Farewell to the White Potatoes

A long farewell to the white potatoes,
How great the happiness they could afford,
How glad they made us when they came before us,
With faces smiling at us from the board;
They fed the mother and the son from childhood,
The strong, the weak, the young and the old,
But oh! my misery and endless anguish,
For they have perished without frost or cold.

Oh! I’m distracted and almost confounded,
For all the world the disease contains;
The stems are withered ere the blossom ripens,
And ere the harvest not a root remains.
Ah! grief to name it, why call it harvest,
A better harvest ‘tis of heart‑wrung sighs,
The food we lived on e’er since our childhood
Is nothing almost before our eyes.

They were our friends since we left the cradle,
And sore it grieves us from them to part,
They kept us company in mirth and sadness,
And if they leave us ‘twill break our heart.
They were the dainties that would entice us
To feast lest we should hunger feel;
They stopped the weeping of the hungry infant
And were his support and his morning meal.

One thousand years first and these eight hundred,
Two score most truly and six besides,
Since the Saviour took on him our human nature,
‘Till the potatoes through the world died;
That is the date and we’ll long remember,
For ‘twill be talked of for many a day,
For no disaster before was heard of
Which took like that all our food away.

Based on a poem in Irish, Na Fataí Bána (‘The White Potatoes’), written at the time of the Famine by Peatsaí Ó Callanáin, a farmer from near Athenry, County Galway. The original poem has twelve verses.

Not many years later this free translation of the first eight was made for the great antiquarian, Eugene O’Curry, by one Thomas Chapman of Dublin.
With acknowledgements to Cormac Ó Gráda, Professor of Economics, University College, Dublin, who included the original poem and the translation in An Drochshaol, his study of the Famine in Irish language oral traditions.

Published in The Green Dragon No 5, Winter, 1997.

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