immediately following this journey, were very difficult for the tribal people. Many of the Choctaws did not survive the trip, and those that did faced hardships establishing new homes, schools, and churches.  Only 16 years after this journey, the Choctaws learned of the famine in Ireland.  As the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, they felt a great empathy with the Irish people.  These Choctaw people, who had such meagre resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.

In addition, Abdul Mejid Khan was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire became involved in Famine relief for the Irish and donated one thousand pounds and it is also said that he sent three ships with food supplies to Drogheda!

The Jewish community in New York raised hundreds of dollars for famine relief in Ireland.

Committee of Colored Citizens in Philadelphia.  All money raised by the Committee was given to leading anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass to give to Irish relief when he got to Ireland.  Also surprisingly Abraham Lincoln who had just been elected to the House of Representatives donated £5!

In 1847, Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer, geologist and philanthropist arrived in Ireland as a volunteer at a time when millions were dying of starvation and disease and helped many children escape starvation.

The National Famine Commemoration 2014 will take place in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon on May 11, 2014 and An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D. will lead the official representation.  The International Famine Commemoration will take place in New Orleans between November 7-9, 2014 and Minister Deenihan will lead the official representation.

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