Ireland’s President Mary McAleese sparked a debate after she said during a visit to Turkey that the history of an Irish port town was linked with the Ottoman Empire.
Irish media have called her comments a “myth,” while Turkish archives partially confirm the Irish president’s statements.
Speaking in Ankara on Tuesday, McAleese said the Ottoman Empire had helped Ireland during a famine in the 19th century by sending ships carrying food to the eastern town of Drogheda, paving the way for a decision later by people of Drogheda to include the star and crescent in the town’s coat of arms. McAleese said: “During that famine, Turkey’s then-leader Sultan Abdulmecid sent three ships loaded with food to Ireland. The cargo was unloaded in a port called Drogheda and since then, at the insistence of the people, the star and crescent of your country forms part of the town’s coat of arms.”
But Irish media said there was no historical record confirming the president’s remarks. Instead, experts said the star and crescent could be traced back to 1210, when the British governor of Ireland, King John, granted the town its first charter. And McAleese’s spokeswoman, Sheila Clarke, said the reference was included in the speech in good faith. “While included in good faith on information supplied, it is now accepted that the reference ... would not appear to be based on sound historical fact,” she was quoted as saying by The Irish Times.
A plaque hanging on the wall of a hotel in Drogheda, which is said to have hosted Ottoman sailors who brought food to the town, honors the generosity of Turkey toward Ireland during the famine.
Turkish archives, on the other hand, show the Ottoman Empire did help the Irish people during the time of the Great Famine but it did so by sending money, not ships loaded with food. In 2004, then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül said in response to a formal question in Parliament that copies of documents confirming the donation had been sent to the National Library of Ireland and the Drogheda Municipality. One of these documents contained expressions of gratitude and thanks for the financial aid offered by Sultan Abdulmecid and was signed by local Irish authorities, according to Gül’s statement in 2004.
Gül further said that there was no record of ships carrying wheat and other food items being sent to Ireland. But Taner Baytok, a former Turkish ambassador to Ireland, said in remarks published yesterday that the story of Ottoman ships carrying food aid to Drogheda was a fact passed from one generation to another in Ireland.
A plaque currently hangs on the walls of a hotel in Drogheda, next to the room where Ottoman sailors were said to have stayed after delivering food to the town, reading: “The Great Irish Famine of 1847 -- In remembrance and recognition of the generosity of the People of Turkey towards the People of Ireland.” It was unveiled by Ambassador Baytok and Alderman William Frank Godfrey, mayor of Drogheda, in 1995.
The Great Irish Famine lasted from 1845 to 1852, during which time the island’s population dropped by between 20 and 25 percent. Approximately 1 million people died, and a million more emigrated from Ireland.