Articles of Interest


May 21, 2007

Dear Friends and Supporters,

It is a pleasure to share this wonderful evening with you. Tonight’s performance of “A State of Hope” provides all of us with an opportunity to consider the experiences endured by our ancestors during On Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger. The Irish Famine, perhaps the nineteenth century’s worst human catastrophe, brought the majority of the ancestors of today’s Irish-Americans to our shores. As such, it is particularly important that we preserve and honor the history of the Famine and of the immigrant experience.

The one hundred fiftieth anniversary era of the Famine began in 1995 and lasted until 2001. In November of 1995, Anne Burns, a founding member of the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee (RIIFMC), arranged for a memorial Mass to be celebrated at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in remembrance of those who died in the Famine. Over one thousand people attended the Mass and were moved by descriptions of courage and perseverance shown by our ancestors in the face of suffering and death. Following the Mass, members of several Rhode Island Irish organizations began to discuss the importance of erecting a Famine Memorial in our state, as Irish people have done in Ireland and wherever they have settled in great numbers.

By early 1997, the RIIFMC was formally established and incorporated as a 501C3 nonprofit organization. We began the search for a sculptor who could develop a concept and design that would pay tribute to those who suffered and died in the Famine. We hoped the monument would also honor our immigrant ancestors who braved the Atlantic crossing and paved the way for our success.

After a nationwide search, the committee unanimously chose the design submitted by Robert Shure of Woburn, Massachusetts. We were indeed fortunate in our choice, as Bob Shure has amassed an impressive body of work over the many years of his career, including the Boston Irish Famine Memorial and the Rhode Island Korean War monument.

Bob’s concept for our monument includes an impressive granite and bronze sculpture that portrays the suffering that took place during the Famine. Equally important, it also expresses the strength and optimism of the Irish people. The design incorporates a memorial wall that, in bas relief and on a narrative plaque, illustrates and relates the story of the Famine—the perilous Atlantic crossing and the immigrant experience. The wall also lists the many contributions that Irish-Americans have made to our state and nation. Bob Shure’s design will provide a moving affective and educational experience.

We hope those who visit the monument will reflect on the experience of our Irish ancestors who came to America for freedom and opportunity and joined with immigrants from around the world to build a great nation. We look forward to dedicating the monument this September.

In closing, I would like to thank executive board member, Don Deignan who, along with his sub-committee, made this evening possible. I also want to acknowledge the ongoing support of honorary board members Joe Garrahy, Bill and Nancy Gilbane and Patrick Conley, as well as the RIIFMC members, whose years of work and dedication have helped to make this vision a reality.

Many thanks for your support!

Raymond J. McKenna
Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee, Inc.

Ray McKenna died on May 9, 2010. The Irish Famine Memorial is part of his legacy. Click here to read more about his life's accomplishments.