Follow the path of Sean Bothar A haunted place where once stood homes Feel the ghosts of An Gorta Mór Lingering among the tumbled stones
Too poor to answer the immigrant call Too weak to throw an American wake Put to work building useless walls In the mountains above Corrib’s Lake
This old road lined with hazel and gorse Famine cottages with the family names Bears the hoof prints of the pale rider’s horse Bears witness to the oppressor’s shame
Two million souls lost to hunger’s grip, The famine fever or the coffin ship
**A note: An Gorta Mór is ‘The Great Hunger’ referring to The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. The province of Connacht, where I live, was hit particularly hard by the famine and the evidence is all around us. Sean Bothar means Old Road in Irish and there is such a road near me and is featured in the header photo. An American Wake refers to a sendoff for anyone emigrating to the US, Canada or Australia, since the families would likely never see one another again. To those left behind it was as if their loved one had died. Thus the ‘wake’ to say goodbye.
There was a story in the news last year that has stayed with me for its tragedy and cruelty… not just for those who lost their lives but for the one who was left behind. The names have been changed.
Kate had inherited a farm in County Cork from her family and lived there with her husband, Padraig and two grown sons, Michael and Sean. The family didn’t work the farm themselves but leased the land out to local farmers. The two sons had attended university and were working in their respective careers in nearby towns. Kate was experiencing a health issue and needed to have an operation from which she would need time to recover. She had recently made her will, just in case.
There were signs that things weren’t too good at home. Rather than come back to the farm after the surgery, Kate elected to stay with friends along with her older son Michael, who would nurse her back to health. When, finally she was well enough to come home, she and Michael returned to the farm where Padraig and Sean were waiting. After dinner and a bit of television, Kate went to bed early.
In the early morning, with the sun just coming up, Kate awoke to the sound of gunshots. Terrified, she ran from the room and found Michael in his bed, covered in blood. Neither Padraig nor Sean were in the house. In a panic, she fled to her nearest neighbor who called the police. When they arrived, they found Michael dead and began to search the farm for the two missing men.
They found Padraig and Sean in one of the fields. Both men were dead and a shotgun lay between them. A lengthy note was found on the body of Sean. In it he detailed the anger that he and his father felt at the favoritism Kate showed to her older son. They knew what she had written in her will. She had left the farm to Michael. It was never clear who shot whom, but the father and son had formed a murder suicide pact. And the note said, they had agreed to let Kate live so that she would live out her life in suffering over the loss of her beloved Michael.
In this strange and twisted tale, two men got their revenge but they paid in the most extreme and pointless way. Sparing a life just to provoke and prolong suffering and grief. And now, nobody gets the farm.