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Skibbereen Famine Scene

The Irish Potato Famine

The Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s is now recognised as the worst humanitarian disaster of 19th century Europe. In 1841 the population of Ireland was 8.5 million people. By 1850, at least one million people had died in terrible conditions while another million emigrated as refugees. It is estimated that a further half a million births did not take place as a direct result of 'The Great Hunger'.

The Skibbereen area was one of the worst affected by the Irish Famine. It became notorious as the centre of some of the most harrowing suffering endured by famine victims throughout the country.

From newspaper accounts of the time, Skibbereen was depicted as being symbolic of the destitution and hardship caused by the failure of the potato crop. Between 8,000 and 10,000 unidentified souls are buried in the Famine graveyard at Abbeystrewery near Skibbereen.

Skibbereen Heritage Centre commissioned a film on the Great Famine in Skibbereen which is available on DVD. The Great Irish Famine - Remember Skibbereen was broadcast on Irish and Canadian TV and can be purchased on DVD on our online shop. Made by award-winning film maker Pat Collins, it features interview with Prof. Joe Lee, Dr Larry Geary, Prof. Mark McGowan, Gary White Deer and local historians.

The Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre commemorates this period of Irish history and serves as a tribute to the suffering of the local population. 

Image of part of the Famine ExhibitionThe Exhibition portrays the Great Famine through the primary source accounts of the time, giving an overview of government policies and how they impacted on the ground. Reports from the relief committee in their attempts to alleviate the suffering of local people are shown alongside reports of how the international community responded to the crisis. The story unfolds in an interactive way through the dramatisation by actors, including Jeremy Irons, of actual events and people of the time.

Skibbereen features in an RTE radio documentary on the Great Famine 'Blighted Nation' which is available as a podcast here. This is an award winning series of 4 programmes which opens with Skibbereen's experiences and features Skibbereen Heritage Centre.


Famine Trail

Skibbereen: The Famine Story
is the title of a walking trail app and a book, both of which explore the tragic consequences of the Great Famine. The app uses the streets of Skibbereen town to trace the crisis as it unfolded using the voices of the people who experienced it. The book, which was written by members of staff at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, traces the events of the Great Famine and examines its impact on the Skibbereen district. For more information please visit our Famine Story page.

Some of the visitors' book comments regarding the exhibition::

'excellent Famine exhibition'
'tragic and moving, a powerful exhibition'
'very enlightening experience'
'superb presentation. Famine content very moving'
'second visit - excellent exhibition'
'thought provoking, excellent exhibition''
'very informative'
'a brilliant history lesson!'
'excellent in providing different perspective on this chapter and its wider context'
'very interesting, good for kids to see this'
'an eye-opening exhibition'
'great place, congratulations to all concerned'
'what a wonderful exhibition - great!'
'very moving experience, excellently portrayed'
'an excellent account of terrible times'
'should be seen by all young people - lest we forget!'
'respect to our ancestors'
'very well done'
'great detail and good references'
'God rest their souls, very moving experience'
'excellent exhibition - so sad that starvation is still with us'
'impressive presentation - high standards evident'
'thanks for helping to preserve our history, this exhibition is so important'

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  Skibbereen Heritage Centre

  Old Gas Works, Upper Bridge Street, Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland

   Telephone: (353) 28 40900    E-mail: info@skibbheritage.com