Campaign aims to mark famine hero

Wharfedale Observer: Former Mayor of Otley Ray Smith backs the statue plan Former Mayor of Otley Ray Smith backs the statue plan

A campaign has been launched to honour an Otley hero who saved many lives during the Irish Potato Famine.

MP Greg Mulholland (Lib Dem, Leeds North West) has announced, as St Patrick’s Day approaches, his hopes of getting a statue erected in memory of Thomas Constable.

Mr Constable, a solicitor who had the town’s Our Lady and All Saints Catholic Church built in 1851, provided vital assistance to the many refugees who settled in the town after fleeing Ireland during the Great Famine.

Mr Mulholland, who is urging the town to get behind a fundraising drive for the statue, said: “Thomas Constable was an Otley hero who showed real courage and true charity in assisting and welcoming refugees fleeing from the awful Irish potato famine.

“His actions saved lives and provided a new life for people who had nothing, and many of their descendants still live in the town.

“During a humanitarian catastrophe, one of shame for the nation as a whole, Otley was a beacon of hope for people due to his actions and the whole town and community should be very proud of him.

“Otley rightly has a statue of its most famous son, Thomas Chippendale, and I believe it is time to also have a statue of Thomas Constable – probably near the Manor House, which was his home.

“He has already had a moving play, Hard Road, written about him and the Irish refugees who came to Otley. And there has been great work done in the last few years to mark this part of the town’s history, and build links across the Irish Sea, by historian Chris Power, former mayor Ray Smith, and Otley and Ballina town councils.”

The MP’s bid to have a permanent memorial created is being backed by former Otley mayor Ray Smith, and he is also seeking support from our Lady and All Saints and Otley Town Council.

Mr Smith said: “Constable was a remarkable man who truly ‘put his money where his mouth was’ and went out of his way to provide healthcare and sustenance to people already traumatised by the terrible famine.

“This was a proud moment for Otley and I have noted also that those unfortunates who died were allowed to be buried in the hallowed ground of the parish church – a kindness unusual at the time but an early indication of Otley’s inclusive and tolerant nature.”

Mr Mulholland is to write to the Catholic Diocese of Leeds to suggest that the statue could be based on their land near the Manor House / Clitherow House – which was the Constable family home.

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