Scene of the Cattle Drivers, and Courage of a Boy

A fresh curate had been stationed in Bellmullet, and his prudent sober course indicated good. Three miles from the town lived a single lady, who went by the name of the Queen of Erris, on account of some clever doings in a court; and one sunny morning I took a walk to her dwelling near the sea. A sight which had never before fallen to my lot to witness, was here in progress. Two well-dressed men, mounted on fine horses, furnished with pistols, accompanied by a footman, passed, and turned into a miserable hamlet, and instantly all was in motion; every man, woman, and child who had strength to walk was out. Soon I perceived the footman driving cows and sheep into the main road, while the armed gentry kept all opposition at bay, by showing that death was in their pistols if any showed resistance. It was a most affecting sight. Some were clasping their hands, dropping upon their knees, and earnestly imploring the good God to save them the last cow, calf, or sheep, for their hungry little ones; some were standing in mute despair, as they saw their only hope departing, while others followed in mournful procession, as the cattle and sheep were all gathered from every field in the parish, and congregated at the foot of a hill, where the brisk "drivers" had collected them, to take them, in a flock to the town. My visit to the Queen was postponed. I followed in that procession; a long hill was before us, the sun was shining upon the clearest sky, and lighted up a company which illy contrasted with that of Jacob, when he went out to meet his angry brother Esau. The flocks and herds might be as beautiful; but the warlike drivers, and ragged, hungry, imploring oppressed ones that followed, could hardly claim a standing with Jacob and his family. The hill was ascended, and the poor people halted and looking a sad adieu turned back; and a few exclaimed, "We're lawst, not a ha'porth have the blackguards left to a divil of us," others spoke not, and a few were weeping. Death must now be their destiny.

All returned but one boy, whose age was about fourteen years; he stood as if in a struggle of feeling, till the people had gone from his sight, and the "drivers" were descending the hill on the other side. Instantly he rushed between the "drivers" and flock, and before the mouth of these loaded pistols he ran among the cattle, screaming, and put the whole flock in confusion, running hither and thither, the astonished "drivers" threatening death. The boy heeding nothing but the main point, scattered and routed the whole flock; the people heard the noise and ran, the "drivers," whether in astonishment, or whether willing to show lenity, (let their own hearts judge,) rode away, the inhabitants exulted, and the flock were soon in the inclosures of the owners. But that noble-minded heroic boy was the wonder; facing danger alone, and saving for a whole parish what a whole parish had not dared to attempt! His name should never be forgotten, and a pension for life is his due.

Read "Annals of the Famine in Ireland" at your leisure

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

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This book still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord's field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be apalled and distressed.

The text of this new edition has professionally been reset and an index added to the paperback.


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