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    Freezing to death in a drafty cottage,
    Raging snow pounding against the walls.
    No warmth, no food, no light, no comfort.
    The Potato Famine goes on in 1847…

    The government wants us out,
    Ships of death are built to remove us.
    Some are too sick to make it to the dock,
    They die on the shore, no one cares.

    They said someone would be waiting for us
    On the other side of the ocean
    To help us get started in our new lives.
    But no one was waiting, we’re on our own again.

    The few who survived the treacherous journey
    Have no way to get back home to Eire.
    We’re stranded here in this strange country…
    Perhaps we should have stayed in our marred motherland.

    But we are Irishmen, we do not give up.
    We will work hard and fight for happiness.
    We will live on, unlike many back home.
    And we will never forget why we are here.

    As this was also the view supported by the Catholic clergy in Ireland, ‘Amhrán na bPrátaí Dubha’ stands out as a strongly discordant voice, with a tone of social and political protest summed up in one line of the song, where faith gives way to a passionate objection: ‘Ní hé Dia a cheap riamh an obair seo, Daoine bochta a chur le fuacht is le fán’ (‘It wasn’t God’s work, sending out poor people to cold and wandering’). This line, which has more recently been used on several memorials to the Great Famine victims, from Limerick to Melbourne, could explain why the song was very rarely heard until the mid-20th century. A similarly angry song in Irish, highly critical of the clergy itself, is ‘An Bhuatais’, the story of a Catholic priest who preferred to buy himself new boots rather than take care of his dying parishioners.13 Understandably, this song was also very rarely heard in Ireland before the second half of the 20th century. More common, however, was the criticism against the system of the poorhouses and the organisation of the relief system, also mentioned in ‘Amhrán na bPrátaí Dubha’: ‘Iad a chur sa phoorhouse go dubhach is glas orthu […] Ar bheagán lóin ach soup na hainnise’ (‘Locked in a gloomy and grey poorhouse […] with but a little soup of misery’).

    But nowhere is this criticism more bitterly expressed than in ‘Johnny Seoighe’, a satirical song in the refined allusive poetic tradition of Ireland, which can only be fully understood if one hears the accompanying scéal, the story traditionally told by the singer before singing: on Christmas Eve, the author (probably Tomás Shiúnach from Carna, in Connemara) and his family walked all the way to the workhouse only to find they couldn’t be accepted there for lack of space. They then asked the famine relief officer, Johnny Joyce (Seoighe, in Irish), for help and food, which was denied, and his wife and children subsequently died on the way back home from hunger and exhaustion. One can hardly imagine the grief that led to those subtly sarcastic and angry lines:

    Is a Johnny Seoighe, tuig mo ghlórtha
    ‘S mé ag tíocht le dóchas faoi do dhéin
    Mar is tú an Réalt Eolais is deise lóchrann
    As mo shúil ag teampall Dé […]
    Tá mé bruite dóite sciúrtha feannta
    Liobraithe gearrtha le neart den tsiúil
    Gus a mhister Joyce tá an workhouse lán
    is ní ghlacfar ann isteach níos mó

    Johnny Joyce hear my voice
    I come to you full of hope
    As you are the most beautiful Star of Knowledge
    A beacon in the temple of God […]
    I am burnt, battered and stripped
    Soaked and cut with so much walking.
    And Mister Joyce the workhouse is full

    Here again, this song was long regarded as taboo, and kept well within the Carna community, until it started being sung in public in the late 1950s by sean-nós Connemara singer Seán Mac Dhonnchadha, who remembered ‘being publicly criticised for singing this song in the Damer Hall in Dublin at the Oícheanta Seanchais concerts organized by [the state-funded company] Gael-Linn in the late fifties and early sixties’.15 The exact reasons remain unclear, as the scéal (story) is now partly missing, and the irony thus remains partly lost, but it would seem that Johnny Seoighe was a shady character of dubious morals.16 It is generally difficult to know in which circumstances a traditional song was created, but in this case, specific events and folk memory handed down orally from generation to generation give us a different approach from history books about the origins and conditions in which the destitute were living. Another example from Connemara is a song called ‘Soup house Mhuigh-Iorrais’, which includes one of the very rare descriptions of the effects of hunger: ‘Níl duine ar bith sách láidir ag an ocras ach aon lá amháin, scaipeann sé na cnámhaí agus leaghann sé an fheoil’ (‘Nobody is strong enough to endure hunger for a day, it slackens the bones and dissolves the flesh’).

    Gradually, Ireland’s countryside ceased to be a vibrant source of music and dancing, especially in the Irish-speaking areas, the Gaeltachtaí, the poorer parts of Ireland. A traditional song from County Kerry recalls the sudden changes in the atmosphere of the countryside:

    Ní bheidh in Éirinn ach daoine aosta
    I mbun stoic ag aoireacht cois fallaí i ndrúcht;
    Ní bheidh pósadh in aon bhall ná suim ina dhéanamh,
    Ach ‘tabhair dom an spré’ agus ‘rghad anonn’.

    Quoted by Ó Gráda, Black ’47 and Beyond, op. cit., p. 226.

    Only the elderly will remain in Ireland
    Minding livestock by the walls in the dew;
    There will be no marriages, nor interest in them,
    But ‘give me the dowry’ and ‘I’ll head off’19

    One more reason for the probable disappearance of many folk songs in Irish can also be perceived when one realises that collectors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not take down the texts they heard in Irish, as the language of the peasantry was often regarded as dead, or not delicate enough for educated ears. They often substituted their own poems to the original words and, where they did not, we must content ourselves with a title and a melody, which was itself often modified to suit the taste of the time.

    hehehe…you see J, this lot is not delicate enough for ” educated ears” LOL
    fart noise ..oops..sorry
    yes I did that on purpose
    and the church who is always deep in bed with the psychopathic ruling cabal said it was ” an act of god”
    they always serve their masters very well controlling the masses
    jeee…didnt they say that about aids too, hmm so I guess these chemtrails must be ” an act of god ” too, right
    according to their ” logic ”
    as they see themselves as gods, always have by the way
    the ruling elite