Counting Blessings

By Marilyn Nelson

Joseph and Margaret Cavanaugh, ca. 1847

There’s Bridget and Michael and Catherine and Ann,
there’s Francis X., Moira, Theresa, and Sean:
none of them shivering, everyone fed,
head to feet sleeping, four butts to a bed.

The 1845 Irish potato crop failure resulted in widespread famine. More than one million Irish people—one out of every nine—died. Hundreds of thousands emigrated to England, Scotland, and the New World. Mortality rates of up to 30% were common on the “coffin ships” crossing the Atlantic.

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