The most striking reminder of the Great Famine in Co. Longford is the famine graveyard situated beside St Joseph’s Care Centre on Dublin Road, Longford.
The Great Famine lasted from 1845 to 1850, and its immediate cause was the failure of the potato crop due to a fungal infection known as ‘potato blight’.
This was disastrous because the potato was the staple diet of the vast majority of the population, especially the poorer people. The famine resulted in the tragic deaths of over 1million people and the emigration of around 1 million, effectively the loss of a quarter of the population. In the decade from 1841 to 1851, the population of County Longford declined from more than 115,491 to 82,350, a loss of 29%.
To gain access to it, go towards Mount Carmel, the building on the high ground behind St Joseph’s, and veer right. While it is known as ‘the Famine Graveyard’, it was actually the burial ground for Longford Workhouse, and later the county home.
The graveyard opened in 1844, two years after the workhouse itself, and remained in use until the 1960s. There were thousands of burials here but sadly none of the graves were marked, and there is no record of the names of those interred.
Close to the entrance of the famine graveyard is a handsome Celtic cross that was erected to mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine. Mass is celebrated here at dawn on each Easter Sunday morning.