This sculpture honours an extraordinary gift from the Choctaw Native Americans to the starving Irish during the Great Famine that raged through Ireland in the 19th Century. It was created by Alex Pentek at the Sculpture Factory in Cork, Ireland and installed in Bailick Park, Midleton in 2015.
Native Americans of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee tribes lived in traditional tribal lands in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. However, this valuable land was coveted by white settlers who wished to grow cotton. Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act that authorized forcible eviction from their native land. In the winter of 1831 under threat of invasion by the U.S.Army, 17,000 Choctaw were first to be expelled from their homelands. They began migrating on foot to Indian Territory, now a part of Oklahoma, along what became known as the ‘trail of tears’. With no help from the government and often without food and supplies and in dreadful weather conditions, many thousands died along the way. It is estimated that nearly one third of the Choctaw Nation perished due to starvation, exposure and disease on the 500 mile walk, the ‘trail of tears’.
Several years later the Choctaw Nation, on hearing of the famine that had struck Ireland in 1845, made a donation of $170 to the Famine Relief Fund of Ireland. Whilst many donations were made for famine relief at that time, what makes the Choctaw donation stand out is that they were living in great hardship and poverty at that time.
It is in recognition of that fantastic gesture that this sculpture, appropriately named ‘Kindred Spirits’ was created.
Although there is no direct connection between Midleton and the Choctaw donation of 1847, we are delighted to have such a wonderful piece of public art in our area. It can be seen from the Cork to Waterford N25 road, when travelling in the direction of Waterford. It has become something of a tourist attraction and has regular visitors – individuals, small groups and entire school classes.
Probably one of Ireland’s most impressive public sculptures, it is a fitting tribute to the generosity of the Choctaw Nation who saw themselves as our kindred spirits in our time of need. I love it and hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do!