Switching between English and Gaeilge, an Irish minister of state on Friday told of the hunger that drove thousands from his island to Glasgow. “It wasn’t always easy,” Joe McHugh said, for Ireland’s famine refugees “They felt marginalised. Some faced discrimination and exclusion.”

Then the Fine Gael politician said something that suggested a new mood about an event that changed Scotland as well as his own country. The potato blight of the 1840s, he declared, hit “all traditions and all four provinces”.

As Mr McHugh spoke, Edward Hyde let out a grunt of approval. His head was lowered as if in prayer, his chin pointed at his Orange Lodge tie and red poppy lapel badge.

This was the dedication of Glasgow’s first monument to those who those who fled the potato famine, 17 decades after they arrived in a depression- and disease-hit city.

And, unlike any of hundreds of other such memorials, this one remembers both Irish and Scot, both Catholic and Protestant.

And so Mr McHugh, and Mr Hyde found some reconciliation, as well as remembrance, in a little garden by the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green.

Mr Hyde, grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, served on the steering group that took six - sometimes difficult years - trying to find a way to mark the great hunger, the Gorta Mór.

He said: “My grandfather - like Mr McHugh - was from Donegal. The blight didn’t choose who to affect, it affected all communities. People think it was only Catholics who suffered.”

It was Mr Hyde, he said, who came up with a living memorial, inspired by an abandoned village in Cork turned in to a place to remember the famine’s victims, the million dead, the two million forced to flee to the New World or the old.

The Irish and Highland Famine Memorial Garden is designed to die in winter and grow back in the summer. At its centre is an upturned boat with a simple message on its hull: “Even the birds were silent in grief.” As officials explained its symbolism, grasses and wildflowers swayed in a chilly June breeze that carried a thick scent from a brewery upwind.

Glasgow City Council’s deputy leader, David McDonald, referred to the path those visiting can take through the garden. There had been “bollards and blockages” along the way, he admitted. The project had been condemned, initially, as “amateur” and historically inaccurate by the Professor Sir Tom Devine. On Friday the pre-eminent historian of the period followed Mr McDonald and Mr McHugh to dedicate the garden.

Later he said: “This is an inclusive memorial to protestant Irish, catholic Irish and the Gaels, most of whom were of the Presbyterian persuasion.”

“That is a potent reminder for today of how immigration, even of the displaced and distressed, can ultimately have a positive impact on the host society.”

Nobody was pretending that Glasgow opened its arms to the Irish - or the Scottish Gaels whose famine, though far less deadly than Ireland’s, also drove them to the Clyde.

But the message, from Ireland and Scotland, on Friday was that refugees and migrants ultimately benefit host nations and cities. The Scottish Refugee Council was one of the partners behind the memorial.

Baillie Norman MacLeod - of mixed Scots Gaelic and Irish stock - explained. “We cannot say the welcome was as it should have been,” he said before remembering Highland and Irish migrants were followed by Italians, Jews, Lithuanians and Pakistanis and whole new generation of new Scots from the EU. “This is what has made Glasgow what we are: a proudly multi-ethnic city.

The garden is overlooked by the Doulton Fountain, a ceramic monument to Victoria, the “famine queen” and her empire. The monarch, in fact, personally sympathised with the starving Irish. Her government did not.

What did Mr McHugh think of Victoria? The minister smiled and talked of today's Queen visiting Dublin. “All that is part of reconciliation,” he said “We are moving into a new space to try understand our past, warts and all, and respect where we are now.

“When we look at global mass movement today because of conflict and hunger, we should try to learn from our experiences.”

The making of a monument

FIVE years ago Sir Tom Devine was not impressed. A proposed monument to the Irish famine, he said, was "founded on comforting myth and unproven beliefs".

Glasgow council - some 17 decades after the hunger of 1847 - had effectively just patted itself on the back with a motion to erect a monument to its own generosity.

The city agreed to a memorial to the great hunger but wanted to "recognise the efforts made by Glaswegians at the time to provide relief and sanctuary to those affected".

HeraldScotland: Sir Tom Devine

Professor Sir Tom Devine

It took Sir Tom, the country's pre-eminent historian, to insist Scotland instead acknowledged uncomfortable truth. Yes, perhaps 100,000 Irish found shelter in Glasgow, but half were sent home. And their arrival, the professor said, marked a watershed in anti-Irish, anti-Catholic bigotry.

Glasgow listened to Sir Tom. Its memorial garden reflects the unfiltered stories of Irish - protestant and Catholic - and Highlanders who came to Glasgow to escape hunger. An exhibition also explains the context of that cold welcome. Glasgow in the late 1940s was in enduring a depression. There was typhus then cholera. "The burial rate quadrupled," the historian explained. Among those moaning of an Irish "visitation" was the Roman Catholic bishop, John Murdoch, who was watching his own priests die.

"As far as I am aware they went through at least eight iterations," Sir Tom said of the history boards that form an essential part of the garden. "They now bear no relationship to the inaccuracies of that first narrative.

"I said before that the beast of sectarianism was not quiet dead but it is no longer red in tooth and claw.

"For that I was condemned by some for being too optimistic. But the fact is that the council has made a public demonstration that we must now regard the people of Glasgow – whatever their religious traditions - as part of the same family. Glasgow has delivered."