Olean Famine Memorial Damaged in Car Chase

The memorial before it was damaged

By Irish Echo Staff

Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are vowing to rebuild a Famine Memorial in Olean, New York, which was heavily damaged during a high speed car chase on Easter Sunday Morning.

According to a report in the Olean Times Herald Hibernians in the upstate New York community are “devastated” by the destruction Sunday morning of the Irish Famine Memorial in War Veterans Park by an out-of-control vehicle.

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Bill O’Connell, president of AOH Division 2 Cattaraugus County told the Times Herald that members were still coming to grips with the incident and while they are not exactly sure how they will immediately proceed, they are sure they want to see the memorial rebuilt.

“We’re all pretty devastated. But a few of us were there the other day to see what we could salvage. We are definitely planning on rebuilding,” O'Connell said.

According to the Times Herald, O'Connell explained that even smaller stones that were part of the memorial have important meaning.

Some stones are from the Antietam battlefield, where the famed Irish Brigade fought for the Union during the Civil War in 1862. And there are stones from the site of the New Ireland settlement in what is now Allegany State Park.

"John P. Walsh, the Olean man most responsible for getting the memorial built in the late 1990s, made a sojourn to his ancestral home in Ireland and brought back a stone to be included in the design.

"The top piece of the memorial was a remnant of the stone Penrose Quay in Cobh Harbor, in the city of Cork from where tens of thousands of immigrants took to ships during the famine of 1845-50 to emigrate to America."

At the national level, the Hibernians release a statement. It reads: The National Ancient Order of Hibernians is greatly saddened to learn of the destruction of the Irish Famine Memorial in Olean, NY this weekend.

"While the destruction was the result of a police suspect trying to elude arrest losing control of their vehicle rather than a deliberate act of targeting, that does not mitigate the unnecessary senselessness of the act nor lessen the loss to the Irish community.

"We are disappointed that per news reports that no charges were filed against the driver for the destruction of the memorial and must ask why? It is unfortunate that the very real assault on the Irish American community is not being acknowledged by police and prosecutors in the form of charges.

"The very personal nature of the memorial, where members contributed individual stones from their ancestral homes in Ireland and battlefields where Irish Americans had shed their blood in defense of their county, mean that while the damage is repairable the monument itself is irreplaceable. We will be working with members of the NY State Board to see what assistance we may be able to offer."