Tory MP invited to attend Derry Famine exhibition

The Arts Director of Derry's Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin has invited Tory MP, Priti Patel, to attend a forthcoming exhibition on the Irish Famine following her widely criticised comments in regard to the Brexit negotiations.

Friday, 28th December 2018, 2:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 11:04 am
Conservative Party MP Priti Patel (left) and Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh, Arts Director of Derrys Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin

Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh extended the invitation in a letter sent to Ms. Patel’s office in the House of Commons expressing “sadness and disappointment” over comments made by the Witham MP.

In the letter, the contents of which were shared on An Cultúrlann’s Facebook page, Ms. Ni Dochartaigh said those at the Great James Street Arts Centre were “disappointed and saddened to learn of your recent comments in the context of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, that using food shortages could be a means to pressurise Ireland and to influence the Irish Government’s stance on the backstop.”

Former Secretary of State for International Development, Ms. Patel, sparked a storm of protest when she suggested that the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Republic of Ireland could have been used to encourage the EU to drop the backstop. The M.P. reportedly told ‘The Times’ that research such as this should have been deployed in the Brexit talks as leverage.

A harrowing depiction of the Irish Famine from the time.

She had been speaking after a leaked government report claimed that there could be food shortages in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit and that the economic impact on Ireland would be worse than in the UK.

Following the leak to ‘The Times,’ Ms. Patel was reported as having said: “This paper appears to show the government we are well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario. Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during negotiations? There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.”

The MP later claimed her comments had been taken out of context by some.

Tanáiste Simon Coveney, and senior Labour, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance figures were among those to criticise the remarks.

And in the letter sent to Ms. Patel, Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh wrote: “Clearly you are unaware of the deep significance of the history of the Famine in Ireland, and especially your country’s role in the suffering and death of more than one million Irish people. On behalf of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin (Irish Language, Arts and Cultural Centre) and Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum (Quinnipiac University, Connecticut) we invite you to attend the official opening of ‘Coming Home: Arts and the Great Hunger’ on January 17, 2019.”

Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh, in her letter, gives details of the forthcoming exhibition.

She wrote: ‘Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger’ is an exhibition of the world’s largest collection of Famine-related art, and is touring Ireland for the first time. The collection, from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, constitutes a direct link to the past of almost 6.5 million Irish, and 40 million Irish American people.

“The deaths and dispersion of two million people, followed by a further two million emigrations to the end of the century makes this an important gesture of cultural reconnection.

“It has been shown at Dublin Castle and at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre. The exhibition will finish its tour in Derry and will be shown from January 18 until March 16, 2019.

“This will be a unique and personal opportunity for you to familiarise yourself with Ireland’s Great Hunger and the suffering endured during that period in our history.”

The ‘Derry Journal’ yesterday wrote to Ms. Patel’s Constituency Office seeking a response.

The Mayor of Derry & Strabane John Boyle announced several weeks ago that the esteemed collection of artworks would be coming to Derry .

It features selected artworks from 50 of Ireland’s most eminent artists, including Jack B. Yeats, Micheal Farrell, Alanna O’Kelly, Robert Ballagh, Dorothy Cross and William Crozier.

Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Ryan D. Mahoney, said at the time: ‘At the height of the Famine in 1847, over 12,000 emigrants left the Port of Derry.

“As such a significant point of departure, it is fitting that the art be shown in Derry before it returns to the US in March, 2019.”

He added: “Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and Quinnipiac University are delighted that the art will be shown at the vibrant centre of culture and community, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin.’ We’re overwhelmed by the reaction to the art in Dublin and West Cork, with over 90,000 visitors to date, we anticipate huge interest from people in Derry and visitors alike.”

Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh, meanwhile, described the exhibition as ‘a very important gift for Derry.’

“It ties into An Cultúrlann’s remit to place the city on the international stage as a place that celebrates culture and community. We’re encouraging everyone to visit us in 2019 and to see this exhibition as a homecoming, because the famine story is our story and the art will provide a deeper connection to and understanding of this story,” she concluded.