Grainne shock at stumbling on her roots in famine village
GRAINNE Seoige has told how she was overcome with emotion on stumbling across her own heritage while researching the history of the Famine for a new RTE documentary.
She said she felt "a cold chill" run down her spine when the film crew came upon an abandoned famine village her ancestors are believed to have come from.
Galway girl Grainne was filming for new four-part series Great Irish Journeys, which follows four journeys that were undertaken in Ireland across four centuries.
She was retracing Thomas Carlyle's tour around the famine-stricken country in 1849 when the team found the village.
"We came across this ghostly place on the side of a mountain near Killary Harbour on the west coast," she said.
"It was an abandoned famine village, and when I heard its name, Fuinseoige, I just thought, 'Oh my God'. I turned to the producer and asked him if it was a set-up, but it wasn't.
"There were many Seoiges from the area, and we are all of the one clan. I have to say, I got a shiver down my spine."
Known for her unflappable image, she admitted she became emotional on several occasions as the journey unfolded.
"What struck me is how disconnected we all are from that period of our history but, when you think about it, it was not that long ago," she said.
"It really got to me, learning the individual stories of so many men, women and children. When you are standing by the side of a road, in Cork, in your wellies in the pouring rain and you hear about the people who built it, it would reduce you to tears."
Grainne learned of a man named Con Moriarty who was employed in building a road and would work from sunrise until sundown before he received a few coins for food because "those in power at the time felt he had to be deserving".
"There was an attitude at the time that you couldn't just give the people money for nothing, they had to work for it," she said.
"They were walking skeletons. Men, women and children building this road that starts nowhere and goes nowhere. And this man, Con Moriarty, going home to his mud cabin after a long day and dying from the hunger and exhaustion.
"This is at a time when they were exporting masses of food every week – pigs, wheat, you name it."
Quoting the old Irish adage "Aimsir an Drochshaol" meaning "times of the bad life", she said: "We have to remember we are descendants of the people who stuck it out, the people who survived those terrible, terrible times. That was our holocaust, and our ancestors survived it."
Reflecting on the Ireland of today, she said: "What happened back then eventually led to a rebellion, and I think sometimes the Irish tend to take stuff lying down.
"Sometimes we can be so stoic and accepting that we just get on with it. I think we are tough, but sometimes we should be more outraged."
Great Irish Journeys begins this evening on RTE One at 6.30pm.