On Saturday 20th May, I travelled across the country to the beautiful valley of Doolough in County Mayo to join the annual ‘AfrI Famine Walk’. For 35 years, AfrI along with thousands of others, including activists such as Gary White Deer of the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, have walked the 11 miles from Delphi Lodge to Louisburgh across the Doolough Valley in commemoration of the hundreds of people who died travelling this same route in search of food in the cold Spring of 1849.

Remembered as the ‘Doolough Tragedy’, upon reaching the lodge, they were turned away without assistance and many died from the freezing temperatures, hunger and exhaustion along the “return road to nowhere”. There was, of course no shortage of food in Ireland at the time, as is the focus of this year’s walk which highlights that “‘Famine’ is a lie”. The reality was that food in Ireland was exported in huge quantities but was not accessible to the country’s poor and vulnerable. During Ireland’s “An Gorta Mór” – the Great Famine”, over a million people died of hunger and another 1.5 million were forced to emigrate. The World Food Programme reminds us that still today, over 800 million people around the world go to bed hungry, despite a third of the worlds food supply going to waste.

My experience as I walked along the 11-mile return route after taking a bus from Louisburg to the exclusive and beautiful Delphi Lodge, was bitter-sweet. Sweet in that my walk was one-way. That I was suitably attired for the elements, that I had food in my rucksack and that there was a coffee pit-stop along the way.

Added to this, is the privilege of walking through one of Irelands most scenic and picturesque locations of natural beauty and to enjoy the company of others along this journey. Bitter however, in the recognition that my walk was a choice rather than a necessity, that I knew where my next meal was coming form, and that I was welcomed by Delphi Lodge. I was not turned away starving, cold and anticipating death.

Before we began to retrace the steps of those who died on that fateful day some 174 years ago, we listened to three emotional and thought-provoking talks about famine, war, separation and hope by Independent Senator, singer and founder of the RISE Foundation Frances Black; Michael Doorly, Head of Active Citizenship with Concern Worldwide; and Joseph Kabwe Kamfwa from Zambia, who works in the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia as a Senior Agricultural Officer and currently in Ireland pursuing an MA in International Development at Maynooth University.

A unique contribution to all AfrI events is the music, song and spoken word. This year the beautiful voice of singer and songwriter Karan Casey (seen left) animated the event with the emotion and spirit that this symbolic event richly deserves. The planting of a tree at Delphi Lodge before the walk is a reminder of those who died along the Doolough Valley in 1849, and for those many more who continue to die of hunger, starvation and war and forced to migrate.

For some 35 years AfrI have consistently drawn attention to this fateful experience in Irish history and at the same time demonstrating the parallels with contemporary experiences of hunger and famine across our world. This year, the walk brought into focus the realities of the ‘crime of war’ and a stark reminder of the many wars and conflicts that continue to plague our planet today. It is shocking to hear that the global arms budget has surpassed US$2 trillion, while at the same time more than 800 million people go hungry.

See the video to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF-je_JYhPc

Also visit the AfrI website: https://www.afri.ie/


You can contact Toni Pyke in AMRI @ justice@amri.ie