An Irish Landowner Foresees his Death

One bright spring morning after brunch,
Upon a passing whim,
Grown tired of all the newspapers
That lied and lectured him –

Lord Hawksley, Lord and master of
A County Clare estate,
Set out to see things for himself
In eighteen forty eight.

He took a coach and four that day
And crossed from Liverpool,
And cursed the ship that tossed on waves
Britannia could not rule.

He journeyed on by famine roads
Full of half broken stones,
And every now and then passed by
Peculiar heaps of bones.

At last arriving home he found
No agent to be seen,
No rents collected, no nor peasants,
Where peasants should have been.

It was a cruel and mortal blow
To fall upon his Lordship,
The blighters all had buggered off
Upon a tall and broad ship.

This picture, somewhat different from
O’Malley’s lying reports,
Contrived to make his Lordship feel
Distinctly out of sorts.

The last of his small capital
Was sunk into this land,
It did not look like giving him
The bonus he had planned.

Lord Hawksley was a decent man,
He paid the Poor Rate duly,
He said his tenants would not starve,
And he meant it truly.

What little income he had left
He’d given to a Quaker
Who tried to feed the mobs that rushed
Past him to meet their Maker.

Now as he roamed the empty fields
He saw that it was over,
The wine and roses, rent and crops,
And peasants all in clover.

Cold ruin stared him in the face
Because of that damned tater.
Now he’d have to sell it all,
Go home and live with mater.

He walked back to the road and saw
An old man drawing near,
With something on his back that made
His Lordship start with fear.

The fever was abroad and still
The dead lay everywhere.
He feared the old man’s grisly load
And dead-eyed, fearful stare.

Remembering Christian duty though,
His purse produced a pound.
Before he hastened up the road,
He left it on the ground.

He turned to watch, a short way off,
And saw the old man bend,
Pick up the note and smile as if
He’d come upon a friend.

The child he carried did not smile
But only stared ahead,
Dead or alive, a boy or girl,
My Lord could not have said.

But blood he noticed on its legs
Before he rode away,
And thought about it afterwards
For many’ s the night and day.

They sang his praises at the Club
But said you’d see a change,
‘Since he got back, he’s not the man
He was, by God, it’s strange.

Mutters a bit in corners now,
Has dark and frightful dreams
Where old men stand and smile at him,
And blood runs down in streams.

But you wouldn’t catch Lord Russell, no!
Nor Wood to view that place,
Old Hawksley’s damn near bankrupt, yet
He went and showed his face!’

The other Lordships toasted him,
‘Old Hawksley is a sport.
Went out to see for himself, y’ know –
Always the decent sort.’

©: Steve Hennessy, an Irish writer living in Bristol, who is the author of the Famine play, Act of Union, based on the voyage of famine refugees from Cork to Cardiff.

Published in The Green Dragon No 2, March 1997.