We loaded up for the long drive to County Mayo and the beginning of the Famine Walk the next day.
The drive southwest took us through many an iconic Irish town Like Ballyshannon and Donegal till we were deep in the west country. This is a stunning part on Ireland and the Famine Walk will commemorate the suffering of so many Irish during the Famine of the 1840’s and 1850’s. This period of failed crops and land evictions was responsible for the halving of the Irish population from 8 million to 4 million people. Many died and those who didn’t tried to emigrate to America and Australia. The land lords had indeed succeeded in acquiring the land at the expense of the ordinary Irish farmer.
In the late 1840’s during the height of the famine it was said that food relief was available along this path. Many who were skeletal and barely alive walked this road in search of the food warehouse at the end. When they arrived they were turned away. The food was there but the bureaucrats refused to distribute it. As the starving tried to return the way they came, a storm blew up and many collapsed into the lake and died from the cold or just collapsed on the path and perished where they lay. This was a tragedy that was just one of the many tragedies the Irish suffered in those days.
We arrived in Westport and went in search of the house we were to use outside of town. Sarah from Galway was lending us a place that her family owned there. We found it and were unpacking when she arrived in a small panic. We had to stay somewhere else as the house was to be viewed for sale in the morning. She had an alternative though, a caravan nearby to where the walk would start from. We headed over there.
It was a rowdy night in the van with all of us and Sarah and her friend. The vision of a boarding school dormitory sprang to mind. Not the most restful sleep any of us had but it was in great company so in the morning we took a walk on the beach then headed to the town that would be the end of the walk.
We picked up Andy Story who we had met in Dublin at the start of this whole process and drove the ten miles out of town to the banks of a lake where the walk would begin. The scenery was stunning and it hid the horror of the walk from 150 years before. Imaginations would need to suffice here. The busses arrived and the lakeside filled up till there were about 300 or more people waiting for the start of the walk.
Joe Murray the organiser said a few words and handed over to the key note speakers. The first spoke of water problems and the privatisation of the Irish water system, then the second spoke of oil, profit and war. I was the final speaker and gave them a fast and aggressive view on the cluster bomb problem and what was needed to be done. The crowd were certainly roused and we headed of on the walk. We led at a quick pace and it was an incredible sight to look back and see a snake of people weaving along the banks of the lake. The walk had begun.
The whole ten miles were filled with conversations about cluster bombs and at the half way break we gave out more T-shirts to any who wanted them. A strong presence had been established and many said they would come to Dublin the next weekend and attend the public march.
We finally arrived in Louisburg and all flocked to the nearest pub. Guinness flowed by the gallon and tired feet were cooled in the stream. I was so inspired by the people I had met that I felt sad to have to leave in the morning. The night would at least be spent socialising and networking.