$50,000 gift to Fairfield University Mission Volunteer program commemorates Irish potato famine


"Divinely inspired" by a homily on world hunger, Joseph Walsh and his wife, Theresa, have given the Fairfield University a plaque commemorating the Irish potato famine and donated $50,000 toward the University's poverty relief programs.

"You could say we were divinely inspired," said Theresa Walsh of the family's gifts. "We were here in this chapel and Father Carrier gave a wonderful homily."

At a recent ceremony at the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Walshes unveiled the plaque, which was given in honor of their daughter, Teresa Ann, a senior and member of Alpha Sigma Nu.

Walsh donated the money to the Mission Volunteer program, which exposes students to the poorest parts of the world and gives them opportunities to work and live alongside the poor. Teresa Ann had traveled with Mission Volunteers to aid in relief efforts in Ecuador.

Every year, 30 students in the Mission Volunteer program are sent to live and work with the poor in Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti and Jamaica. The students serve in hospitals and hospices, provide tutoring and help build and repair homes.

The $50,000 gift from the Walshes, said Fr. Carrier, will allow him to maintain and expand the program. "We wanted to do something for Fairfield," said Joseph Walsh.

With the unveiling of the plaque, the Walshes called attention to not only to today's poor and hungry, but also to those who died or fled Ireland during the five years of the Irish potato famine. It was 150 years ago this year that Ireland saw the worst of the famine. More than one million died in Ireland and two million more emigrated to escape the disaster.

Of the immigrants, hundreds of thousands died of disease along the way on so called "coffin ships." Others died when they reached America, and many who survived lived in squalor and faced harsh discrimination.

Dr. William Abbott, chairman of the History Department, said it was discrimination, ignorance and England's "supply and demand" politics that contributed as much to the starving deaths of the Irish as the blight that killed potatoes.

By studying the complex issues behind the famine, he said, lessons can be learned about how to deal with similar situations in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

Diane Menagh, director of Irish Studies, talked about her great-grandmother's trip to the United States to escape the famine and read a poem about the oil lamps left behind by emigrating Irish.

"What they survived," Irish poet Eavan Boland wrote," we could not even live."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 1, 1997