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The Famine Memorial at Custom House Quay

On the River Liffey at Custom House Quay stands a tragic sculpture consisting of several human figures and an emaciated dog set in bronze.

The memorial depicts the exodus of Irishmen fleeing the mass starvation and disease of the Potato Famine, 1845-1848, referred to at the time as An Gorta Mór --"the great hunger". In this three-year period, around one million people died, while another million emigrated, most of them to the United States and Britain. 

Entitled Famine, the expressions on the emaciated statues are of sadness and despair, and the sculpture has been described as haunting and difficult to forget, or feel it is reminiscent of a concentration camp. The people are on foot, trying to reach Dublin Port to escape Ireland by boarding a ship to North America with the hopes of a better life there. 

A striking feature of Famine is how it juxtaposes with the tall, gleaming buildings of the Dublin docklands area -- a district that sprouted up during the city's most prosperous period. A little farther down, the replica of the Jeanie Johnson is moored, the ship a floating museum of what the emigrants had to endure in their bid for a better life. 

The sculpture was designed and crafted by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie, and was presented to Ireland by Norma Smurfit on 29 May 1997. The location is historic, since it was the site of the first voyage of the famine exodus on the ship Perseverance, which sailed from Custom House Quay on St. Patrick's Day in 1846. Captained by William Scott, all passengers survived the trip to New York, arriving on 18 May 1846. 

While a little off the beaten track, the monument is in fittingly quiet area, and for many people these exquisitely crafted characters on are one of the most memorable aspects of their visit to Dublin city. In 2007, a second set of figures was unveiled on the quayside in Toronto's Ireland Park to commemorate the arrival of the Irish emigrants.


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