Choctaw Ireland Famine Relief

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 1845 to 1847
Location: Indian Territory, United Statesmap
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The Choctaw people's 1847 gift to the Irish in response to the 'an Gorta Mor' (Great Hunger)

The Choctaw Nation and the people of Ireland have a long and storied history. Although separated by thousands of miles, these two nations are forever entwined because of a small act of kindness nearly two centuries ago.

Potatoes served as a primary food source for almost half the population of Ireland, but primarily the rural poor. More than a million people died during the 'Great Hunger' in Ireland when their potato crops were decimated. Another two million left the country when the potato crops failed in successive years.

Related Page: An Gorta Mor

"In March of 1847, a group of Choctaw people met to raise money for the starving poor in Ireland. The Choctaw people had received word about the dire situation of the Great Potato Famine and simply could not stand by and not help. The Choctaws pooled together $170 which was sent first to the Memphis Irish Relief Committee, then to the General Irish Relief Committee of the City of New York. The $170 would be worth around $5,000 in today’s economy."[1] - By Christian Toews

A Remarkable Gift
Impressively, it was groups who were themselves poor that proved to be most generous in relative terms. One of the most remarkable donations to Ireland was made by people who were themselves disenfranchised, impoverished and marginalized. Captain William Armstrong, the Indian agent near Fort Smith in Arkansas, sent $10, ‘a large portion of which was contributed by our red brethren of the Choctaw nation’. This donation was reported in sections of the American press. (Mynert) Van Schaick, when writing to the committee in Dublin at the end of May referred to the donation from ‘the children of the forest, our red brethren of the Choctaw nation’. On 21 May, the New York committee recorded receipt of $170 from Captain Armstrong, noting again, ‘A large portion of the sum was contributed by our red brethren of the Choctaw nation’. Their generosity was reported in the Irish newspapers in June.[2] - Christine Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland

"The Choctaw people have a history of helping others. Only 16 years after they began their long, sad march along the Trail of Tears, the Choctaws learned of people starving to death in Ireland. With great empathy, in 1847 Choctaw individuals made donations totaling $170, the equivalent of several thousand dollars today, to assist the Irish people during the famine. It was an amazing gesture. Though they had meager resources, they gave on behalf of others in greater need." - Judy Allen[3]
Listen: Allison Herrera reports on PRI's program, The World - The Choctaw of Oklahoma stepped up to help the Irish during the potato famine, 18 Mar 2019, Run Time 03:20

Lasting Ties and Kindred Spirits
Over the last 170 years, the Irish have remembered this sudden gesture of generosity from distant strangers. Just before St. Patrick’s Day 2018, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar announced an Irish scholarship program for Choctaw youth. As the BBC reported, Varadkar addressed the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. “A few years ago, on a visit to Ireland, a representative of the Choctaw Nation called your support for us ‘a sacred memory’,” he said. “It is that and more. It is a sacred bond, which has joined our peoples together for all time. Your act of kindness has never been, and never will be, forgotten in Ireland.”[4] - Atlas Obscura

Kindred Spirits (sculpture)

Kindred Spirits, a large stainless steel outdoor sculpture, is a tribute to the Choctaw people. Commemorating the 1847 donation of $170 (2015 $5,000) the sculpture consists of nine 20-foot eagle feathers in a circle, forming a bowl shape to represent a bowl of food. Completed in 2015, it sits in Bailic Park in County Cork, Ireland. Wikipedia: Kindred Spirits (sculpture)


  1. Toews, Christian, Choctaw Nation Website, Bond Remains Strong Between Choctaw and Irish,,
  2. "Kinealy, Christine. Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: the Kindness of Strangers. Bloomsbury, 2014. page 104
  4. Frost, Natasha, Altas Obscura, Why the Choctaw People Sent Their Meager Funds to Ireland, 21 Mar 2018

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