From famine to feast
The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (Great Hunger) is located on the southern wall of the Hyde Park Barracks, on the site of the former convict-era kitchen and mess halls
The monument was inspired by the 1995 call of Irish President Mary Robinson to remember the famine of 1845–52 and those who died or were forced to emigrate. The barracks is an appropriate location for the monument: 2253 of the 4114 Irish orphan girls who arrived in Australia between 1848 and 1850 were housed at the barracks during its term as Sydney’s female Immigration Depot.
Constructed in 1999 the monument was funded by donations from the NSW Government, the Irish Government and the Australian Irish community. The 420 names etched into the glass panels represent the millions of people who died or were forced to emigrate. A loy (potato-digging spade) and a shelf holding potatoes allude to the repeated crop failure that caused the famine. A table cuts the wall, representing the famine experience on one side and the new world and a bountiful future on the other.
The significance of this monument resonates far beyond the experience of the orphan girls.
About one third of the convicts transported to NSW between 1788 and 1840 – many of whom passed through the Hyde Park Barracks – were Irish, and about 85 per cent of the immigrant women and children who stayed at the Immigration Depot in the 1850s and 1860s were famine survivors. Some of the first of these to arrive, in early 1848, were the wives and children of Irish convicts already living in the colony. Like much of the Irish population, these families were pushed to the brink of starvation by the famine.
IMAGE CREDIT: Phillips/Pilkington Architects Pty Ltd