More than 300 people from all over Ireland and abroad took part in the annual Afri Famine on Saturday May 20th. The walk is from Doolough to Louisburgh in County Mayo.
The event commemorates an incident in 1849 where starving victims of the Great Hunger were forced to walk through a night of freezing snow in the hope of receiving food aid from the British authorities. Estimates vary of how many people died on the death march and shortly after, but the night is still remembered as an occasion of terrible loss of life in the area.
Walkers at the start of the Afri Famine Walk
Although the walk is advertised as being ten miles long, it’s a bit further than that. The walk is organised by Afri, an organisation which has been notable for its supoort of the Rossport Five and the Shell to Sea Campaign. Among the hundreds who walked were many activists and supporters of the campaign to prevent Shell and the Irish Government from installing a dangerous experimental raw gas pipeline through a residential area. Sinn Féin Councillor Gerry Murray was among the crowds who joined walk leaders Christy Moore, Vincent and Maureen McGrath, and Dr Owens Wiwa, brother of the late political and environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa. Before the walkers set off there was singing from local children and Christy Moore, and also brief speeches from Vincent McGrath and Owens Wiwa. Vincent reminded the audience that nothing had changed since the day he was sent to prison. The recent government safety report on the scheme did not deal with the concerns of local people, he said, nor has any change been made to the terms of the deal, whereby Shell will be allowed to sell the natural gas back to the Irish people at the full market rate. Shell takes advantage of communities that lie down, he told the crowd, but the people of Mayo and the people of Ireland had shown that they were not going to lie down and let big business and a corrupt government trample them.Doctor Owens Wiwa is the younger brother of Ken Saro Wiwa ('Saro' means ‘eldest son’ in the Ogoni language). Along with eight other activists, Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in Port Harcourt Prison in 1996. It is generally accepted that Shell was the driving force behind the Nigerian government's decision to kill these brave men, who had fought to stop the pollution and depredation of their homeland, amidst the violent incursions of Shell's hired security guards and the Nigerian Army. Dr. Wiwa reminded the crowd at Doolough that the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People had started active protests with a walk in January 1993, when thousands of ordinary Ogoni people had rallied to show their support of the Ogoni Bill of rights, which had been presented to the Nigerian Government. He also noted that while the company refuses to build a platform offshore to refine the Corrib gas, they were prepared to operate offshore around the world. There is no good reason why Shell can’t process the gas offshore. Chief executive of Shell Ireland, Andy Pyle, has recently stated that the company would consider building a platform off the Mayo coast, but within a day the company had gone back on this, saying that an offshore rig was not possible. Many people from the Rossport area and supporters of the Shell to Sea campaign took part in the walk. Local people are aware that Shell are likely to start work again in the near future and are prepared to face prison again to stop them. A solidarity camp has been established for visitors to the area who wish to help with the campaign. There is a bus from Dublin to the Solidarity Camp organised for the June Bank Holiday Weekend. Ring 0868537281 for details.
Related Link: http://www.afri.buz.org
Christy Moore sings before the walk starts
Vincent McGrath and Afri Co-ordinator Joe Murray
Dr Owens Wiwa
23 May 2006 - 6:21pm