Mudcat Café message #3608866 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #30772   Message #3608866
Posted By: Jim Carroll
11-Mar-14 - 04:35 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Add: Dear Old Skibbereen
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Dear Old Skibbereen
"I just obtained a copy of "The Wearing of the Green Song-Book""
Books like that should be cherished - we've recently passed on a bundle of them to The Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin where they will not only be preserved, but there is a fair chance they will be freely available for viewing - take a look at their website.
I have been annotating our song collection and am staggered at the amount to be found in these books and the number of songs that have been passed through them - try this one, for instance.
I've just annotated 'Skibbereen' in preparation for putting up our recordings on our County Library website - this is what I did for it:

Skibbereen (Roud 2312) Pat MacNamara See also, Skibbereen Tom Lenihan
The first known appearance of this song was in a 19th-century publication, The Irish Singer's Own Book (Noonan, Boston, 1880), where the song was attributed to Patrick Carpenter, a poet and native of Skibbereen. It was published in 1915 by Herbert Hughes who wrote that it had been collected in County Tyrone, and that it was a traditional song
Ireland's Great Famine remains one of history's worst cases of a natural disaster mismanaged; locked warehouses stuffed with supplies, enough food to feed the population being shipped out of Ireland by the boatload, and a man in charge of famine relief who believed the famine to be God's punishment on the Irish
In a letter to Thomas Spring-Rice, Lord Mounteagle, Sir Charles Trevelyan described the famine as an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population" as well as "the judgment of God"   
From the 'Cork Examiner' of March 19th, 1847, reporting on a court case in which a man had been charged with stealing food.   
In his defense he said that he was driven to it by what had happened to his wife.   
The Court was told:

"The starving woman lay in her hovel next to her dead three-year old son, waiting for her husband to return from begging food.   When night fell and his failure to return led her to imagine him dead in a ditch, she lay there in the faint fire's dying embers, caressing with her eyes her dead son's face and tiny fists.   With death searching her, and now with her own fists clenched, she made one last effort to stay alive. Crawling as far away from her son's face as she could, as if to preserve his personality, or at least her memory of it, she came to his bare feet and proceeded to eat them."

Illustration here.
Skibbereen 1847 by Cork artist James Mahony (18101879), commissioned by Illustrated London News 1847.

The legacy of the famine remains a part of the Irish psyche, particularly in its long and unbroken history of emigration.
It can also be found in folk-memory my mother said her mother always claimed it was a "mortal sin not to eat the whole potato". This was echoed by Kerry Traveller Mikeen McCarthy, who said he once met an old woman who had lived during the famine and told him exactly the same thing.
The last generation had it in their lore; we were told several times of the "Hungry Grass", patches of land supposedly containing unmarked famine graves; it was said that anybody who walks over it is stricken by hunger pains.
One such piece of ground is said to be not far from The Hand Cross on the slopes of Mount Callan.   

Jim Carroll