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Irish President Dedicates New Memorial

By Suzanne F. Gauron

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, Mary T. Robinson, president of Ireland, dedicated the first memorial in the United States to the event at Cambridge Common on Wednesday.

The ceremony drew about 3,000 Irish and "honorary Irish," as many called themselves.

Despite the party-like atmosphere before the ceremony and the loud applause upon Robinson's arrival, the crowd's quiet during the dedication showed that it was, as Famine Memorial Committee co-founder John Flaherty said, "a great and solemn occasion."

The memorial ensures "that the victims of famine will be properly remembered as children of God," said John T. O'Connor, the other co-founder of the committee who donated $25,000 for the statue, in his remarks at the dedication.

Robinson unveiled the memorial created by well-known Irish sculptor Maurice Harron. The 10-foot-tall sculpture of an emaciated woman holding her dead child as she watches her grown son leave with her other child provides a depiction of a family and country broken apart by famine. The granite base is engraved with a dedication to the victims of "An Gorta Mor," The Great Hunger.

Robinson, who received a Master of Laws from Harvard University in 1968, then addressed the audience in what she said would be her last visit to Cambridge as president.

The famine was "the darkest hour in [Irish] history," she said, stressing that the memory of famine links Ireland with people of Irish descent around the world and with people of third world countries in "an understanding of how devastating...famine is."

Mayor of Cambridge Sheila Doyle Russell spoke of the need to fight hunger around the world in order to achieve "full realization of humanity's potential." Robinson will bolster the fight against hunger when she assumes her new post as United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Russell said.

After a moment of silence, the audience filed up to lay white carnations on the base of the memorial. Following the dedication there was a lunch reception on the common for all who attended.

Flaherty and O'Connor founded the Irish Famine Memorial Committee after formulating a plan for the memorial on the 150th anniversary of The Great Hunger.

The Memorial Committee's idea originally faced opposition from members of the Cambridge Historical Commission, which had to judge whether the memorial was appropriate for and compatible with the historic district of the common.

The memorial garnered support from significant figures including Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56, Governor William F. Weld '66 and Russell. Russell held a rally in her office before the first Historical Commission hearing in October 1996 and marched into the hearing with members of the Memorial Committee waving Irish flags.

Other Cantabrigians who supported the memorial included City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 and mayor emeritus Walter Sullivan. Reeves stressed at the hearings the importance of the United States' openness to immigration and the injustice of starvation in a world with plenty of food which the memorial represents.

Despite some concerns about changing the character of the common, the Historical Commission's final vote was unanimous in support of the memorial

After a moment of silence, the audience filed up to lay white carnations on the base of the memorial. Following the dedication there was a lunch reception on the common for all who attended.

Flaherty and O'Connor founded the Irish Famine Memorial Committee after formulating a plan for the memorial on the 150th anniversary of The Great Hunger.

The Memorial Committee's idea originally faced opposition from members of the Cambridge Historical Commission, which had to judge whether the memorial was appropriate for and compatible with the historic district of the common.

The memorial garnered support from significant figures including Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56, Governor William F. Weld '66 and Russell. Russell held a rally in her office before the first Historical Commission hearing in October 1996 and marched into the hearing with members of the Memorial Committee waving Irish flags.

Other Cantabrigians who supported the memorial included City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 and mayor emeritus Walter Sullivan. Reeves stressed at the hearings the importance of the United States' openness to immigration and the injustice of starvation in a world with plenty of food which the memorial represents.

Despite some concerns about changing the character of the common, the Historical Commission's final vote was unanimous in support of the memorial

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