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Saturday memorial to honor the victims of Irish famine
This memorial is dedicated to innocent victims of the Irish famine; it is at St. Joseph Cemetery on East Sonora Road and the cemetery will be the site for a May 18 gathering to remember those victims. Photo By Marg Jackson

Not all who were victims of the Irish famine died.

Some fled their homeland amid the lack of food during the famine, many never returning and losing contact with family.

In recognition of that, a Saturday morning, May 18 commemoration will remember the “innocent victims” of the famine. The setting will be St. Joseph Cemetery, a small, rural cemetery on Sonora Road, off 26-Mile Road northeast of Oakdale.

While the Irish Gathering Society of Modesto that used to coordinate the memorial has disbanded since last year’s event, area resident Jim Brennan has taken up the planning and has issued an invitation to all interested to come join the service.

Organizers in the past have also noted that the ‘famine’ in Ireland was due not because of a crop failure but because landowners chose to sell the crop overseas and not provide enough food for those who worked to grow it.

The gathering will begin at 10:30 a.m., said Brennan, and is expected to include a brief history of 26-Mile House, a once-bustling community in the area, as well as the chance to tour the cemetery to see the various gravesites of Irish immigrants buried there.

“A representative from the Irish Consulate in San Francisco has been invited to attend,” Brennan said.

Last year, Elizabeth Creely, serving as the Cultural and Heritage Officer for the Consulate General of Ireland in San Francisco, was in attendance and said the maintenance and attention to detail at the small, rural site was touching to see.

“I’m looking at a meticulously restored, community-stewarded space which has provided us with the only famine memorial in California,” Creely noted. “We’re very, very pleased to see this kind of community care assigned to this place of rest and memory.”

This year will be the fifth observance at the site; the formal address for the cemetery is 6745 East Sonora Road. It technically is in Farmington, and is about five miles north of Woodward Reservoir.

“It should be about a 45-minute gathering,” Brennan added. “It’s open to the public, whoever wants to attend.”