“The Lonely Irish Hillside”

by Peter McIntyre

(some reflections after visiting the Deserted Village, Achill Island, Co Mayo)

On a lonely Irish hillside

Along a winding mountain path,

Rows of ruined houses

Stand silently,

A haunting memorial

To a terrible past

People once populated this hillside,

These old stone walls

Were the pride and joy

Of Irish peasant stock.

These stones were simple homes,

Oh, if only stones could talk!

With the mountain to their back

And with the wild Atlantic on their face,

These people worked their humble bog,

Cutting turf for winter warmth,

Growing potatoes for hungry mouths,

Living for necessities never luxuries.

The dark winter settled on the Irish hillside,

The gales blew up from the ocean below,

The comfort of burning turf filled the air,

Grubby faces and ragged clothes

Betrayed a dire poverty,

Contentment was found in the simple potato.

I hear laughter on the Irish hillside,

I see barely clad children among the heather,

The women chatter aimlessly,

Old men tell old tales,

Young men talk of life beyond Ireland,

Oh, if only stones could talk!

Hundreds of people on a patch of Irish bog.


The very rigs where

They gathered the precious potato;

Whatever drove them

To this dreary hillside?

Too many people?

Too little land?

Unscrupulous landlords?

Impossible rents?

Brought them to this lonely hillside.

The simple life

On this Irish hillside

Was halted

By the great famine,

Oh, if only stones could talk!

I now see broken fathers,

The tears of stricken mothers,

I hear starved children crying,

The potatoes are rotten in their drills,

That pestilence, the terrible blight has come.

There is work but we are too sick;

There is money, what is money?

There is food, we cannot afford,

The potato is all we ever had,

The potato is gone, we are dying!

That lonely hillside

Is now a deserted village,

A sad and painful memorial

To the plight that brought them to this place,

And the horrors that emptied these homes of stone.

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