Famine monument pioneer Tom Power dead at 87

 Tom Power with President Mary McAleese at the Hyde Park Barracks in 2003.

Tom Power with President Mary McAleese at the Hyde Park Barracks in 2003.

WITHOUT Tom Power, there would be no monument to the Great Irish Famine in Sydney. Perhaps more importantly, we would be less likely to know about the more than 4,000 Irish orphan girls who came to Australia during and after the Great Hunger.

These girls and young women became the mothers and grandmothers of Australia and as many as seven million Aussies may be able to trace their ancestry to them. It was back in 1995, during her state visit to Australia, that President Mary Robinson suggested that some memorial be erected in remembrance of the Great Famine, which had driven so many people to Australia in the 19th century. A committee was formed to do just that, with Tom Power as chairman.

“It all started in 1995 and we got to work from there,” Tom told the Irish Echo back in 2012. “We had a meeting of all the county associations and decided to build this memorial. It was four hard years of fundraising and it was a lot of work with dinners, dances and raffles. Hopefully it’s something that will be there forever. It’s a marvellous thing.”

Tom, who died on December 28, aged 87, was the man who envisioned the monument; who worked tirelessly and selflessly alongside his committee colleagues to raise the funds necessary to complete its design and construction.

 The Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

The Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

The result, located in the grounds of the Hyde Park Barracks – one of Australia’s oldest and most significant buildings – is a breathtaking structure. Each year, descendants of the orphan girls, whose names are inscribed on the glass walls of the monument, gather there to honour their Irish ancestors. It’s a profoundly moving event and a wonderful legacy to Tom’s dedication, passion and vision. But most of all, his hard work has gifted this part of the Diaspora a sacred site in a prestigious location which will forever remind us of the depth and complexity of Australia’s Irish heritage. 

When Tom Power left his home village of Powerstown in Co Tipperary to set sail for Australia back in 1956, he could hardly have known the lasting impact he would have on the cultural heritage of his new home. 

He was farewelled by many family and friends at St Kieran’s Catholic Church, Manly Vale on January 5 and is survived by wife Trish and sons Robert and John.