May 11 2017

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Some scattered thoughts:

I don’t know whether all boys have the same liking for horrors which I am conscious of having possessed—I only know that I liked the churchyard, and deciphering tombstones, and watching the labours of the sexton, and hearing the old world village talk that often got up over the relics.

–Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu,
The House by the Churchyard (1863), “Prologue”

 

The dead of Dublin #cemetery #Dublin

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On my first morning in Dublin,
I went to meet the dead.
On the day before Walpurgisnacht,
I heard rain fall on slabs on stone.
I smelled the grass of Glasnevin,
And from the cooing of pigeons nestled among the crypts
I heard the ghosts cry out.
The nearby magpies, meanwhile, seemed to mock me,
Or were they mocking the dead who dared reach out
And communicate with cowboy Chris?
De Valera is there, still stoic and serious,
And Michael Collins is still smiling as wide as the day he died.
And those who fell when famine came gave their thanks
By sending me sunny days in merry May
That made my journey all the more joyous.

Look about you, and say what is it you see that does not foretel famine—famine—famine! Doesn’t the dark wet day, an’ the rain, rain, rain, foretel it? Doesn’t the rotten’ crops, the unhealthy air, an’ the green damp foretel it? Doesn’t the sky without a sun, the heavy clouds, an’ the angry fire of the West, foretel it? Isn’t the airth a page of prophecy, an’ the sky a page of prophecy, where every man may read of famine, pestilence, an’ death? The airth is softened for the grave, an’ in the black clouds of heaven you may see the death-hearses movin’ slowly along—funeral afther funeral—funeral afther funeral—an’ nothing to folly them but lamentation an’ wo, by the widow an’ orphan—the fatherless, the motherless, an’ the childless—wo an’ lamentation—lamentation an’ wo.”

William Carleton,
The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), Ch. II.

 

Sun and rain among the dead, #Cemetery #Ireland #Dublin

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Apr 26 2017

Too Fat for Ireland (Forget the Famine)

Too Fat for Ireland (Forget the Famine)

I’ve been trying to lose weight before I head off to Ireland.

Can you imagine anything more absurd than someone uttering the phrase “I’m trying to lose weight” in mid-19th century potato-famished Ireland?

I recall some vivid moments in William Carleton‘s (1794-1869) novel The Black Prophet:a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), such as thinning one’s plate when starving in Ireland:

The next morning the Sullivan family rose to witness another weary and dismal day of incessant rain, and to partake of a breakfast of thin stirabout, made and served up with that woful ingenuity, which necessity, the mother of invention in periods of scarcity, as well as in matters of a different character, had made known to the benevolent hearted wife of Jerry Sullivan. That is to say, the victuals were made so unsubstantially thin, that in order to impose, if possible, on the appetite, it was deemed necessary to deceive the eye by turning the plates and dishes round and round several times, while the viands were hot, so as by spreading them over a larger surface, to give the appearance of a greater quantity. It is, heaven knows, a melancholy cheat, but one with which the periodical famines of our unhappy country have made our people too well acquainted. [1]

Or sometimes laying on one’s belly:

“What is the matter with you, Con?” asked his mother, “you seem dreadfully uneasy.”

“I am ill, mother,” he replied—“the fever that was near taking Tom away, is upon me; I feel that I have it by the pains that’s in my head and the small o’ my back.”

“Lie down a little, dear,” she added, “its only the pain, poor boy, of an empty stomach—lie down on your poor bed, God help you, and when the supper’s ready you’ll be better.”[2]

UPDATE: Forgot about this gem from the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser (1553-1599), who lived in Ireland for much of his adult life:

Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them; they looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eate the dead carrions, happy where they could finde them, yea, and one another soone after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and, if they found a plot of water-cresesses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithal; that in short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull country suddainely left voyde of man and beast; yet sure in all that warre, there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extrremitie of famine, which they themselves had wrought. [3]

NOTES

[1] Carleton, William. The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. Belfast: Simm and McIntyre. 1847. “III, A Family on the Decline—Omens.” 34–35.

[2] Carleton, The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. “XI, Pity and Remorse.” 107.

[3] Spenser, Edmund. A View of the State of Ireland. 1596. 1633. Edited by Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley. Blackwell, Oxford. 1997. pp. 101–02.