The Western New York Irish Famine Memorial
Waterfront – La Riviere Street
Designer: Rob Ferguson
Western Irish New York Famine Commemoration Committee
(1) This Site
From the mid-to late-19th Century, the Buffalo Waterfront became one of the world’s largest inland immigration ports. Many immigrants from Ireland sailed across the Atlantic and continued their journey to the eastern ports of North America and onward to Western New York. Those entering the country through the port of New York often crossed the State on the Erie Canal in search of work. Thousands of Irish settled, here, at the site of this monument.
The Western New York Irish Famine Memorial is within view of the Old Erie Canal, the grain and steel mills, and other industry that flourished with Irish labor. It is here that the Irish lived, worked and secured liberty for themselves and their families.
(2) Design of the Monument
Traditional in character, symbolic in nature, the monument contains elements important in Irish culture.
The granite standing stone from Carraroe, County Galway, is set off center to represent the Irish Diaspora. The well surrounding the standing stone symbolizes “The Great Silence” — that period following in the Famine when no one dared speak of it.
The biblical inscription in Irish below the standing stone is an expression of a culture and language and a memory nearly lost. It translates… “If these were to be silent, the very stones would cry out.”
The circular memorial field, filled with names of Famine victims, those who survived, their descendants and friends symbolically ends “The Great Silence.” Those stones left blank honor the unknown who died as a result of An Gorta Mór.
Thirty-two limestone boulders form the monument’s outer ring. They represent Ireland’s thirty-two counties. These rough-hewn stones, a gift of the people of Cork, Ireland, once formed Penrose Quay in Cork Harbor. Upon these, many emigrants walked to make their journey from Ireland, some for the last time.
(3) The Famine
Beginning in 1845, Ireland, under British rule, suffered a Great Famine which resulted in the deaths of more then one million Irish people when the potato crop failed due to a blight now known as phytophera infestaus. Nearly two million more Irish were forced to emigrate. Through hard work and perseverance, the Irish enriched the cultural tapestry of the people of Western New York and left a lasting legacy.
(4) The Western New York Irish Famine Memorial
In 1995, twenty-six Western New York Irish Cultural organizations through the Western New York Irish Famine Commemoration Committee and with cooperation from the City of Buffalo, County of Erie, Buffalo Arts Commission, and interested persons from many places, joined with the City of Cork, Ireland, to erect and dedicate this monument in recognition of the terrible cost of – “An Gorta Mór” – The Great Hunger, and the struggle and achievements of the Irish people in this country.
Dedicated August 23, 1997
[Encircling central standing stone, carved into stone base]:
Our hearts are with them in the Earth, and they with us in our hearts. Now we, together, live forever. We are the harvest of the blight, let us not fail our seed.
[contributed by Buffalo poet Tim Daly]
[Carved into base support of standing stone]:
má thochidiud so, go néighfidh na clocha féin. Luke XIX.40
[English trans: If these were to be silent, the very stones would cry out. Luke 19:40.]
[Various personal inscriptions appear on paving which surrounds the monument.]