"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . ." Wm Shakespeare

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gorta Mór ~ The Great Hunger

Saint Patrick's Day usually evokes thoughts of the land of green, of finding good luck in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, green beer and jolly times in pubs across the land. 

For some reason I found my thoughts taking a more somber turn and decided to write along those lines.

Although it began years before, the worst of the famine happened between the years 1845 and 1852 and Ireland was grieving.

Lives, millions of lives, were lost during the Great Famine, either through death or immigration to the Western world.
I cannot imagine how it felt to watch your children go to bed hungry day upon day and in great agony, finally dying of starvation. 

I imagine countless fathers scouring the land for work, desperately searching out whatever food they could for their families, discouraged to the point of death.  

. . . Pale mothers, wherefore weeping?
'Would to God that we were dead -
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.
Miss Jane Francesca Elgee (later Lady Wilde)

I think of a multitude of mothers, clutching to their breasts, their sons and daughters now booked for travel by train to the coast, there to embark on a journey across the great sea knowing they would never see them again.

What was it like for whole young families to take the risk, with hope daring to grow in their hearts, for a land of plenty, hope their children would make it and not die as thousands have already died, hope they would find land that would be as kind to them as this land had been harsh. This land, their Ireland, was dying and this journey was their hope. Grieving parents and grandparents watch as their loved ones left them behind, with both hope for their future and dread in their hearts dwelling side by side, wondering ‘will we ever see them again?’ 

How did it feel for the ones leaving everything they knew, everyone they loved as the train left the station, watching their family grow smaller and smaller as the train chugged into the distance, taking them away. As the ship left the dock, leaving the only land, the only country they had ever known, how did they bear the heavy burden knowing for certain they would never set foot in their beloved Ireland again, and never again see the faces of their beloved parents, grandparents and friends.

As she stood at the ships rail, she felt her heart break as a deep sadness enveloped her. Watching her beloved land fade in the distance, not knowing what lay ahead, only days and days of water, she mourned with a depth no words could describe. She clung desperately to Iain's hand and took what comfort she could from him standing so solidly beside her. She knew he understood, she hoped she could give him the same strength he was giving her. She knew they were not the only ones who embarked on this great adventure and as she looked around at the others watching their land recede, she recognized some she knew and this too gave her great comfort. Hope, she felt hope for the first time in many months. It had been a very long time coming.

Here it was, this, the biggest gamble of all time, that life would be better, that this new life which came at such a great cost, would pay off in a life of freedom and plenty for all who dared.

As Ireland lay bleeding out it's sons and daughters as they died or sailed away, there was the faintest of hope that Ireland would live on, if not in the land of their birth, it would live on in their hearts.

I have never lived through such loss and heartache and though I have a good imagination, I don’t think my little thoughts can do justice to all that Ireland's sons and daughters went through during those years of famine and death. That they have stayed strong and proud through it all is tribute to the wonder and beauty not only of the land, but of the people of the land.

Journey Girl, a Friend of Ireland
*all pictures taken from the Irish Famine Museum and Timeline*

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