By Ray O'Hanlon
Irish America will remember the dead and those who survived the Great Hunger at a series of events this week that will culminate with a National Day of Commemoration in New York Sunday.
And President Mary McAleese will lead the tributes to the 1.5 million people who either died or fled Ireland during An Gorta Mór, this during a four day visit to the city beginning Thursday.
The day of commemoration will fall a week after Ireland marked the Great Hunger in what is now an annual day set aside for remembrance.
McAleese, accompanied by her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, will speak Sunday afternoon at the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City.
The gathering will follow her attendance at Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral and an early morning visit to Congregation Shearith Israel on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
McAleese's attendance at the ceremony in the synagogue is an acknowledgment, according to an official release, of "the generosity of the New York Jewish community to the people of Ireland during the Famine in 1847."
Congregation Shearith Israel is a Sephardic congregation of Spanish and Portuguese origins. Dating back to 1655, it is the oldest Jewish community in United States.
Over the four days, McAleese will attend events designed to acknowledge educational excellence, improve economic ties with Ireland, and forge closer relations with New York's Irish American community.
She will attend an event honoring Irish Americans involved in life sciences, visit a public school, PS 197, in Brooklyn where students are learning about the Great Hunger as part of New York State's Irish studies curriculum.
The president will also preside at a breakfast for business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange.
There will be a reception at the Irish Consulate Friday evening and a visit to the American Irish historical Society where McAleese will meet with Irish seniors, three of them centenarians, and also mark the first anniversary of the Senior Connect telephone hotline.
But it is marking and remembering the Great Hunger, while also focusing on hunger in the world today, that will form the centerpiece of the presidential visit.
On Friday, McAleese, who will also be accompanied by Irish government minister Pat Casey, will formally open a seminar entitled "Hunger in the 21st Century: Ireland and the fight against famine."
The seminar, jointly organized by the Irish aid agencies Concern and Self Help Africa, will take place at the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue.
The consulate offices are also the location for a new exhibit, "Ireland's Great Hunger/An Gorta Mór," which will be opened by the president on Friday evening.
The exhibition, comprised of the Quinnipiac University Collection, will run until September 3.
Saturday's main event for the president will be her delivering of the commencement address at Fordham University in the Bronx.
Sunday will combine the more solemn parts of the visit with the visit to the synagogue on West 70th Street, the Mass at St. Patrick's, and the Battery Park City event in lower Manhattan. The synagogue and Battery Park City events are open to the public.
The Great Hunger Memorial ceremony will feature a series of readings that will include eyewitness accounts from the time of An Gorta Mór. President McAleese and her husband will depart for Ireland on Sunday evening.