By Ray O’Hanlon
They go by in a whoosh and a blur but even then they stand out. And they certainly do when you stand on a station platform, or if you’re walking through Grand Central Terminal in anything short of a frantic rush to grab a train.
They are not ads in the usual sense. And yet, like a commercial, they attempt to plant ideas in your mind.
Tens of thousands of commuters who use Metro-North trains in the New York area have been offered the chance in recent weeks to consider Ireland’s Great Hunger, either for the first time or from an new perspective.
They can do either by studying the series of posters dotting station platforms on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines.
The posters — there are four versions — display the photographic skills of Kit DeFever and are designed to draw attention to three things: The Great Hunger, the planned Great Hunger Memorial for Westchester County, and the existence of hunger in the world today and the fact that it is often much closer to home than many might think.
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The posters are on display at 103 locations on the three lines and there are six dotted around Grand Central.
Each one has a separate prompt word: "Remember," "Act," "Give" and "Pray."
The "Remember" poster features an elderly woman against the backdrop of a ruined stone cottage in rural Ireland. The woman, whose real name was not used, recently passed away. It reminds people of the sacrifices that their ancestors, not just the Irish ones, made when they first came to America. "It took courage, it was harsh, and it is easy to forget their sacrifices. Please make a small sacrifice today," the poster’s message urges the viewer.
The "Act" poster includes a photo of actress Fionnula Flanagan and is a reminder of the hunger in our society today. The "Give" poster features a young girl named Nellie Rattigan and highlights the poverty and hopelessness that so many children in our world must face every day from the moment they wake up.
The "Pray" poster shows the bowed head and hands clasped in prayer of Bishop Desmond Tutu shortly after he took part in a hunger walk in Ireland. It too urges the viewer to remember those who go through life bearing the burdens of hunger and the absence of the most basic needs of daily life.
The poster designs are the work of advertising executive Tom Connor of the Weinrib & Connor firm, based in Elmsford, N.Y., in central Westchester County.
"We chose outdoors as opposed to other advertising methods because the bulk of the audience you want to donate are commuting into Manhattan," Connor told the Echo.
"The message in the posters is about the Great Famine, but it’s also about the fact that in our country today we have a glossed over and limited sense of what it took to survive and assimilate.
"I want the Great Hunger to be considered as the Holocaust of the 19th century and I also want to publicize the fact that our ancestors had it a lot harder than we realize," Connor, who donated his services free to the poster project, said.
"This has been a great way to generate an instant awareness about the past and the Great Hunger Memorial itself," Connor said while pointing out that the space for the posters was given at a discounted rate by TDI, the company that handles outdoor advertising for Metro North.
Overall, Connor is delighted with the response to the campaign.
"When you’re chasing the suburban market, transit is the way to go, especially when you’re operating on a shoestring budget.
"Not too many people see advertising as a charity. We usually make attorneys look like angels," Connor added with a laugh.
The Westchester County Great Hunger Memorial, the work of Irish sculptor Eamonn O’Doherty, is due for unveiling later this year at V.E. Macy Park near Ardsley.