Unrest in Ireland

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson

I mind, now that I am in process of keeping a journal, that it be a difficult process at times.  On each of her visits Liza has only a limited time to be my amanuensis (this be the word, so I’m told, for those who write the words of others – but it do trip about upon my tongue and feel very foreign.) and while she is now set upon the path of family history, I am all a-quiver to write of the issues of the day. So most times we shall write our pages in two parts: stories of these times first and then stories from yester year – unless something of great moment do occur, in which case Liza will have to possess her soul in patience while I talk of that.

Such a thing hath occurred to-day when Liza read to me a letter she had received from distant kin in County Clare. I mark how I have told of the Swing Riots here in England and how they did bring grief to us. But I had not known that Ireland too was following a similar path.  As far as I can see men fight for exactly the same cause, and in the same way in many places these days.  In Ireland such folk are called, so Liza tells me, “Terries”.

For as long as I can remember, the main crop in Ireland has been the potato, and sure it is that the workers and their families rely upon this vegetable for their sustenance.  Yet, says our relative, the price of potatoes hath risen to four times all were paying last year. (The strings of relationship be so convoluted in our family that I know not what name to give our kinsman. Henceforth I shall call him ‘Uncle’.)

Now Uncle’s wife gave birth to 16 children to show what a God-fearing man Uncle may be.  Nobbut 7 of these babbies survived until last year and Uncle were sore afflicted.  But now he writes that Ashling, the apple of his eye and barely out of swaddling clothes, has died in  the dawn of the new year. Added to this dire news, at the time of his writing, is the fresh grief that his wife and new-born child have perished together but a week after little Ashling.

Now many must face the dire fact that large numbers of  little ones do not grow into adulthood: but what shocks both Liza and me is that Uncle says all three did depart this earth through hunger! It scarcely bears thinking about: that in this day and age, a time of modern inventiveness, and great luxury; a time of travelling to the far ends of the earth to bring back exotic foods and customs; a time when doctors claim mastery over the gamut of human illness....in these times, I say, it doth beggar all belief that these little ones now die through want of a wretched potato.

Uncle and his family be humble folk – but they have always gone on well enough.  Food may have always been of limited variety, but their bellies were always filled up two times each day.  Their clothes were always serviceable enough, if not of any particular fashion – for they were workers of the land who went to bed nigh upon sundown and rose before the dawn: hard workers with no luxuries but able to make their own way through the world.

All has changed now, says Uncle. His goodwife is dead and there is no-one now to look after the little ‘uns. The oldest children set forth last year to the colonies and, while they have promised to make their fortunes, it will be a long time coming. Uncle, in desperation, applied unto his Squire for money to buy food  - but not until he discovered that his pregnant wife had not been eating her share, in order that he and the other children might have a morsel more. (Ah goodness unto me! My eyes fill with water even to think of it.)

So now Squire hath both demanded his money back and also, at the same time, is asking three times the usual annual rate for poor Uncle to farm his few acres. And Uncle, it seems, has joined the desperate Terries. Not that he tells us so in so many words; but he talks of his activities after dark when the children are all abed; and he speaks with admiration of all who seek to change the laws for poor people; and his hatred for the farmers smoulders through his letter.

So Liza and me be right glum this eve, and quaff our small ale and avert our eyes with guilt from the stocked pantries and larders about us.  We mull over this news and cast our minds about to see what we can offer our kinsmen and women by way of relief.

 But most of all, we remember young Ned of Preston, who swung for the Swing Riots. And we hold all those who are suffering in like ways gently in our hearts.