Ghosts of The Great Hunger
by Thomas A. Thrun
In Ennistymon, County Claire, Ireland
the River Inaugh at The Cascades
falls o’er bedrock in its wild rush
in its hurry to the hungry sea
for all the souls lost upon The Burrens
the poor unfortunates wasted away
buried nameless in mass graves
or in the countless small graveyards
beside the small churches abandoned
for want of any living still left
who hadn’t yet given up all hope
their fortified walls thus in ruins
that their limestone blocks be used
as headstones, each moaning with the gusts
that blow harsh across the emptied fields
of the children orphaned and adults
taken by The Great Hunger
the potato blight famine of 1845
because there was nothing left for them
no food nor coats nor even means to
buy the wee boy Michael a proper stone.
And the River Inaugh yet roars in vain
still now to drown the anguished cries
from the ghosts in all those crudely marked
and unmarked graves, as well as
even now our own salty tears.
PHOTO: Monument to An Gorta Mor (The Great Famine) in Ennistymon, County Clare, Ireland,. This is first memorial in Ireland to honor those who suffered and were lost during Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1852). It is located across the road from Ennistymon Hospital, built on the grounds of the local workhouse, where an estimated 20,000 Irish died, and a mass graveyard for children who perished and were buried without coffins. The memorial shows a mother’s ghost, wringing her hands as she watches her starving orphan son from Heaven’s Gate.
Photo by Steven Cukrov, used by permission.
MEMORIAL’S INSCRIPTION READS: Gentlemen, There is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch about 4 years being 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 is at the workhouse gate expecting to be admitted if not he will starve. (Robs S. Constable)
NOTE: The Great Famine was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland from 1845 to 1852. The most severely affected areas were in the west and south of Ireland, where the Irish language was dominant. During The Great Famine, about one million people died and more than a million fled the country, causing Ireland’s population to fall by 20-25%. The Great Famine had many causes and contributing factors that remain a source of controversy. Read more at theirishstory.com.
IMAGE: Map of Ireland, with County Clare indicated in dark green.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas A. Thrun, retired in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, is a former weekly newspaper editor. An English/ Journalism graduate of University of Wisconsin-Platteville, he edited both the campus newspaper and literary publication, before editing weekly newspapers in Wisconsin and Washington State. Influenced by Robert Frost and his Wisconsin farm heritage, Thrun most recently was published in Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets anthologies. He claims no Irish heritage, but did go for a week’s vacation to Western Ireland. Though the tour bus stopped only for 10 minutes at the memorial described in “Ghosts of The Great Hunger,” he was deeply affected. Thrun comes from a third-generation Wisconsin farm family of German heritage. He, too, has hoed potatoes.