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At Aughinish Point – 1857

Nation 21st November, 1857 p.9 (abridged)

Martello Tower Aughinish Photo: A McCarron Wikimedia Commons

Martello Tower Aughinish
Photo: A McCarron
Wikimedia Commons

At Aughnish Point, a little fishing village in the wilds of Clare, on Monday last, two or three fishermen, with sorrowful faces, might be seen lifting off the strand, where it had been left by the receding tide, the lifeless corpse of a woman. From her long hair and humble garments, the sea water ran in streams over the friendly forms who bore their sad burden to a hut hard by. She whose lifeless form lay stretched upon the fisherman’s cabin floor had sought in death release from sorrow, not from shame. Over her story there hung no mystery, upon her memory no blot or blame. She had truly and faithfully given to society examples of heroism in affliction and fortitude in struggles where man’s endurance failed. Behind this record of its tragic close lies the story of a stainless life.

Twelve years ago, Mary McN. was the wife of an Irish farmer who tilled a little holding of four or five acres, which, with probably the proceeds of the fishing season, sufficed for all his wants. Death struck down her husband and left her single-handed to act a mother’s part with seven children. The black days of the Famine came. She had around her a young family, which, the evidence at the inquest tells us, she had always managed to bring up creditably and respectably. How hard she must have struggled. But now, indeed, the wolf was at the door, yet, she did not, even in that hour, despair. She wrought and wrought and toiled and slaved and never gave up the four acres nor deserted the little home beneath whose roof had passed the bright scenes in the drama of her humble life.

She came through those terrible famine years a victor. The little home still smiled, and still she had the ambition of bringing up her little boys and girls “respectably.” She achieved it all.

But, at last, a more terrible calamity than the Famine came upon her; one before which, all her striving was in vain. One against which, she strove until her honest heart broke in the struggle. The property upon which she was a tenant was sold in the Incumbered Estates Court. An envious eye was cast upon the little farm. In a perfectly “legal” manner Rev Mr J. outbid Mary for the spot which she had held for over twenty years. The spot she had struggled so hard, so bravely, to retain when the grave or the workhouse (to a heart less resolute) seemed inevitable. In vain she pleaded, begged, prayed. She was evicted.

The poor woman long refused to believe the fact. With passionate energy, she exhausted every possible means of retaining the farm. But the law was too strong. She had to quit. With her seven children she was adrift upon the world. The the strong mind gave way; the strained bow broke. For a long time, dejection settled upon her and she would ever keep talking of the humble home where once she had been happy, from which she had been driven forever.

Friends thought Time, the consoler, would calm the poor widow’s grieving; but alas her reason fled. The poor woman wandered about the fields, talking as of old, when they were her care; of the farming labours which she directed; of the hard struggles she fancied were still going on; of the old subjects of anxiety and foresight. She would shout out that she would not be reft of her humble home, that it was still hers.

But sometimes, as if a glimpse of the disastrous truth broke upon her, she would sink in prostration and talk dejectedly about the struggle in which she had been overthrown. Last Monday she was observed to wander to the waterside, pause for a moment, fold her arms, then plunge into the tide.
Take her up tenderly, kind neighbourly hearts; she was an Irish wife and mother, without stain and without reproach.

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