The History of the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial

In October 1995, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the start of "The Great Famine" in Ireland, a Mass of remembrance was celebrated in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul here in Providence.

The response to that solemn and reflective event was so great and positive that the leaders of Rhode Island's large Irish-American community concluded among themselves, after a couple of years of additional, informal discussion, that our state should have its own Irish Famine Memorial.

The result of those discussions was the creation of an umbrella organization representing all the major Irish organizations in Rhode Island.

Soon after the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee was founded in May 1997, it incorporated as a tax-exempt charitable and educational organization with the sole purpose of commissioning, creating endowing and maintaining a permanent, tasteful monument to commemorate the one million victims of Ireland's Great Famine of 1845-1851.

We also wished to pay tribute, equally, to the one and one half million Irish people who left Ireland in the wake of the Great Famine to seek new lives in America or in other countries of refuge around the world.

We also wanted to give lasting recognition to the descendants of the Famine survivors whose contributions have so greatly enriched the life of America in general and of Rhode Island in particular.

After conducting a competitive nationwide search, we unanimously selected the internationally distinguished sculptor, Mr. Robert Shure, to execute our Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial commission.

In carrying out his assignment, we asked Mr. Shure to incorporate three specific elements into our Memorial's design.

  1. First, we wanted a literal depiction in sculpture of Famine-era Irish people so that visitors to the site would be able to understand and appreciate on an emotional level the suffering and death which resulted from the starvation and disease brought about by the Great Famine itself.
  2. Second, we asked our sculptor to find a way for financial contributors, large or small, to the project to have a permanent part in it.
  3. Lastly, we insisted that there should be a strong historical narrative component to the installation so that visitors from many different cultural, ethnic and educational backgrounds would come away from our Memorial with a solid, basic, intellectual understanding of the Great Famine and its continuing importance both for the people of Ireland and within the vast Irish Diaspora around the world.

Mr. Shure accomplished all three of these tasks brilliantly in his finished work which was dedicated, after ten years of significant fundraising and very hard work on the part of our Committee, on November 17, 2007.

The Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial is located on the Riverwalk in downtown Providence.

It is equally a lasting and powerful tribute to those Irish people who came before us and a means whereby we can share their tragic and triumphant story with the generations of visitors from many nations who are to come after us.