A Derry tour guide has described suggestions to create a Wall of Honour listing emigrants along Derry’s Quay - first mooted in the ‘Journal’ two weeks ago - as “a fantastic idea” that could be a “major tourist attraction”.
Martin McCrossan of City Tours told the ‘Journal’ this week: “I saw the feature in the ‘Journal’ and I thought it was an absolutely fantastic idea! So many people have left these shores through Derry Port, I have no doubt it would become a major tourist attraction for all those coming here to check out their ancestors who left from here.”
The idea was initially suggested by genealogist and local history expert, Brian Mitchell. In his recent feature, Mr Mitchell described the American Immigrant Wall of Honor that lines the quay at Ellis Island in New York, where the names of over 700,000 immigrants are inscribed. The US Wall is now maintained by donations, with inscription prices starting at $150.
Martin McCrossan went on: “I’ve actually been to Ellis Island and the amount of people who were there checking out their ancestors names was just unbelievable.
“It would be a fantastic addition to what we already have here along Derry’s docks.”
Mr Mitchell’s inspired idea has also stirred responses from influential online ancestry websites. He reveals: “Rachel Foley, founder of Ancestors from Ireland (www.ancestorsfromireland.ie) based in Killarney, Kerry on reading the online story said ‘every journey has a starting point and if a percentage of the nine million diaspora returned home it would be such a positive boost for the economy in Derry.’
“Regan McCormack of The Irish In America (www.theirishinamerica.com) of St. Paul, Minnesota, who are planning to offer family history tours to Ireland from 2013, also responded, saying: ‘We will definitely plan on a visit to Derry the next time we are in Ireland and will be anxiously awaiting our first opportunity to bring an American family back to the Derry Quay so they can get a sense of the exact place where their relative last stood on Irish soil.”
Mr Mitchell suggests that if this idea was to develop, it could follow the model used by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
“In 1982, President Ronald Reagan asked Lee Lacocca, then Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, to head a private sector effort to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,” he explained. “The Foundation’s fundraising drive sparked a dramatic response. To date, the American people have contributed more than $600 million to the repair, restoration, and maintenance of these two great monuments to freedom. All funds for the Foundation’s projects came from the American people, not government funds..”
“It is clear that leadership at the very highest level would be required to make this happen in Derry,” Brian Mitchell added: “I suspect a Paddy Doherty (Bogside) in his prime would have formed a charitable trust and then actively sought donations from USA and across the world to inscribe the name of an ancestor (with date and name of ship if known) who emigrated through Derry on such a wall or piece of sculpture.”
Brian McGrath, Chief Executive of Foyle Port, is extremely proud of the city’s maritime history. “In terms of promoting our maritime heritage, we have developed a valuable information resource on the Port’s history for our website, with Brian Mitchell’s help, which is accessed by people all over the globe.”
Additionally, Derry City Council’s Town Clerk and Chief Executive, Sharon O’Connor, welcomes the recent upgrading of the Emigrant Display on Queen’s Quay and does not rule out future development along the quay.
“The fact that there are over nine million people around the globe who can trace their roots to the North West is a great opportunity for us to build international links and an indication of the Diaspora that we have worldwide... the Emigrant display offers a pivotal tourist attraction and one which could offer potential for further development on our emigrant story,” Mrs O’Connor said.