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A hauntingly beautiful valley

The words hauntingly beautiful perfectly describe the Doolough Valley, evoking the natural wonder of this remote glacial scene of towering mountains and brooding lake that is forever scarred by the memory of the men, women and children who were left to die there during the Great Famine.

The monument commemorating the Famine victims overlooking the hauntingly beautiful Doolough Valley, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The monument commemorates the Famine victims overlooking the hauntingly beautiful Doolough Valley, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey

When I first passed through the Doolough Valley in the 1970s this terrible Famine tragedy was not remembered as it is today by an aesthetically pleasing stone monument, topped by a simple Celtic Cross, standing on the roadside hill that overlooks the bleak grandeur of Doolough.

Commemorating “The Hungry Poor Who Walked Here in 1849 and Walk The Third World Today”, the epitaph concludes with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “How Can Men Feel Themselves Honoured By The Humiliation Of Their Fellow Human Beings.”

Each May, The Afri Famine Walk through the Doolough Valley commemorates 400 starving people who walked the 19km, many barefooted, from Louisburgh to the landlord’s hunting and fishing lodge at Delphi.

Starving and homeless after being evicted, the poor people’s last hope in that bitter cold March of 1849 was to beg for refuge in the workhouse or food, but they were met with callous indifference from the local landlord and his bureaucratic cronies.

The annual Famine Walk, In recalling the awfulness of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, draws parallels with the injustices of today’s world, promoting compassion, action and solidarity with the oppressed and excluded.

It’s almost incomprehensible that the Ireland of today, rich beyond the imagination of our forebears in the 1840s, could become a nation of landlords; and that political and bureaucratic indifference conspires once again to create homelessness and misery for thousands of our men women and children.

On this June morning visit, below us in the valley, the tourist buses crawl along the Doolough Pass that twists its way by the lapping lakeshore under the towering Sheefrey and Mweelrea mountains; a rugged barren landscape that was formed by fire, sculpted by ice and shaped by the forces of time.

Today, it’s a place made sacred by the spirits of those who died there, rejected, forlorn and lost of all hope on that fateful walk during The Great Hunger – An Gorta Mor (1845 and 1850).

Footnote: The Wild Atlantic Way signage beside the Famine monument should be moved to another location where it would not intrude upon this place of reflection and remembering.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

One reply on “A hauntingly beautiful valley”

A brilliant commentary on this beautiful, but forlorn valley. I am hoping to walk along this route in remembrance of our forebears and also to raise awareness of the multitudes of homeless people in our midst today.
Una, thanks for your kind words.
There is no excuse as a society for the extent of the homelessness we see today. A national emergency should be declared to provide housing for those in need. We did it in the mid-20th century when this country was very poor in comparison to today. The continuing homeless crisis, and our modern version of landlordism and absentee landords in the form of vulture funds, and our tolerance of Government indifference is an insult to the memory of those we commemorate at Doolough.
Sadly, on my recent visits, I could see the homeless crisis in England is getting worse, too.