The Coffin Ship

Conor Lynam with a poem on the British starvation of Ireland in the 1840s.

Cast from our land we set sail to anywhere but here,
They told the world a famine gripped the green island of ours.
But we knew different.
As we scraped our corpses on board the ships of doom we saw food,
It was being stacked onto tall ships that looked suitably splendid compared to our squalor.
The first casualty of war the truth, the second the Irish.
Our torn rags and empty bellies collapsed onto the hard deck as disease tried to do what the British could not.
There wasn't enough room for the waves as they crashed overboard and dissolved back into the sea.
Thirst is a terrible torment with so much water splashing at your feet.
Some drank it and their stomachs said no.
Huddled in corners, cold, wet, hungry and afraid but still alive.
Some never made it past the first few nights,
We cast them overboard and asked the Lord to bring them home, to a time before the invaders came.
The creaking sails sounded like a hangman's noose as they battled the beating wind.
Days indecipherable to nights as below decks we listened, cried and prayed for our nightmare to end.
More fell, and we let Poseidon and the moon do what they would with their souls.
I remember someone shouted on seeing a gull, and word spread like scurvy.
Land soon appeared, though our subterranean seclusion scuppered our sights.
We didn't dance, we didn't sing, why would we?
Thousands of miles away from our land there was nothing to celebrate.
We crawled off the ship like weary sheep,
And the sunlight stung our eyes.
The British continued to ship food from Ireland as our people fled and starved.
I put my foot on American soil with a broken heart.
My body would heal I thought,
but my memories of invaders on the docks shipping masses of food away would haunt me forever.
I hope it haunts them too.

⏩ Conor Lynam is a Dublin Republican

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