An Irish Inquest.

“Mother weep not, I am dying,
Famine calleth for her dead;
Who shall now, my place supplying,
Beg for thee thy scanty bread?
Mother, health and strength were mine
A frame of iron, hard and rude;
But hunger now doth make me pine.
And through the flesh my bones protrude.
Mother, I have sought for labour,
By honest toil our bread to gain;
But like many a starving neighbour,
Sought I long, and sought in vain.
Mother, I have suppliant stood,
Or scoured the earth with weary feet
To bring thee home at night the food
That dogs had e’en refused to eat.
Mother, thou know’st I’ve struggled on,
Goaded by hopeless hunger’s fears;
Till I, thy able-bodied son,
Have nought to give thee but my tears.
Mother, hard ‘tis thus to die,
Of health, of all but food possest;
Thus torn from every tender tie
The poor man hath to make him blest.
Mother, the morrow’s sun will beam
On wretched floor and downy bed –
Will smile on some, that happy dream,
And greet thee, starving with the dead.
Mother, why should man debar
His brother from his surplus store?
Let not the rich forget they are
God’s debtors to the helpless poor.
Mother, life is ebbing fast,
Withdraw thy fond, though shrunken arm;
My hunger now will soon be past,
O wet my lips with water warm.”
Another land his spirit seeks,
But there his body lay,
With sunken eye, and hollow cheeks –
Famine! behold thy prey!
She hugged the face she could not see;
And, when the morning shone,
The mother’s heartstrings broke, and she
Lay dead beside her son.

Title:An Irish Inquest.


Publication:Clonmel Chronicle

Published in:

Date:November 19th 1862

Keywords:domestic, hunger


This poem, collected by Pat Bracken, who is Executive Librarian for Clonmel Library in Tipperary, Ireland, looks back to the Irish Famine of the 1840s and recounts the relationship between a doomed mother and son. During the Great Hunger poets such as Jean de Jean and James Clarence Mangan reflected and examined the effects of the national disaster that befell the country in their poetry, and the period has had an immense effect on Irish culture. This poem’s publication follows a direct reference in a short prose piece to the effects of hunger which were beginning to be felt across the water in Lancashire at this time. After recalling Lancashire charitable efforts for Ireland during the Great Hunger of a generation before, the piece ends with the words 'Ireland, grateful, will not alone sympathise with the distress of her sister country but practically aid her distressed operatives.' There was an upturn in the Irish linen and flax trades as a result of the Union blockade of cotton.

The poem is preceded by the following note: [Note – “His last words at night ere he died were, “Mother, wet my lips with a little warm water.” In the morning the mother was found dead also. Verdict in both cases – Died from starvation – Irish Paper.”]. – SR