THERE are words that lie largely unread on a Friday afternoon at Partick library. These adorn a series of boards peering over a gaggle of internet users who frantically click as a local history vainly demands their attention.

The exhibition, a grandiose term for a simple but informative exercise in words and small photographs, has a purpose that may leave a library silent but could cause a rammy in an empty house. This is the consultation process for a proposed memorial to the Irish famine.

And, of course, to the Highland famine. There are more than 140 memorials to An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) throughout the world. There is a suspicion among many that the Highland element was brought into the plans for Glasgow to make the project more palatable to potential objectors to an exclusively Irish memorial.

The Irish Famine occurred in 1845 when the potato crop failed.

In 2016, it still has the power to cause controversy. An exaggeration? How else to explain why it has taken so long to mark one of the most significant events in the history of the city? How else to explain why the discussions of the Memorials Working Group of Glasgow City Council had to be closed down in the period of “political purdah” that necessarily precedes elections or referendums? How else to understand why four years after an official process was initiated there is still no monument?

This is not the introduction to a broadside at the working group. It is, rather, the laying of the ground for an examination of what happened to Glasgow in those years of famine, why it is significant for the city and how progress can be viewed as slow but can, mercifully, be described as progress.

The case for a famines’ memorial is surely unanswerable. The events in Ireland and in the Western Highlands and Islands changed Glasgow forever.

Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, agrees that the estimate of 100,000 immigrants from Ireland is accurate given an examination of census forms. He calls it a “massive influx”, the biggest single immigration in Scottish history. “The figures are staggering,” he adds Sir Tom, writer of The Great Highland Famine, welcomes the idea of a joint commemoration with An Gorta Mor. “There are very string similarities between the two in terms of privation and the mass emigration. The Western Highlands and Islands lost a third of their population during that period. “

Devine is keen to point out that the Highlands, from 1846 to 1856, did not endure the level of mass mortality inflicted on Ireland but adds that aptly named Sir Edward Pine Coffin, the primary government relief official, spoke of the “possible extermination of the people”.

Sir Tom has a personal reminder of the Highland Famine. “We have a small property on Mull and I can stand on the hill behind the house and with my naked eye see the evidence of six cleared out townships,” he says.

So the case is clear. Mass migrations for both Ireland and the Highlands, a city changed, its population augmented and now containing the ancestors of those who fled deprivation and hunger. So why the wait to recognise this?

‘’The usual story,” says Sir Tom. “It is only relatively recently that mainstream Scottish society has become a bit more comfortable with the Irish immigrant issue.

“As late as 1952, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland still described people from as Irish Catholic background as alien and as a menace to Scotland in a variety of different ways. That was not as bad as the inter-war experience but it still lingered on.”

He makes the point that the Irish famine was “an ecumenical experience’’. “There were Protestants who died in the famine and we estimate that at least a quarter of those who came to Scotland were from the Protestant counties of Antrim and Down,” he says.

However, he is blunt of the impact of the Irish factor in the absence of a memorial. “That is basically why it has taken so long,” he says. “You may have noticed the very muted Scottish celebration of 1916 and St Patrick’s Day in Scotland is downbeat too. The Government is trying its best but popular culture isn’t really with it yet.”

HE cannot resist a chuckle. Councillor Matt Kerr, is the chair of the Famine Memorials Working Group. He has just spoken about the need for any memorial to include the imagery of shipping because that was how the new Scots arrived. I suggest he has been the captain of a ship with an unusual crew that has made cautious progress amid a serious of storms. “Yes, but we are in sight of the harbour,” he says with a smile.

The Good Ship Memorial carries representatives from the Scottish Refugee Council, the Irish Heritage Foundation and the Orange Order, the Ulster Scots Association and an emissary from the Irish consulate along “periodically’’. It first convened four years ago but there is still no design for a monument, no venue and no money to construct it. Councillor Kerr is robust. “I genuinely believe we could be starting work on this in the autumn,” he says.

He is forthright about the reasons for the days. The periods of “political purdah’’ that closed the group during the referendum and a series of elections has slowed progress. This was a sign of the sensitivity of officials to what they termed a “controversial” issue. Any protests would only have been made from outside. There is cross-party support for the memorial, the members of the working group have remained in concert, and some elected representatives have become angry over the delays, decrying the ‘purdah” to officials.

Captain Kerr is keeping a steady hand on the tiller. He will not be drawn into recrimination or blame. “I know there is frustration about the progress. It has all been rather slow, I cannot deny that. But it is not all about officials and their advice,” he says. He talks of holidays, of trying to arrange meetings for people who have “day jobs”.

But the major brake is the need to bring everyone on the working group along together. How does one find common ground between, say, the Orange Order and the Irish Heritage Foundation? Councillor Kerr does not go into detail but he has been encouraged by the willingness to reach a consensus.

“There have been a few challenges but I would not want to overplay that too much. The group around the table is not comprised of the people you would expect to be meeting together, agreeing all the time. But meetings have not gone to votes. That means decisions can take time. We want to bring people along, not outvote them. That is important.

“It is making sure the memorial is respected by all. We have managed to plot a course through this. Yes, it has been slow but I would rather do it that way than rush and alienate groups in the city. Whether we like it or not, we still have issues in this city. We are all aware on the group of how other people are going to perceive our actions. But that has brought out the bests in us though it has brought a caution.”

The best bet for a location seems to be Glasgow Green with Broomielaw a close second as there is an understandable keenness to situate the memorial near to the river that brought the immigrants to the city. It is also highly likely that it will be a landscaped memorial with a series of plaques perhaps telling the story in Scots, English and Gaelic. The designs in Partick library – taken from work from pupils in Glasgow schools – are suggestive of a pathway with reflective surfaces, images of ships and points of information. Public comments are welcomed and consultation ends this month.

Public subscriptions will also be invited but the city council could make a gift of the land and of the labour involved to transform it. Private institutions will also be approached. “I do not intend to be hanging about on this for yet more years,” says Councillor Kerr. “We are getting there.”

It is more than 170 years after the first ships from Ireland slid down the Clyde and the dispossessed fled the Highlands. It is almost four years since Glasgow felt ready to launch a famine memorial. It is surely time for the breaking of sod and a fitting memorial to those who endured a horror to help build a city.