I've been blogging about my trip to Scotland, and now, I'm hopping over the Irish Sea to Ireland. About an hour flight or a longer ferry ride.
Today, I was looking at my kitchen, filled with Thanksgiving leftovers, and like so many other people this season, I gave thanks for my family and all the blessings I have received this year. I thought about all the news reports of Thanksgiving dinner being served by churches and community organizations to thousands of people across the country who otherwise would have had none, and I remembered the proverb, "There but for the grace of God go I."
I had repeated that same proverb to myself when I visited the Great Famine Memorial in County Clare, Ireland. Like many people in central Appalachia, I am of Irish heritage, and many times I have wondered if I had ancestors who died during the Great Potato Famine. During the period 1845-51 the country lost over one million of her inhabitants to starvation and starvation-related diseases and another million to emigration. In the decade after the Famine, another million souls fled the island.
County Clare was one of the places hardest hit when the potato crop failed. THE first identified victim of starvation during The Great Famine was a widow near Dysart and the last recorded starvation death, in April 1851, was a man in Ennis. It’s just one of the chilling facts outlined in a book by Clare historian, Dr Ciarán Ó Murchadha. A reporter in West Clare in 1846 wrote how locals “died as the birds do when the frost comes”, while coffin-less burials were widespread and dead children were brought to burial in panniers slung on donkeys.
The day I stood before the Great Famine Memorial, Thanksgiving dinner was the farthest thing from my mind, but today with the house still smelling of roast turkey, I remember standing before the monument, the cold wind stinging my face.
The memorial is comprised of two doors. (The doors represent the door to the workhouse. A place built to house paupers.) On the left, a child stands against a door. On the right is another door with an emaciated face and outstretched hands. (On the hands, someone had placed coins.)
The message on the door reads:
There is a little boy named Michael
Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years
he is an orphan, his father having died
last year and his mother has expired
on last Wednesday night, who is now
about being buried without a coffin!!
unless ye make some provision for
such. The child in question is now at
the workhouse gate expecting to be
admitted if not he will starve.
Robs S. Constable