Irish Famine Poems
So far back
I can only surmise,
of the family who ate
their subsistence meal
in the parlour on Sundays.
I surmise they were not the poorest.
Their house – not a sod, scraw and thatch
cabin on a roadside margin.
I surmise secure tenure of land.
They did not, at least not all,
I surmise they were people
with self-value, respectability,
I know that they survived.
They were my people
on the distaff side.
In a Fourth Class Dwelling
Report by Robert E. Matheson, Registrar General for Ireland.
1841-1901 Housing of the People of Ireland Part 83.
4th Class – Houses built of mud or perishable materials.
One room with one, or no window.
3rd Class – A better description of house.
From one to four rooms and windows.
2nd Class – A good farmhouse of five to nine rooms and windows.
1st Class – All other houses of a better description than the
1841. 4 th class houses comprised 37% of the total.
1851. 4 th class houses comprised 13% of the total.
The drop was due to ‘failure of the potato crop leading to famine, fever and pestilence’.
With sod, scraw and thatch
they made the shelter
which enveloped them.
The cabin rose from
the ground around it.
When nothing was left
but a flicker of life,
the family drew together inside,
closing the door for decency.
Rain, wind and time
melted the walls.
The roof lowered.
The door rotted.
The cabin sank
to a hummock, to a wide ridge,
disappeared from sight.
As had the dead from hunger within,
of whom all knowledge has gone.
I come from Co.Limerick, Ireland. I grew up on a farm there. I am a painter, weaver and have written and published poems in recent years.
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