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Open from 14 November 2021

'1845: Memento Mori' by Paula Stokes

Admission free

1845: Memento Mori, blown and sandblasted glass, 2021. Photo: Ian Lewis

View a stunning glass installation by Seattle-based Irish artist Paula Stokes, opening on 14 November at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life.

1845: Memento Mori consists of 1,845 handblown glass potatoes remembering the Great Irish Famine. It has taken the artist 15 years to complete and will go on display in the Landlord's Library at Turlough Park House, Castlebar.

The title of the project references the year the potato blight came to Ireland, marking the beginning of a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration.

Liam Ó Maonlaí will perform the official opening of the exhibition in the Landlord's Library at Turlough Park House on 13 November 2021.

As a modern-day member of the Irish Diaspora, Stokes reflects on her own history as an immigrant to examine historical events that have shaped the present. She has also opened a dialogue on how one can learn from the past, and in doing so, hopes to elicit compassionate reflection that transcends the polarising politics of our current time.

1845: Memento Mori first opened at Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon in May 2021 and has been shown since then at Johnstown Castle Estate in County Wexford and the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone.

It is on display at Turlough Park House at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life from 13 November 2021 until 13 July 2022. Find out more about 1845: Memento Mori. This project has been generously supported by the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust.

About the Great Irish Famine

It was noted shortly before the Great Famine struck Ireland, the extent to which the daily diet of at least one-third of the population depended on the consumption of potatoes. Estimates ranged from seven to fifteen pounds of potatoes a day, ‘consumed ‘morning, noon and night’.[1]

This simple calculation points to a common approach to the story of the Great Irish Famine. At its basic level, it is a story told, taught and understood through numbers. Our first introduction tells of the years in which it took hold of the country, 1845 – 1850. Sometimes the years move, a year later in starting, a year earlier or later in finishing. But as has been observed by Ó Gráda, the famine ‘had no clear beginning and no clear end’.[2]

Subsequent readings add the weight of stark figures that mark this tragic time. Those who died from ‘fever, starvation and the cold’; are estimated at just over one million people.[3] 

Another one million people emigrated – many escaping desperate circumstances, but reinforcing a pre-existing trend that would see many more follow in the decades to come.[4]

To these numbers can be added many another; evictions, employment in public work relief schemes, changes in agricultural landholdings, those who passed through workhouses or fed through soup kitchens, to list but a few.[5]

The individual story is often lost in tables and tabulations. Numbers are bleak, chilling and difficult from which to elicit an appropriate emotional response. Our understanding is greater than before, but our empathy perhaps less so. The Great Irish Famine exacted a toll across all sections of society but it hit hardest at the poor and illiterate (often Irish speakers), those with the least resources to leave their own stories.[6] Those accounts that we have of the sufferings endured are often from third parties, official records and later generations.

We seek to understand causes and reasons for an event so encompassing as the Great Irish Famine, but also a more human response. This desire has been commented upon before.[7] One view was to suggest that this would be found, not in the writings of historians but in the creative responses to the Famine.[8]  Examples of this could be found in many art forms. Books such as Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine or Marita Conlon-McKenna’s Under the hawthorn tree,  the ballad Na Fataí Bána, Eavan Boland’s poem Quarantine or the more recent film Black ‘47 all reflect aspects of the Great Irish Famine experience.

It has in more recent years also been expressed in sculptural terms. The National Famine Memorial at Murrisk, Co. Mayo or the Famine memorial at Customs House Quay in Dublin being just two notable examples.

With this in mind the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life welcomes the opportunity to host Paula Stokes’ 1845: Memento Mori at Turlough Park House, Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Paula’s installation offers us all a moment to reflect on the Great Famine, its impact then and since and the universality of its story. 

- By Liam Doherty, Irish Folklife Division, National Museum of Ireland

[1] Crawford, Margaret E., ‘Food and Famine’ in The Great Irish Famine. The Thomas Davis Lecture Series, (ed. Póirtéir, C.), Cork, 1995, p.60

[2] Ó Gráda, C., Black ’47 and Beyond. The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory, New Jersey, 1999,  p.37

[3] Atlas of the Irish Revolution – Resources for Schools – Unit 1: The Great Irish Famine – A Short History, p.4

[4] The Irish Famine – a documentary, Tóibín, C. & Ferriter, D., London, 2001, p.168

[5] For these and other examples see,  The Irish Famine, Tóibín & Ferriter, pp 139, 192 & 193. For the decline of the population in Co. Mayo between 1841 and 1911, see p.189

[6] Póirtéir, C., Famine Echoes, Dublin, 1995, p.3

[7] Bradshaw, B., ‘Nationalism and historical scholarship in modern Ireland’ in Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 26, Issue 104, pp 340-342

[8] Tóibín, Colm, ‘The Irish Famine’ in The Irish Famine – a documentary, Tóibín, C. & Ferriter, D., London, 2001, p.10


'1845: Memento Mori' by Paula Stokes is located at:
Turlough Park,
Co. Mayo
F23 HY31

1845: Memento Mori is a famine memorial by glass artist Paula Stokes. It is an installation of 1,845 handblown glass potatoes remembering the Great Irish Famine.

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Country Life

Turlough Park,
Co. Mayo,
F23 HY31

+353 94 903 1755