This story was told to me in London by a very well respected Irish journalist and writer. There is a deep, desperate human tragedy behind it. What happened to those in the story could quite possibly be disregarded by skeptics, but the cause of the rise of stories like this, can never be denied. This is the story of the Féar Gorta, or the Hungry Grass.
The events occured in Cork, Ireland and happened to the journalist’s father Padraig, and uncle, Hugh. His father was a young lad and Hugh, his brother was heading off for the priesthood, as all eldest sons did in those days. It was their last weekend together and they went hunting for rabbits. After a successful afternoon, they were heading home when young Patrick spotted something moving in a thicket .
“One more!” he called to his elder brother, but Hugh shook his head and said “No Padraig, not in there, come on home now. There is nothing in there but hungry grass.”
Padraig, it would seem, did not either hear what his brother said or was not aware of the significance of his words. He went on ahead anyway. Inside the thicket, he looked for the animal that had made the rustling sound and as he did so, a pain gripped his abdomen, a pain so intense that he could not describe it without tears, not even when telling his grown up son, many years later. The pain was so sudden and so vicious, he fell to the ground, unable to move, unable to even make a sound. As an adult, Padraig could only describe the sensation as “living evisceration”. He passed out with the pain just as Hugh lifted him off the ground and carried him home.
The doctors could find nothing wrong with him. Within a few hours he was as right as rain. Hugh explained that where they had been was a place where hundreds of thousands of people had died of starvation. They lay where they fell, in a mass grave, to this day.
“What you felt, Padraig,” Hugh said, “was how it feels to starve to death.”
Padraig told the story only once, to his son. To him, so many decades later, it was as real as the hour it happened.
Between 1845 and 1852, over three million people disappeared from Ireland. Through death by starvation and through emigration to escape the horrors. Thousands more died on the coffin ships to America. An English landowner recorded in letters to England about arriving in Ireland to bring food to those living on his land and on stepping off the ship was confronted with dead bodies littering the countryside, the stench of rotten potatoes and corpses filling the air everywhere. The cash-crop grains that the British could have used to feed the starving were instead loaded onto ships and exported.
It was not really just a famine. It was genocide. As cold and as calculated as any other from history. Who is anyone to say the Hungry Grass is just a story?
The Irish Famine Memorial, Dublin