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110  Skibbereen Girls, a year-long project exploring the poignant story of 110 girls from Skibbereen who escaped famine for Australia in 1848, will culminate with the unveiling of a bronze sculpture which will incorporate some Sydney Sandstone donated by the Australian Embassy on Friday, 20th of July, 2018.

Artist Toma McCullim began the process with a studio residency at Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre, followed by a residency on the site of Skibbereen Workhouse, now Skibbereen Community Hospital Campus. The residencies gave time for Toma to research and develop her ideas and support a number of public interactions to include tours, talks, film screenings and participatory workshops, all investigating the theme of the 110 girls, their journey to Australia and the diaspora that exists now.

The Earl Grey Famine Orphan Scheme, named after the Colonial Secretary who enacted it had two main aims, to reduce overcrowding in the workhouses through an assisted emigration scheme and to send female immigrants to settle in Australia where at the time there were 9 men for every woman. The Board of Guardians in every Union put forward the names of suitable girls, aged between 14 and 18 years of age. Skibbereen Workhouse offered the most girls of anywhere outside Dublin – 110 girls. The young girls recruited for the scheme were expected to work as domestic servants on arrival in Australia, until they reached an age to marry a suitor.

Life was hard but there were opportunities. Many of the women went on to live till very old age, having on average 9 children. The girls did not necessarily have to be orphans, but for whatever reason, were no longer living with their families.  They were to be of good character, unmarried and with no children, so that there were no encumbrances to marrying Australian settlers. It is estimated that there at least 10,000 decadents of the girls.

This project has been managed by Justine Foster at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre where  the work will be launched alongside Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger, an exhibition of historical and contemporary artwork from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, USA with Mr Richard Andrews, Australian Ambassador in Ireland, “The project has really ignited imaginations and encouraged lots of people to share their own stories and connections to the time. Toma has 110 wax spoons made with staff and residents at the Hospital Campus and she will be casting the first ones in bronze this week.”

The project is due to conclude in July with the installation of 110 bronze cast spoons, made by the staff and residents, working and living at Skibbereen Hospital Campus. Each spoon will signify one of the girls, together they will be embedded into the walls of the old workhouse, as a lasting sculpture, near the famine burial ground on the Skibbereen Hospital Campus.

Launch will take place at Skibbereen Hospital Grounds, Friday 20 July, 1:30pm

with Mr Richard Andrews, Australian Ambassador to Ireland.

Music performed by Skibbereen Hospital Choir

Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger is the world’s largest collection of art relating to the Great Famine and contains 50 artworks from some of Ireland’s most eminent artists including Jack B. Yeats, Alanna O’Kelly, Robert Ballagh and William Crozier, who for many years lived and worked in West Cork. The collection’s permanent homes, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, has brought this special collection to Ireland for the first time and John L.Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University said, “It has always been our goal to bring this outstanding collection home to Ireland.” It will open in Uillinn on Thursday, July 19th.


110 Skibbereen Girls by artist Toma McCullim is a Cork County Council, West Cork Arts Centre and Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Famine Heritage Project, funded by the West Cork Municipal District Creative Communities Scheme and the National Lottery.

Uillinn Residencies are supported by the Arts Council and Cork County Council