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Fields of Sorrow

by Cassandra Liberty West

     In 1846, a blight on food crops which had begun in Europe appeared on the Irish potato crops as a sickening, brackish, black crud, laying waste to the dreams of thousands. Anyone brave enough or desperate enough to try and eat the potatoes quickly sickened with Cholera or Typhus.
     With no money to pay their landlords, people were turned out of their already pitiful little homes, and they crowded the churches, begging for help. The Catholic priests put all their resources into feeding as many people as they could- using money they would have used for coffins for the many dead, because the living were the most important, but even they could no longer sustain the masses of suffering people.

     Some of the landlords were eager to be rid of the ‘dirty Irish’. They actually paid passage for some of the people they evicted so they could go to other countries, primarily, America. Most though, merely kicked them out and let them starve to death, showing the very people whom had worked so hard for them less mercy than they would their own bloodhounds.

     As people crowded into the cities, hoping for a chance at life, Protestant ministers saw a way to recruit more members into their churches, and they offered them food in exchange for the renunciation of their Catholic faith. The people who took advantage of this offer were then called ‘Soupers,’ and were bitterly looked down upon by their former Catholic friends.
     Some of the pathetic wanderers tried to eat shellfish they gleaned from the coast, but they were too weak from starvation to even cook them, and they died from the very food they had hoped would save them.
      America sent food for the people, but it was deliberately held up by the British, while some in Parliament ‘debated’ whether to give it to the starving masses or use it for their own advantage.
     Thus, while the British haggled over what should have been an obviously decent and moral decision, more and more people fell by the wayside- men, women, children and babes at the breast- collapsing in unspeakable suffering while their cries for mercy were left unanswered.
     Many people who still had the strength or the determination or the money to leave, left their beloved land and came to America. They met with hardship and resentment there also- but eventually, their creativity, their intelligence and their usefulness became embraced and appreciated.

      By the time the famine finally ended, the Irish population had been reduced from 8 million to 5 million.
     Even today, there are some who say that if you pass by the lonely stretches of blue green grass rippling in the breeze, and if you are alone and willing to listen, you can still hear the screams of the dying, the moaning of the poor, desperate, precious souls, still pleading for a little mercy. The land itself seems to cry.

Images of The Irish Potato Famine
Photos Courtesy of Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland.

Top Right: A homeless woman who has been evicted from her cottage.
Top Left: A family evicted by their landlords
Bottom Right: A populous Irish village, Gweedore, County Donegal
Bottom Left: A starving Irish family from Carraroe, County Galway, during the Famine


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