+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

and neglected enough when she first came
over them; for I was too young and foolish,
and my father too busy with his out-door
work, and the old woman that lived with us
in service too feeble and too blind to keep the
place either clean or decent; but my mother
got the floor raised, and the green pool in
front drained, and a parcel of roses and
honeysuckles planted there instead. The neighbours'
wives used to say 'Twas all pride and
upsetting folly, to keep the kitchen-floor swept
clean, and to put the potatoes on a dish, instead
of emptying them out of the pot into the
middle of the table; and, besides, 'twas a
cruel unnatural thing, they said, to take away
the pool from the ducks, that they were
always used to paddle in so handy.  But my
mother was always too busy and too happy to
heed what they said; and, besides, she was
always so ready to do a kind turn for any of
them, that, out of pure shame, they had at last
to leave off abusing her "fine English ways."

West of our house there was a straggling,
stony piece of ground, where, within the
memory of man, nothing ever grew but nettles,
docks, and thistles. One Monday, when
Richard and myself came in from school, my
mother told us to set about weeding it, and
to bring in some basketsful of good clay from
the banks of the river: she said that if we
worked well at it until Saturday, she'd bring
me a new frock, and Dick a jacket, from the
next market-town; and encouraged by this,
we set to work with right good will, and
didn't leave off till supper time. The next
day we did the same; and by degrees, when
we saw the heap of weeds and stones that we
got out, growing big, and the ground looking
nice and smooth and red and rich, we got
quite anxious about it ourselves, and we built
a nice little fence round it to keep out the
pigs. When it was manured, my mother
planted cabbages, parsnips, and onions in it;
and, to be sure, she got a fine crop out of it,
enough to make us many a nice supper of
vegetables stewed with pepper, and a small
taste of bacon or a red herring. Besides, she
sold in the market as much as bought a
Sunday coat for my father, a gown for herself,
a fine pair of shoes for Dick, and as pretty a
shawl for myself, as e'er a colleen in the
country could show at mass. Through means
of my father's industry and my mother's good
management, we were, with the blessing of
God, as snug and comfortable a poor family
as any in Munster. We paid but a small
rent, and we had always plenty of potatoes to
eat, good clothes to wear, and cleanliness and
decency in and about our little cabin.

Five years passed on in this way, and at
last little Mary was born. She was a delicate
fairy thing, with that look, even from the first,
in her blue eyes, which is seldom seen, except
where the shadow of the grave darkens the
cradle. She was fond of her father, and of
Richard, and of myself, and would laugh and
crow when she saw us, but the love in the core
of her heart was for her mother. No matter
how tired, or sleepy, or cross the baby might
be, one word from her would set the bright
eyes dancing, and the little rosy mouth smiling,
and the tiny limbs quivering, as if walking or
running couldn't content her, but she must fly
to her mother's arms. And how that mother
doted on the very ground she trod! I often
thought that the Queen in her state carriage,
with her son, God bless him! alongside of
her, dressed out in gold and jewels, was not
one bit happier than my mother, when she sat
under the shade of the mountain ash near the
door, in the hush of the summer's evening,
singing and cronauning her only one to sleep
in her arms. In the month of October, 1845,
Mary was four years old. That was the bitter
time, when first the food of the earth was
turned to poison; when the gardens that used
to be so bright and sweet, covered with the
purple and white potato blossoms, became in
one night black and offensive, as if fire had
come down from heaven to burn them up.
'Twas a heart-breaking thing to see the
labouring men, the crathurs! that had only
the one half-acre to feed their little families,
going out, after work, in the evenings to dig
their suppers from under the black stalks.
Spadeful after spadeful would be turned up,
and a long piece of a ridge dug through,
before they'd get a small kish full of such
withered crohauneens* as other years would
be hardly counted fit for the pigs.

*Small potatoes.

It was some time before the distress reached
us, for there was a trifle of money in the
savings' bank, that held us in meal, while the
neighbours were next door to starvation. As
long as my father and mother had it, they
shared it freely with them that were worse
off than themselves; but at last the little
penny of money was all spent, the price of
flour was raised; and, to make matters worse,
the farmer that my father worked for, at a
poor eight-pence a day, was forced to send
him and three more of his labourers away, as
he couldn't afford to pay them even that any
longer. Oh! 'twas a sorrowful night when my
father brought home the news. I remember,
as well as if I saw it yesterday, the desolate
look in his face when he sat down by the
ashes of the turf fire that had just baked a
yellow meal cake for his supper. My mother
was at the opposite side, giving little Mary a
drink of sour milk out of her little wooden
piggin, and the child didn't like it, being
delicate and always used to sweet milk, so
she said:

"Mammy, won't you give me some of the
nice milk instead of that?"

"I haven't it asthore, nor can't get it," said
her mother, "so don't ye fret."

Not a word more out of the little one's
mouth, only she turned her little cheek in
towards her mother, and stayed quite quiet, as
if she was hearkening to what was going on.