TO COMMEMORATE THE SUFFERING DURING THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE OF THE 1840'S, WHEN A MILLION OR MORE STARVED ON THE LAND, AND A MILLION OR MORE TOOK TO THE SEA, A NEW MEMORIAL IN PHILADELPHIA WILL REMEMBER A PROUD PEOPLE.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish Potato Famine, a committee of prominent Philadelphians from business, government and the arts have commissioned a monument to the Irish who perished and to those who survived, immeasurably enriching the history and culture of the United States.
The Great Hunger was a tragedy that led to the single greatest loss of life in Europe between the Napoleonic wars and World War 1. It began in 1845 and affected other European countries. But in Ireland, the crisis took place in an economic, political and social framework that was oppressive and unjust. Ireland and her people endured a disproportionate share of suffering. When the blight struck, 75 per cent of Ireland's tillable land was devoted to growing grains, such as barley, corn, oats, and wheat, almost all of which was exported. Likewise, the cattle, pigs, and sheep were not eaten by the Irish but sent to Great Britain. All of this food was sufficient to feed the Irish people several times over. Because of the mandatory exporting, as well as 1847 British legislation that facilitated eviction of Irish tenants by their landlords, a million Irish starved to death, and another million were forced to flee Ireland. This amounted to the loss of almost a quarter of the population.
Irish emigrated to Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. The overwhelming emigration was to North America. Those who managed to survive the 'coffin ships' bound for North America did not receive a warm welcome. They became America's urban poor and were quickly identified with disease, alcohol abuse, and crime. However these entry level laborers helped build railroads, dig canals, mine coal, and foster the growth of cities, states and the nation. Many Irish went on to make significant contributions in the fields of business, education, industry, government, medicine, science, religion and the arts. Today, more than 44 million Americans claim Irish heritage. In addition to honoring the memory of those who perished during the famine, the Irish Memorial will recognize the indomitable spirit of the Irish who became an integral part of this nation's fabric by virtue of their contributions. The monument will also serve as testimony to the rich legacy of Irish American people. It is hoped that the Irish Memorial will educate and inspire all visitors.
In a 1997 international competition, Santa Fe artist Glenna Goodacre was unanimously selected as the winning sculptor for the Irish Memorial. On March 13, 2000, the Irish Memorial Committee held a ceremonial contract signing for the monument's commission. This event, which took place at the Plough and the Stars Restaurant in Philadelphia, marked the official beginning of the project, and Goodacre received the first installment of her payment. She was given 14 months to sculpt the Irish Memorial and 14 months to have it cast. The projected date for the monument's dedication is September 2002.
This major monument will stand in downtown Philadelphia at Front and Chestnut streets. The 1 3/4 acre national site is a public park that overlooks the Delaware River at historic Penn's landing, a fitting location because many of the Irish disembarked along those shores. When completed, the massive bronze will be Goodacre's most ambitious public sculpture with 25 life-size figures. The silicon bronze that will be used is particularly resilient and will have a dark patina with a touch of green, which will grow over the years. A majestic landscaped garden will surround the sculpture.
The monumental bronze is designed as a dynamic are filled with movement. Approximately 12 feet high, 30 feet long, and 12 feet wide, the sculpture will rest on a concrete plinth 2 feet high and will have the basic profile of a large wedge. The monument's flow will depict the famine in Ireland, the people embarking for America, and then the immigrants stepping onto American shores. The east end, suggesting a landscape, will portray the misery of the Irish starvation. In contrast, the higher end, suggesting a ship, will face west as anxious immigrants dock in America and a number of figures rush forward in hope and anticipation. For this sculpture in the round, all of the figures will be in period dress but will be loosely modeled and impressionistic. From more than too artists, Goodacre was chosen to sculpt the Irish Memorial not only because of her dynamic design but also because she expressed the mission and objective of the memorial.
Goodacre's ability to capture emotion in sculptural form has been honed over several decades of an award winning career. The most recognized of her completed public monuments is the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington D.C. Goodacre has more than 40 bronze portraits in public collections, including sculptures of Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Greer Garson, and Scott Joplin. In 2001, Goodacre's rendering of Sacagawea, the interpreter for Lewis and Clark, appeared on the face of a new dollar coin issued by the U.S. mint. For more than a decade, Goodacre has been a participant in the Art in Embassies program, exhibiting work worldwide. An academician of the National Academy of Design since 1994 and a fellow of the National Sculpture Society since 1981, she has won many awards at their exhibitions in New York. Much recently, she received honorary doctorates from Colorado College, her alma mater, and Texas Tech University in her hometown of Lubbock.
As part of an initiative in the Philadelphia school district, as well as in other school districts throughout the country, the Irish potato famine has been recently added to the history curriculum. Philadelphia's Irish Memorial will give a stirring visual presentation, coupled with substantial historical data, to complement the school curriculum. The memorial will truly be an educational experience.