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The Irish Famine

Today we're bringing you a poem about The Irish Famine, chosen by Tom Ryan. He describes how haunting it is, and we must agree - this is truly heartbreaking!

I do remember my mother telling stories related to her by grandparents, of the eerie stillness that descended over the land in the aftermath of the famine - when most of the people had either died or emigrated. As Yeats wrote about another time: "all changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born".

There is a haunting video clip of a poem "The Irish Famine Poem" uploaded by Dominic Kennedy. It features a man reciting the poem in a famine graveyard on Achill Island and is a poignant reminder of the appalling circumstances in which our forebears perished.

Give Me Three Grains of Corn, Mother

Amanda M. Edmond (1824–1862)

The Irish Famine

Give me three grains of corn, mother,—  

Only three grains of corn;

It will keep the little life I have  

Till the coming of the morn.

I am dying of hunger and cold, mother,—          

Dying of hunger and cold;

And half the agony of such a death  

My lips have never told.

It has gnawed like a wolf, at my heart, mother,—  

A wolf that is fierce for blood;        

All the livelong day, and the night beside,  

Gnawing for lack of food.

I dreamed of bread in my sleep, mother,  

And the sight was heaven to see;

I awoke with an eager, famishing lip,       

But you had no bread for me.

How could I look to you, mother,—  

How could I look to you

For bread to give to your starving boy,  

When you were starving too?        

For I read the famine in your cheek,  

And in your eyes so wild,

And I felt it in your bony hand,  

As you laid it on your child.

The Queen has lands and gold, mother,—      

The Queen has lands and gold,

While you are forced to your empty breast  

A skeleton babe to hold,—

A babe that is dying of want, mother,  

As I am dying now,        

With a ghastly look in its sunken eye,  

And famine upon its brow.

What has poor Ireland done, mother,—  

What has poor Ireland done,

That the world looks on, and sees us starve,       

Perishing one by one?

Do the men of England care not, mother,—  

The great men and the high,—

For the suffering sons of Erin’s isle,  

Whether they live or die?

There is many a brave heart here, mother,  

Dying of want and cold,

While only across the Channel, mother,  

Are many that roll in gold;

There are rich and proud men there, mother,       

With wondrous wealth to view,

And the bread they fling to their dogs to-night  

Would give life to me and you.

Come nearer to my side, mother,  

Come nearer to my side,        

And hold me fondly, as you held  

My father when he died;

Quick, for I cannot see you, mother,  

My breath is almost gone;

Mother! dear mother! ere I die,        

Give me three grains of corn.

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