Not my usual light fare, but we get enough leprechaun crap elsewhere, right? If you’re like me, you learned about the Great Famine, a potato blight in the mid-1800s that led to the death and emigration of millions of Irish. But if you scratch below the surface, you’ll learn that there were plenty of other crops being grown in Ireland — then exported to other countries.
The poor suffered, died, or left their homeland at the hands of an oppressor. Not a new story, but also one that’s not told with enough honesty. If you’d like to read more, feel free to google. Here’s a starting point for you.
Eavan Boland is a contemporary Irish poet currently teaching at Stanford. A powerful poem about those terrible years is below. Under the text is a video of her explaining the context and reading the poem.
So, uh… Sláinte!
by Eavan Boland
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking-they were both walking-north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.