Waylon Gary White Deer
Native American, Waylon Gary White Deer of the Choctaw First Nation, will lead this year’s Famine 1848 Walk in Ballingarry, Co Tipperary on Saturday, 28 July.
The Walk commemorates all those who suffered, died or emigrated during the Great Famine (1845-1850) and the 1848 Rising which took place in Ballingarry in the middle of the Famine as a response to it. The Walk is an annual act of witness, memory and remembrance of a time when the Irish people were at their lowest ebb, when a million people died and another million fled the country. The Walk also expresses solidarity with contemporary suffering caused by Famine throughout the world.
The Walk will begin at 3pm at the Young Ireland 1848 and National Flag monument in the village of The Commons and it covers a distance of about a mile and a half of gently ascending roadway to Famine Warhouse 1848, which was the scene of the Rising. The Walk usually takes about forty-five minutes.
Famine Warhouse 1848 is an OPW state national heritage site in Ballingarry which is open to visitors. The house is now a museum with a historical exhibition and audio-visual. It is in the hidden Ireland mid-way on the scenic driving route between the Rock of Cashel and Kilkenny city. Last September, it was the scene of the impressive National Famine Commemoration, led by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. That televised event took place in the presence of forty-seven ambassadors who each laid wreaths on behalf of their own countries commemorating Irish famine victims. These wreaths were subsequently placed in graveyards in all the surrounding parishes in Tipperary and Kilkenny where famine dead undoubtedly lie.
This year’s Walk Leader Waylon Gary White Deer is a member of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma in the United States. The Choctaws are the third largest First Nation native tribe in the United States. White Deer is a well known Choctaw writer and artist with a great interest in the Irish famine. He has been asked to lead the Walk in memory of a remarkable act of generosity during the Great Famine. The Choctaws were an oppressed race in the United States who themselves had been dispossessed of their homeland by the national authorities in Washington DC to make way for new settlers. Despite their own poverty, when the Choctaws heard about the Irish Famine, they held a collection among themselves and raised 170 dollars which they sent as famine relief to the poor and starving in Ireland. This notable act of humanity has been recalled in recent years and has resulted in good relations between the Irish state and the Choctaw nation, not least through the activities of Mr White Deer. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaws in Oklahoma in March of this year.
This Walk event which is organised by the Ballingarry 1848 Society has proven to be a great annual County Tipperary occasion attracting visitors from all over Ireland and international visitors. The Walk has been led by a wide variety of people from Archbishops, Ambassadors and Holocaust survivors to locals such as Anthony Ivors who raised the national flag daily at The Commons for over two decades, a task since taken over by John Webster, manager of the OPW site. Last year the Walk Leader was Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly.
The Famine 1848 Walk, always takes place on the last Saturday in July, the day of the Famine Rising. Leaders of the Rising, William Smith O’Brien, M.P. (who denounced the Famine in the House of Commons and tried to lead a bloodless revolution), Thomas Francis Meagher (who gave Ireland its national flag in 1848), Terence Bellew Mac Manus, and Patrick O’Donohoe, were sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering for High Treason in a State trial in Clonmel, Their death sentences were subsequently commuted to penal transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Other participants such as James Stephens, John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny (who went on to found the IRB) escaped after the Rising to France and the United States of America.
The Walk takes place, rain or shine. Both are possible on the same afternoon, so walkers should bring a sun hat and an umbrella. Refreshments will be served as usual in the courtyard after the Walk Leader’s speech. On Sunday, 29 July, there will be guided tours in the afternoon explaining what happened at Famine Warhouse1848. All are welcome on the Walk or at the house.