Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fields of Athenry

'Twas the seventh year in a row, seventh year without a decent crop. The disease showed no mercy again. For the seventh time.

It was in the autumn of 1852, the west coast of Ireland. People reached the edge of their patience, many of them had already set sail overseas. Those who chose to stay were facing one of the worst periods of that century: the famine. The crop that all relied upon, the potatoes, went bad again and the disease struck fiercely. The blight was everywhere. The stench of rotten potatoes could give very precise hints to everyone who'd pass along a potato field, even if outside was pitch black.

Michael came home from the local pub that night with a sullen face. He hadn't been very cheerful recently but that night something more was going on. His son was tucked in by the stove, sound asleep. His wife tried to talk to him, to no avail though. He seemed to be bothered by something damn serious.

"Ya know, Mary", he broke the silence, "I'm after finding something very important today. That bugger, Trevelyan, he brought some new cargo of maize. He keeps it under military guard, the bastard! I spoke with the lads today: O'Meara and Boyle, we're going tonight to the docks and, by hook or by crook, we'll come home with food".

She began to sob quietly, black thoughts wandering through her head. They never were thieves, they worked very hard the whole spring and summer, but it was just nothing to take home. And then, as if it wasn't enough, the Crown had appointed that scoundrel, that son of the devil, lord Trevelyan, to be in charge of the situation. The bastard was never shy on his opinion about the Irish people, may he forever rot in hell. He thought they were lazy, promiscuous, drunkards and God punished them for having too many children. In a word, they deserved all that.

That night she couldn't sleep at all, she kept thinking of the worst and didn't stop praying. Military guard is not a joke, they just wait for the slightest reason to shoot an Irish and use that as an example. She couldn't tell how late it was, but it was almost at the crack of dawn when Michael came home, alone and extremely troubled.

"We got to the docks round midnight", he began sorrowfully, "Boyle had a kin in the guard who closed his eyes to us being there. All we had to do was to be quick, and we was indeed. In no time we filled up the wagon and came back to town before anybody would smell on us.

Here, we went straight to ol' Gallagher, the miller, to get the flour. When we opened the sacks we was terrified to see that the maize was all mouldy. Not even Gallagher's goats would eat it. All the trouble for nothing. We're going to starve, we're not making through another winter".

Early in the morning, they took him right from his bed, together with Boyle and O'Meara. They'd never find out who told on them, but it wouldn't matter anyway. The trial was swift and the verdict terse: six years each,  Botany Bay, Australia. .And the prison ship lies waiting in the bay ...

The ship set sail on a beautiful evening that seemed to avenge the gloomy days of famine. And from the Irish shore, a young woman whispered a few prayers, with great hope in her heart, waiting already for her love far far away. In six years they will still be young and they'll start all over again. But for now it's just loneliness around the fields of Athenry.

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