By Terry Mc Donagh

In famine, the dead were

never far from us. Parents

and children lay strewn

on doorsteps or along roadsides

and they were so far gone,

that there was no chance

they would recover – even

if they did, a black stalk

lay in waiting

like a preying cat on a windowsill.

They couldn’t drive suffering away.

Those potatoes that dug up

so clean and vibrant in a day,

diseased and fouled the fields

in a stream of pus before dawn


some landlords cried out,

we’ll give those peasants

nothing – for nothing

is what they’ve earned –

let them die. We’ll put them

out on the roads

to compete with the grain trade

in a race for great ships.

Families clawed side by side

with snails and grubs

for the right to die with

grass and mud between their teeth.

They did attack the drills like

flocks of crows, hoping

to get to the food before

it festered, but the rot beat them

to the bite – the famine god

had sickened every stalk

from the birthplace of

our farthest ancestor

to the common grave

of our youngest child.

That death – untalkative

and cold, grabbed what it could.

What remained stayed as it was

or it was cast aside or overboard.

The lanes they lived up

were left behind to fall

into disuse and silence


except on occasions

when communities walk

the sad walk – to try

to greet the past face to face.

This Poem Features In: