It is 1850 and my great great grandparents and their children take the road from Limerick to Cork. They hire a trap from the local smithy. Here at the Cork docks they say farewell to four of their five children. Three go to America and one to Australia. When my great great grandparents return home to Limerick with their youngest daughter, their neighbours have arranged a small wake. The grieving for the children who left never, ever ends. The Gorta Mor, the Great Famine 1845 to 1852, has been a cavernous yaw over Ireland for the past seven years. This is a time of mass starvation, disease and emigration. It makes an indelible mark in the consciousness of a nation; impacting not only the demography but on the political and cultural landscape of Ireland. The Great Famine is a watershed moment and enters folk memory and rallies nationalist sentiment. The relations between the English occupying force and the Irish, fray. The potato blight is aggravated further by English absentee landlords, English land acquisition of Ireland and the English Corn Laws now effective in Ireland.
The Illustrated London News, The Cork Examiner, Punch, the Pictorial Times and Harper’s Weekly all carried images of the Great Famine made by engravers. These disturbing visuals record a history that is hard to forget: the discovery of the potato blight, exterior and interior cottage depictions, outdoor scenes, begging, landlords and ejection, food riots and attacks, workhouses, relief, funerals, embarkation, the voyage, disembarkation, and life elsewhere.
When I sift through these remarkable art pieces depicting the savagery of Irish reality, I pause at ‘Bridget O’Donnel and children’. My great grandmother’s name is Bridget. In this etching the planes of her forehead and cheekbones are wide; her cheeks and eyes hollow with the engravers scratching. She is Fames in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; both desirable and terrifying.
Extract from The Alchemy of Poetry
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction