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Double Take: The little-known Dublin plaque to an unsung hero of the Famine

Ever heard of Pawel Edmund Strzelecki?

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HIDDEN AWAY ON Sackville Place is a plaque dedicated to one Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer and humanitarian you’ve likely never of, but who helped countless Irish people during the Great Famine.

Pawel Edmund Strzelecki was born in 1797 in Gluzyna near Poznán. The son of a Polish nobleman, Strzelecki spent his early years traveling the world. He explored North America, South America and Oceania, before ending up in Australia in 1839. He spent six years there and became a naturalised British subject in 1845.

By 1846, Ireland was in the throes of the Great Famine. A group of British aristocrats and philanthropists established a charity fund called the British Relief Fund to assist those affected by the Great Famine and the Highland Famine.

In January 1847, Strzelecki offered to visit Ireland on behalf of the committee. He traveled to Ireland and visited Co Donegal, Co Sligo and Co Mayo to take accounts of what he saw and to distribute aid and supplies.

In February 1847, he reached Westport and wrote, “No pen can describe the distress by which I am surrounded.” His testimony was published by several British newspapers and helped provide a clearer picture of what was happening in Ireland.

In Westport, he pioneered a scheme in which children received clothes and a meal per day through their local schools at the cost of one third of a penny.

A local newspaper at the time praised the scheme and wrote that the children’s “pure hearts should glow with gratitude at this fresh proof of the concern entertained for their comforts by their generous benefactors”.

By March 1847, he had administered aid across 65 localities. In fact, he threw himself so fully into his work that he contracted typhoid fever a few months later.

He was soon appointed Executive Director and relocated to Dublin, where he continued to oversee and coordinate the British Relief Fund’s work. During his three years in Ireland, he never sought any remuneration for his work, but was later made a Knight Commander of the Honour of Bath by Queen Victoria.

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In May 2015, a plaque honouring Strzelecki’s efforts was unveiled by Lord Mayor Christy Burke and Mayor of Poznán Mr Jacek Jaśkowiak. The plaque was funded by the people of Poznán and the Poznán Irish Culture Foundation with the support of the Irish Polish Society.

Prior to the unveiling, Lord Mayor Christy Burke said, “It is with great pleasure and pride that today on behalf of the Irish people I have the privilege of honouring Paweł, a Polish citizen, who did so much for the Irish people during one of the darkest periods of our history with the unveiling today of this plaque in his memory.”

A wonderful tribute to an unsung hero. Something to keep an eye out for the next time you happen to be near Clery’s.

About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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