Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

Rookie (22-12-1976 / Beal Atha na Slua, Chontae an Gaillimh, Eire)

The Hungry Grass - Poem by Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

The Hungry Grass

A shiver runs up my spine
As stories I recall
Of people dead in times gone by
I was told of when I was small.
Of famine dead who to the workhouse went
Dropped dead as they our gate did pass
And the ground on which they fell
Became known as the hungry grass.
For should one walk upon it
Even though they did just eat
The hunger gnawing would strike them
Till they were quick upon their feet
And nothing would quench the hunger
So the story’s said
Bar milk and break hand torn
The only sustenance of those now dead.
You could eat meat untill full
At any other time be you would
But this time the hunger only by bread
Hand torn, washed by milk would
Quench the hunger of the dead
Who outside our gate died
Not so terribly long ago
Who to survive tried
But the Lord in mercy took them
Though grain was exported at the time
And people died for want of bread…
Oh the shame for Britain of the crime!

Some people don’t believe the story
When I tell of the Hungry Grass
Should I go there I tell you
On the other side of the road I’ll pass!

Comments about The Hungry Grass by Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

  • (6/20/2009 1:32:00 AM)

    See also Donagh MacDonagh's poem of the same name.

    The Hungry Grass

    Note: It is a common belief in Ireland that anyone
    who steps on a famine grave will have the strength
    sucked from their body by the hungry bones underneath

    Crossing the shallow holdings high above sea
    Where few birds nest, the luckless foot may pass
    From the bright safety of experience
    Into the terror of the hungry grass.

    Here in a year when poison from the air
    First withered in despair the growth of spring
    Some skull-faced wretch whom nettle could not save
    Crept on four bones to his last scattering,

    Crept, and the shriveled heart which drove his thought
    Towards platters brought in hospitality
    Burst as the wizened eyes measured the miles
    Like dizzy walls forbidding him the city.

    Little the earth reclaimed from that poor body
    And yet remembering him the place has grown
    Bewitched and the thin grass he nourishes
    Racks with his famine, sucks marrow from the bone.
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Poem Submitted: Sunday, April 13, 2008

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