We’ve Been Here Before

A million a decade! Of human wrecks.
Corpses lying in fever sheds –
Corpses huddled on foundering decks,
And shroudless dead on their rocky beds;
Nerve and muscle, and heart and brain,
Lost to Ireland – lost in vain.

Pause – and you can almost hear
The sounds of echoes down the ages;
The creak of the burial cart,
The rattle of the hinged-coffin door,
The sigh of spade on earth.
Now and again. All day long.

Here in humiliation and sorrow,
Not unmixed with indignation,
One is driven to exclaim:
Oh God! That bread should be so dear
And human flesh so cheap.

We’ve been here before. This place of horrific human loss. Amidst reports of the tragic Orlando shootings, Jack and I visited the famine graveyard in imageSkibereen on Ireland’s south coast. The above inscription is on the memorial markers in this place where countless thousands were buried in lime pits. Very often no way to even know who they were when they were found, sometimes families together, dead along the road. The Great Famine. Some of the darkest days for the Irish. But it’s not death that captured my attention when I stood looking at this field. Not death, but compassion. For the story of these people is also a story of great compassion.

The English owned most all of the land during this time and were evicting the Irish from their homes, lands, and customs. While the farms continued to produce an abundance of food, the Irish were given none of it. And so these people, refugees in their own land, made their way to the coastal villages where they clung to life by eating the small plants and animals that clung to the rocks along the shore. But it wasn’t enough. Seeing this plight, there were some overseers of the area farms who did give the people food and shelter. And they did this at great peril to their own livelihoods – even their lives. The heart and conscience could just not allow this suffering.

I hear a resonance in the stories of the aftermath of Orlando. In the congressional filibuster. In the lines of people waiting to give blood. In the outpouring of compassion in so many ways. At some point there can be no more allowance or tolerance of injustice. At some point we make a stand.

We have been here before. And it gives me hope.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com