Throughout much of the 20th Century, Ireland struggled with how to memorialize the tragedies of the Great Hunger. It wasn’t until June of 1998, that statues representing the duality of Irish immigration - the deprivation of famine left behind and the potential for prosperity of an American life, were unveiled in Boston, Massachusetts. The first American memorial for Ireland’s Great Hunger was only preceded by Dublin’s ‘Famine’ sculptures, unveiled in 1997.
‘Famine’ was commissioned by Norma Smurfit and presented to the City of Dublin. The sculpture is a commemorative work dedicated to those Irish people forced to emigrate during the 19th century Irish Famine. The bronze sculptures were designed and crafted by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie and are located on Custom House Quay in Dublin’s Docklands. This location is particularly appropriate and historic as one of the first voyages of the Famine period was on the ‘Perseverance’ which sailed from Custom House Quay on St. Patrick’s Day 1846.
Rowan Gillespie was born in Dublin, but his family soon emigrated to Cyprus where he lived until the age of ten. At 16 he enrolled at York School of Art and continued his studies in the sculpture department at Kingston College of Art, then Kunst og Handverke Skole in Oslo. He lived and exhibited widely in Norway before finding his way back to Ireland in 1977. Rowan Gillespie is a unique sculptor, in that he works totally alone, has his own one man foundry and personally carries out every aspect of the work from conception to installation. Among his best known series to date is his Famine Trilogy - commemorative sculptures on Custom House Quay in Dublin, Ireland Park in Toronto and Hunter Island, Tasmania.
This is the seventh and final lecture in our Great Hunger series commemorating 175 years since Black ‘47.