While in Skibbereen, termed “ground zero” for the mid-19th century Irish famine, we learned of a donation that the Choctaw Nation of Mississippi sent to the Irish in 1847. The total sum: $170, worth tens of thousands in today’s dollars.
The Choctaw Nation were less than 20 years removed from their own horrific experience during America’s “Trail of Tears,” when Native Americans were forced off their ancestral lands by the U.S. federal government.
A description of the gift, and the Choctaw people, are summarized at IrishFamine.ie:
“On March 23, 1847 the Indians of the Choctaw nation took up a collection of $170 for Irish Famine relief – an incredible sum at the time. This was particularly poignant given their own history of enduring deprivation themselves. In 1831 the Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to what is now known as Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first of several tribes to make this difficult trek or Trail of Tears as it became known. The years during and immediately following this journey, were very difficult for the tribal people. Many of the Choctaws did not survive the trip, and those that did faced hardships establishing new homes, schools, and churches. Only 16 years after this journey, the Choctaws learned of the famine in Ireland. As the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, they felt a great empathy with the Irish people. These Choctaw people, who had such meagre resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.”
We first heard about this donation from our tour guide, Dermott, as he recounted stories of the history of the Great Famine while we toured Cork . Our cousin, Gearoíd, later drove us to a memorial, dedicated last June, commemorating the Choctaw gift.
The memorial is located in Midleton, East Cork and was deeply moving in its size, design, and meaning: 6-meter tall stainless steel feathers arranged in a circle to symbolize the Choctaw, as well as an empty bowl and the hunger of the Irish people during the famine. What a hauntingly beautiful tribute.
So much of this trip has been informing and educational about our Irish history; but this memorial invites us to learn more about our American history as well.