Bliain an Áir – ‘The year of slaughter’ 1740-41 | Cassandra Voices

Bliain an Áir – ‘The year of slaughter’ 1740-41

Bliain an Áir
‘The Year of Slaughter’, 1740-41

Around the earth, a warring, wooden sea of brigs
was bristling, a-flame; volcanic ash
descending on the vacillating map. The weathered world
began to shift – a tiny alteration
sowing ice across the land. The shining-bellied geese
no longer wintered by the lough. The turf-blue river
waters died. An iron frost persisted, all the spring,
without a rain, the blooming yearly crop undone –
in every rill and valley, sick. The factious common people
roared in protestation; then dwindled down, masticating
slowly, like a herd, on sour, curdled soup and sallow greens:
a meal of nettle stems and charlock – the lush,
green-leafed, light-golden-flowered thing that grows
among the grass. The lark-lit summer moors
were blank; the meadow-birds aghast. No longer
having feed to give, the grieving poor death-rattled
in the fields, as the little cows they tended fell.
Like rotten sheep themselves, after supping
dead potatoes in distress, whole parishes surrendered,
passing out, in fever-thin delirium, to waste
and bloody flux: a plague of desperation, day by day.
Town and city quickly filled with remnants of the living.
The census-takers floundered; swelling ditches overflowed.
To put an end to expiration, the famous bishop
brewed a broth: a medicine made up of milk
and boiling water, with a sprinkling of chalk –
to be dispensed among the stricken, till the ague settled down.
Feature Image: gravestone in Coolaghmore, county Kilkenny of the Lee family, of whom three members died in 1741–42.

About Author

Ciarán’s second collection, Phantom Gang, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2023. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was highly commended by the Forward Foundation for Poetry in 2019. Both are published by The Irish Pages Press.

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