by Dave Walden
Famine commemorations have been taking place throughout the country and the Cumann Staire had several discussions at their meetings as to how they would make their small contribution.
There are few records of how the famine affected the parish of Iveleary, and it is possible to draw certain conclusions from, for instance, a study of population statistics. Even so, apart from some well-known stories, there are few facts about the effects and ramifications of such a seminal event in the history of this area.
Undoubtedly some fared better than others, but for many at the time, the soup kitchen provided at least a temporary reprieve from hunger.
Many soup kitchens were set up in parishes all over the country. Some were operated by charitable individuals doing what they could, some by humanitarian organisations.
During a field trip by the History Society in 1995, Coolmountain house was visited, where during the worst years of the Famine a soup kitchen operated. A Mr. Denis O'Leary, the owner of Coolmountain House at the time, ordered a large soup pot from England and proceeded as best he could to alleviate the suffering in his area. The story goes that a large bell was tolled whenever the soup was prepared. The bell seems to have been lost but the large vessel, the famine pot, had survived intact and was being used as a tank for watering the cattle.
The present incumbent of Coolmountain House suggested that the Cumann Staire take the pot away, as he felt that the use he was putting it to did not reflect the importance of such an historical artifact.
Unfortunately the society did not act on the suggestion immediately, and the pot was collected by another person, Les Carter.
As it happens, for a year the pot was used by its new owner in a lively fashion. Fires were made beneath it, water heated and it became an outdoor bath for the family of Les Carter in the Mealagh valley.
The Society made a few overtures to get the pot returned to the parish and eventually it was agreed that if the pot was going to be respected according to its history, then the Society repatriate to the parish where it belonged.
With the pot back in the parish, ideas were then discussed as to what to do with it. It was decided to locate the Famine Pot in a permanent position as a memorial to the famine victims, the emigrants and the survivors.
Several sites were proposed and the small green island outside the Dairygold creamery became the favourite. During the discussions with Dairygold over the use of the site, Dairygold came up with the idea that the ground in question should be donated by them to the Historical Society. This was agreed and with the help of the Tidy Towns Committee the site has been improved with a new wall and top soil.
If the Famine Pot were left in the open it would fill with water and litter in no time at all, so it was decided that a small structure should be built over it. The design for this structure was undertaken by Luc Racine and the final design incorporates bent oak beams and old slates. The shape is deliberate and intends to imitate a type of 'house' that many poor people of those times had to live in, that is bent wood laid together with straw thatching over to keep out the rain.
With the sponsorship of a supporting frame from Firebird Boilers, Ballymakeera, and a grant for some of the materials from Údaras Na Gaeltachta, the project was able to get underway. At the time of writing the plans to erect this memorial are well advanced If everything goes according to plan it should be completed before the end of 1997, Famine Commemoration year.