North Mayo winners of the 2019 Meithal Award for a project on Irish female orphans sent to Australia during the great famine to be presented with the accolade at a function in Dublin at the weekend

Thousands of girls from 14 upwards were picked from among the poor in workhouses and transported to the British colony as the corpses of 1.5 million men, women and children left to starve to death by political elites were piling up in the Irish countryside.

Sligo News File.

A Ballina group recognised with a Meithal Award for their work on memorising the tragic plight of Irish orphan girls shipped as ‘breeder stock’ to Australia at the height of the great famine is to be presented with the accolade at a function in Dublin at the weekend.

Leader, Mayo Famine Orphans Remembrance  group, historian and author, Terry Reilly

Group leader, the historian and author Terry Reilly points out in his critically acclaimed book ‘Mayo’s Forgotten Famine Girls’ that in two years, between 1848 and 1850, more than 4,000 girls, 137 from Mayo, were taken from workhouses in Ireland and packed off to the British colony to fulfil the territory’s need for young females.

The adolescents, some as young as 14, were taken primarily as ‘breeder stock’ and dropped in the British territory where men outnumbered women by 9 to 1. Their selection in the workhouses was carried out as the corpses of 1.5 million men, women and children left to die of starvation and disease by British political elites were piling up in the Irish countryside.

During the Famine food sufficient to feed double the country’s population was shipped out of the country.

On arrival in Australia, the children were met by a frenzy of prejudice and racism because of their Catholic religion. Attacked by one local publication as “workhouse sweepings” it went on to describe the orphans as “hordes of useless trollops, thrust upon an unwilling community.”

“Instead of mere orphans, we are being inundated with Irish paupers,” stated another.

Another opinionated: “It is downright robbery to withhold our funds from decent eligible well brought up girls, to lavish it upon a set of ignorant creatures, whose knowledge of household duty barely reaches to distinguishing the inside from the outside of a potato, and whose chief employment hitherto, has consisted of some intellectual
occupation as occasionally trotting across a bog to fetch back a runaway pig.”

The Ballina Famine Remembrance group has erected a permanent memorial to the 137 Mayo girls in the form of a bronze statue, generously donated by businessman, Frank Kerins in the vicinity of the public library at Pearse Street. Other exhibits donated by local and Dublin groups are also on display in the library premises.

Mayo Man of the Year 2019 Cathal Hughes pictured with the president Michael D. Higgins

The Mayo Person of the Year has been awarded to Westport businessman Cathal Hughes. He and the Ballina group will be presented with the 2019 awards by the Dublin Mayo Association at a black-tie ceremony at the Yew Tree Ball in Ballsbridge Hotel on next Saturday 9 February.

Hughes, the only Westport person to win the Mayo Person of the Year, is being honoured for his contribution to the economic well-being of the county and his job-creating endeavours in the West Mayo town.

The award recognises his contribution to the improvement of education for the children of employees in Portwest global operations and in particular his campaign raising
awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning following the tragic loss of his son Padraig on Christmas Day 2008.

He is co-patron with former president Mary McAleese of the Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation, a body of which he was one of the founders.

The 2019 Young Mayo Person of the Year, sponsored by Dr. Mona McGarry, is being presented to Sara McFadden from Turlough, Castlebar.

She was chosen by the independent panel of adjudicators in recognition of how she overcame personal adversity, and for the outstanding example, she sets for young people particularly those who face personal challenges.