Sharing the shamrocks of shame

Ciaran Tierney
7 min readMar 13, 2024


Cartoon by Carlos Latuff.

By Ciaran Tierney

When I used to take adult foreign language students on walking tours of Galway in the years before Covid, they were always taken aback by the story of Celia Griffin.

She does not have a prominent place in the history of Galway city or county, or didn’t anyway until a rebel spirit called Mark Kennedy insisted that a seafront park in Salthill be named in honour of her more than a decade ago.

Celia and children like Celia here in the West of Ireland had almost been erased from our consciousness before that park opened in 2012.

Perhaps the memories were too painful. Or generations of Galway people were plagued by survivors’ guilt after their families had lived through a calamity, which saw entire families and villages being wiped out.

The students from countries such as Brazil, Spain, Switzerland, or Mexico used to express shock when I would stop beside Grattan Road beach to give them a brief outline of Celia’s story, before moving on to more pressing matters such as the best place to buy a pint or to pick up an Irish sim card.

How could Celia (aged six) have died in such appalling circumstances in Europe, under one of the richest empires on the planet, the students would invariably ask me as we walked on towards the Claddagh and the city centre.

Celia was born and raised in the Martin estate in Connemara. In February 1847, when her family literally had no food to eat, they walked the 30 miles into Galway City.

Seeking relief, Celia and her two sisters were taken in by the Presentation Sisters on Presentation Road. But it was too late. Celia collapsed on the street. Despite efforts by the nuns to revive her, the six-year-old Galway girl died of starvation in the heart of our city.

Thanks to the late Mark Kennedy, the Celia Griffin Children’s Park remembers the little girl from Connemara and all of the children whose lives were lost during those years when a million Irish people died of starvation and two million were forced to emigrate.

Nearby, the Famine Memorial Park honours the 100 famine ships which sailed out of Salthill between 1847 and 1850, when thousands upon thousands of people across Ireland were dying because the potato crop failed.

Most of the people on those boats never got to see the land of their birth again and, indeed, many of them were too weak to complete the journey across the Atlantic. They died as they strove to escape oppression and discrimination, by trying to make new lives for themselves in North America.

A march through the streets of Galway in solidarity with Palestine. Photo by Colin Stanley

I thought of Celia this week when I saw an image of a starving child in Gaza. It triggered something in me to realize why Galway people have steadfastly supported rallies and vigils for Palestine over the past six months, marching in the wind, cold, and rain on winter days and evenings to call for an end to the genocide in Gaza.

I thought of Celia when I watched the utter despair on the faces of Gazans as they tried to reach food aid which was being dropped from the sky, ironically from the same US Government which has funded, provided the armaments, and supported the genocide in Gaza, and vetoed calls for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council.

In the 1840s, we console ourselves now, nobody in the wider world could see how Irish people were being deliberately starved to death by a racist, settler-colonial government which continued to export food and grain to “mainland” Britian from our ports while thousands upon thousands were starving.

People in Spain or France could not see images of the starving children in Galway or Mayo on smartphones, or being delivered to their living rooms by brave television reporters on the ground. People across Europe had the excuse of being able to say they did not know what was going on in the famine-stricken West of Ireland at the time.

In 2024, we can watch a genocide unfold live on TV. Brave Al Jazeera reporters, often risking their own lives, are telling the world about the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza, the bombings of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and how families are trying to survive on animal feed after being crowded into a tiny area of what was already one of the most crowded places on earth.

We see the images of the trucks lined up at the border, prevented from travelling into Gaza by racist protesters and the Israeli government which has kept the 2.3 million people in Gaza under an inhumane siege — in which hardly anyone gets to travel in or out — for the past 17years.

In a place where 75% of the people were already refugees, from what is now Israel, and where 50% are children, the collective punishment of so many people looks unbearably cruel to many Irish people who seem to have a keener understanding of injustice, and the horrors of famine, than most of our counterparts across Europe.

And yet the government of President Joe Biden, who appears to be so proud of his West of Ireland roots, continues to fund this slaughter and starvation of men, women and children who have nowhere else to go.

The death toll passed 31,000 last week and the slaughter shows no sign of abating despite the anguish and anger expressed at rallies and marches all across the world, including here in Galway, where 500 people marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine two weeks ago.

The UN has warned that Gaza is now on the brink of famine.

A Palestinian woman wears a traditional dress during a vigil in Galway in 2021. Photo by Ciaran Tierney

It seems appalling to so many of us that Irish politicians are making pilgrimages to the United States to fraternise with the people who are responsible for this genocide on St Patrick’s Day.

Palestinian friends of mine have said they are disgusted that Irish politicians would even consider sharing the shamrock with President Biden when his government is responsible for the genocide and has gone out of its way to block efforts to bring about a permanent ceasefire.

Irish politicians have rejected calls to boycott this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House while people in Palestine, who look up to the Irish after our own long struggle to obtain freedom, are starving.

The catastrophe in Palestine is man-made, just as the appallingly racist British Government was responsible for the death of Celia Griffin — and thousands of other Irish children like her — in the 1840s.

By sharing the shamrock with ‘Genocide Joe’ when his Government bears huge responsibility for the genocide in Gaza, our political leaders have shown they are completely out of touch with thousands upon thousands of Irish people.

US military aid, and the US veto at the UN Security Council, have prolonged the despair, suffering, and annihilation of entire families, even as a strong case is currently before the International Court of Justice alleging that Israel is eradicating children in Gaza.

Leo Varadkar claims that he will give Joe Biden a piece of his mind on Sunday. But the reality is that ‘Genocide Joe’ will relish his “photo opp” with the shamrock from Ireland and the US media will have little or no interest in what the Irish leader has to say.

It would be a far more powerful statement if An Taoiseach reflected the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Irish people who turn up every weekend to express support for the people of Gaza and horror about the circumstances they have been forced to endure.

St Patrick’s Day will mark day 163 of the Gaza Genocide.

If they were to honour the memory of thousands upon thousands of Irish children like Celia Griffin, our Irish political leaders would not go within a million miles of ‘Genocide Joe’ or the White House on this St. Patrick’s Day.

In recent days, Irish musicians have had the courage to pull out of a prestigious US music festival after discovering it has deep links to weapons companies and the US military, who are complicit in the genocide.

But, once again, our politicians don’t reflect the wishes of the people, by showing deference to the powerful when ordinary people are expressing solidarity with some of the most oppressed people on the planet in their time of pending famine.

It’s shameful.

Ciaran Tierney is a Galway-based journalist, Irish language planning officer, and the current Co-Chair of the Galway branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). Find him on X / Twitter at or on Facebook at You can find the Galway branch of the IPSC on Facebook and Instagram

A rally for Palestine at the Spanish Arch in Galway. Photo by Colin Stanley.



Ciaran Tierney

A former newspaper journalist, with an interest in human rights, travel, and current affairs, Ciaran won the 2018 Irish Current Affairs Blog of The Year award.