The Avondhu - By The Fireside
‘Twas the same here in Glenville in those awful dark days. Bodies were buried in sacks, coffins with hinged floors were used again and again. We stand here today on truly hallowed ground as just feet from where we are is the Famine grave, call it a mass grave or a famine pit - whatever we call it, we can be certain that there below in that ground are the mortal remains of people who died of hunger. Many of you here today can trace your ancestors back to the 1800s in this area - be sure and certain that some of your relatives lie there. Unknown and un-named, but not forgotten.
“It is truly fitting then, that anyone who comes along that path there, through the fields, or by the Famine path below, in fifty or a hundred years, will see this plaque and say a silent prayer and never forget the famine that blighted our fair country.”
“Today in this historic place, Doonpeter, we are unveiling not just one, but two plaques and the second reflects another chapter of Irish history. Our’s is not to parse or analyze the custom or practice of burying premature or stillborn babies or babies who died unbaptised away from their family graves. We can look back now and say it was a wrong thing to do, but times and beliefs were different. In quiet places often under cover of darkness, the bodies of little infants were buried. The famine victims had a tough life for however long they lived, but these infants had no length of days at all. Here in Doonpeter, many are buried. We think of the famine 175 years ago, but the practice of secret burials of infants continued until relatively recent times. Today, we remember with fondness all those, who in many cases, never even got a name, but when visitors come here they too shall be remembered.
“Truly this place is ancient, historic and a unique spot. From Pagan time, to early Christianity, to the burning of the Church here - not by Danes or Normans or other foreigners, but by the Army of O’Neill on his way to Kinsale. We hear of the Hidden Ireland full of special laces like this, it may be remote and far from the madding crowd, but it reflects life in this area for over 2,000 years.
“There is a beautiful song ‘Bright Blue Rose’ written by Jimmy McCarthy and in my mind it reflects the mystery of life, of death and the unknown and I’d like, in conclusion, to sing just a few lines from it”:
‘And it is a holy thing
And it is a precious time
And it is the only way Forget-me-nots among the snow
It’s always been, and so it goes To ponder his death and his life eternally. ‘One bright blue rose outlives all those Two thousand years, and still it goes To ponder his death and his life eternally.’
Tom Flanagan used every inch of his shop to display his goods. Bars of chocolate fought for attention on the counter; plastic jars stood tall and square on the window shelf, that it might seem they would never run out of sweets; while all the other shelves were filled with chocolate boxes, adorned with red ribbons and snowy landscapes, so that the grown-ups might pretend they bought the box for the box alone and not - as is the case - to eat lovely chocolates when all is quiet and the children are fast asleep.
Tom was happy enough with his life and business. If customers were not as frequent as before, it was the loss of company, not profit, which he regretted most. He would lean his weight on the freezer and yearn for those summer days when children would rush in to buy his homemade ice-cream and linger in the shop to listen to his stories and to tell their own.
This, however was cold winter when the speciality of the shop found few customers. To compensate in small measure for the loss in trade Tom bought some holly from a dealer who shook his head and spat on the floor to get the best price for his cuttings, which now lay in a corner of the shop as if it were a plant taken root that should be uprooted and burnt.
“Is that variegated holly?” enquired a gloved lady who had come to buy an assortment of chocolates.
“Yes, the very best,” confirmed Tom proudly.
“I will take a few small branches,” said the lady - “the holly on the street is quite inferior, besides I think those street traders are no addition to the town.”
Tom agreed with the lady, not that he fully agreed with what she had to say. There was no harm in a little competition, anyway the holly was selling fast. Tom knew there was no fortune to be made out of selling such a seasonal item as holly; but he was so pleased with the novelty of the enterprise that for the first time in years he felt part of the joy of Christmas.
Trouble came in the door in the shape of a tawny youngster in ragged clothes. He looked hard at all the chocolates and sweets, as if he was deciding their value; he crinkled his nose at holly out of place in the corner; finally, he steered two accusing eyes at the portly shopkeeper.
“What do you want?” asked Tom rather unpleasantly.
“A bar of chocolate, Mister,” the boy replied.
Tom asked the boy had he the money, the boy had and so purchased his choice of chocolate which he began to eat on the spot.
“You have a cosy little shop,” said the young lad suddenly.
Tom was about to agree, but changed his mind and manner and asked the boy did he want anything else from the shop.
“How’s the holly selling, Mister?” enquired the boy.
Tom bit his lip while in half a mind to throw the inquisitive fellow out of the shop, instead he asked his business rival how his own holly was selling and was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear it was selling poorly.
“Can you read, young man?” asked Tom out of the blue.
“No, but I can count money,” boasted the boy.
Tom smiled thoughtfully. Money put food on the table, and a bare table was the worst of scenes.
“You see that holly?” said the shopkeeper to the trader, “you can take that holly out into the street and I will tell my customers where to go for the best holly in town.”
The young fellow quickly gathered up what was in the corner and was halfway out the door when he turned and asked Tom had he any holly for his own home.
The shopkeeper confessed he had forgotten himself and he was more than pleased when the young fellow gallantly presented him with a bunch of holly variegated in white and green and rich with red berries.