A lot has been written on the subject of the Irish famine; most of what’s needed to be said has been said. However, when I found myself digging potatoes in water-logged soil beneath the Bluestacks, gathering up marble-sized potatoes; I couldn’t but be reminded of the value even these had for families whose survival depended on ground such as this.
Hard to appreciate, but the span of two just lifetimes (by today’s standards) would land us right back into the middle of those years, and hard to credit also, that affluence and starvation still live cheek by jowl today.
In November, this charcoal month of sagging
clouds slung low between granite mountains,while the trap-jawed landscape stalks,
diggers hunched double to the ground
are harvesting bright potatoes that constantly
endeavour, like mice, to escape, scuttle back
into the sodden soil, where roots compete
for water, and decay is life rekindling.
Round-backed labourers, boulders fallen off
the mountain, sieve the soil for each stunted práta,
(size of a fingernail, ten minutes of a child’s life),
that scampered off the sleamhán, scuttled back
into the earth, fugitives from scrabbling fingers.
Potatoes, apples of the soil, sole currency of life
to those whose DNA shaped these fingers,
now rough with working the same earth.