Submitted by Kyleigh on Sat, 10/27/2007 - 09:11

Note: I wrote this story based off of the traditional Irish song, The Fields of Athenry. I've pasted it at the end of the story, but I did not write it.


It is 1845.
“Máirín. The potatoes. It’s not good news.” My husband Keegan stood in the doorway.
I looked up from the dress I was sewing for Cadhla, our daughter. “What is it?”
“Something’s not right with the soil. I checked with our neighbors as well – theirs are the same.”
“Their what?”
“What’s the matter with them?”
“They’re dust and mold. That’s all.” He opened his fist, showing me what he meant. My eyes went wide.
“How are we going to survive?”
“Only God knows. At the moment, it seems impossible. Hopefully Trevelan will share his corn.”
“I should hope so.” I sighed.

One year later, we were a starving family. Trevelan would not share his corn, great tyrant that he was. When one of our neighbors had requested an audience with Trevelan, he storming back and repeated Trevelan’s words. 'If the Irish once find out there are any circumstances in which they can get free government grants, we shall have a system of mendacity such as the world has never seen.'
We had to make do with what little we had. Cadhla was two, almost three, and extremely small for her age, due to lack of food. I was five months pregnant as well. Keegan and I had no idea how we were going to survive.

“Máirín... I need to do this. Cadhla needs me to. You need it. We all need the food.” Keegan said as he returned from work (what little he could do of it) one afternoon.
“I know we do. But it’s so dangerous. What would happen to us if you got caught and taken away on a prison ship?” I replied worriedly.
“They won’t catch me. They haven’t caught anyone else yet.”
“There’s a first time for everything, Keegan. Please, I’d rather you not go.”
“I have to. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in the morning at the latest.”
“And if you’re not?”
“I will be.” I hugged him tightly, not wanting to let go. I closed my eyes tightly, praying hard.
Keegan turned and slung his empty burlap sack over his shoulder. Quietly, he kissed our daughter Cadhla on the forehead and then left the house through the front door. I tried to sleep, but none would come. I was too worried. I tried knitting, I kept dropping stitches. Finally, I gave up and went to the door to watch for Keegan’s return. At dawn, there was still no sign of him. I prepared a meager meal of ground cornmeal cooked over a fire and mixed with water. It was all we had eaten for the past year. While I worked, my mind went back to a day three years ago, the day Cadhla had been born. Keegan and I had taken her on a walk to the fields....
Keegan looked over my shoulder into Cadhla’s tiny face, smiling. Our little daughter was going to be beautiful someday, that was already quite clear. Together, a family, we stood in the field, the sun setting behind us, birds swooping overhead. We were so happy then. No famine, no tyrants.
A tug on my dress brought me back to the present.
“Mam, I’m hungry.”
“We all are, Cadhla. This famine-”
Suddenly Keegan burst into the room.
“Keegan!” His face was flushed, and he was out of breath. A sack filled with corn was over his shoulder.
“They’re after me. Trevelan’s men. Hide the corn.”
“What about yourself?”
“I won’t run, Máirín. I broke the law for you. Now I have to pay the penalty. Goodbye.” He hugged me tightly then picked Cadhla up from the ground and cuddled her for a minute, then set her down.
“No, Keegan –" I began, grabbing his hand. He pulled away and left the house. Outside, I could hear shouting. Quickly, I hid the corn and went back to making breakfast, crying the whole time. Cadhla and I ate, and though the day passed quickly, I was never paying attention to what I did. That evening, after putting Cadhla down to bed, I took my shawl and left the house, heading for the prison.
“Keegan!” I whispered at each cell window. At the fifth window, he answered.
“Máirín! What are you doing here – It’s not safe!”
“I know it’s not. But I had to see you one more time. The neighbors are saying tomorrow they’re going to take you away – to Australia on a prison ship. Keegan, you can’t go!” I was crying again. Shaking so hard I couldn’t control myself. Keegan reached his hand through the bars and steadied me.
“Máirín. I thought you understood – I did this for you. I knew there could be penalties. We’ll see eachother again someday. And meanwhile, we’ll be together inside.”
“But what about Cadhla? Growing up without her da? And the baby on the way? Keegan, you can’t.”
“I have to. And I’ll be free. Free! From the famine. From the tyranny of Trevelan and the other leaders of our corrupt country. Pray for this famine to end. Pray for me. And we’ll be all together again, yes. Free, too.”
“Free... I love the sound of that word. Yes, we’ll be free together.”
“I hear someone coming – quick, Máirín, hide!”
I ducked behind a bush until Keegan whispered to me to come out.
“I guess this is it then. Cadhla needs me to go back.”
“What a good mother she has. Take good care of her; give her my love for me. Tell her I’ll see her again someday.”
I nodded, tears filling my eyes. “Good bye, Keegan. My love for you will never end. I will wait for your return.”
“I will return if I am able, for now, remember I love you and will think of you and Cadhla every day.”
“Good bye.” Slowly, I backed away from the prison wall and walked through the fields of Athenry to our home, remembering the day when Keegan and I had stood watching the birds fly, Cadhla in my arms.

“Where’s Da?” Cadhla asked when I returned home. She had waken from her fitful sleep and now realised her father had been gone longer than usual.
“Cadhla, your father did a very brave thing for you. He got us some food, but he was caught taking it. Now he needs to go somewhere else for a while. He loves you very much, dear, and someday we’ll be together again.”
“Mam, I’m hungry.”
“I know. We all are. But here, take some of what your father brought us.”
I dished up a small portion of corn from a bowl in a cupboard and handed it to my daughter “This is all we can spare for now. Soon this famine will be over and we’ll be able to have potatoes again. I never thought I’d want to see a potato.”
“Mam, what happened to the potatoes?”
“I don’t know, Cadhla. They went bad.”
“When will they come back?”
“Someday. Why don’t we pray for da and the potatoes?”
“Dear God. Keep da safe. Help us to see him soon, and help the potatoes to come back and not run away again.”
“Thank you, Cadhla. Now let’s get back to sleep.”
“I’m not tired, Mam.”
“Want to do down to the bay and watch Da’s ship leave?”
“Can we mam?”
“Yes,” I replied, picking her up in my arms.

Down at the bay, Cadhla sat on the sandy beach and pulled her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms around them, her blue eyes staring out to sea. I stood, water lapping my bare feet, the wind blowing my wild red hair. A lone tear rolled down my cheek as I stood watching.
“Goodbye, Keegan.” I whispered as the ship undocked and set sail for Botany Bay.
Cadhla and I stayed at the beach until sunrise, staring out to see. Cadhla picked up a few shells as we walked along the beach toward home.
“Mam, these shells are always going to remind me of daddy. And the night on the beach. Mam, when will he be back?”
“I don’t know, Cadhla. Probably never. But maybe someday we can move to go see him.”

The famine ended four years later, in 1870. Cadhla was now seven, and my son, Cian, who had been born shortly after Keegan left, was four. We were still in Ireland, and Keegan still in Australia. Recently we had received a letter from him.
My Dear Máirín and Cadhla,
I expect by now Cadhla is a big sister. How is her young sibling? Was it a girl or a boy?
I miss you all so much, and wish I could be there with you. I’m fine here in Australia, but it would be better if you could be here. I’m hoping to return home as soon as my ten years are up. Of course, we still have six years to go. It’s hard work here, but I want to be home. I hope you are all doing well.
If I know you like I used to, you’ll be wondering what happened to me the night I was caught... As you know, I went to get some corn from Trevelan’s storage house. The way over and in was fine. But on the way out, as I climbed out through the window, I forgot to look over to where a guard was stationed along the street. He had been facing me, and saw me. That began the chase, and you know it from there.
Oh, Máirín... What I wouldn’t give to be back with you. I know, you warned me. I made a simple error that ended up having drastic consequences. But where would we be if I hadn’t?
Ouch, I’m hot. The weather in Australia is so much warmer than in Ireland. Most of the men work shirtless.
Well, I have to be going. It’s early in the morning and we’re about to leave for our assignments. Give Cadhla my love, as well as the little child. I hope to see you again someday on the green shores of Ireland.
Yours forever,

Over the next nine years, Cadhla grew into a beautiful young woman and Cian was turning into a man. We had news from Keegan that he had been released. But that had been three years ago, and there was still no sign of him returning.
“Cadhla, go get some water from the well, will you dear?”
Cadhla set down her sewing and went out to the well. Cian was outside planting potatoes. I was working on some stew. Minutes after she had left, Cadhla ran into the house, smiling and breathless.
“Da’s home!”
“This is no time for games, Cadhla.”
“Mam, I’m too old for games. I’m serious!”
Outside, I saw Cian straighten, stand, and wave and then run towards the road. I stepped outside the house, ready to investigate.
“Keegan!” I shouted, and broke into a run. When I got there, he was standing next to Cian, grinning, a hand on Cian’s shoulder.
“How did you get back?”
“I’ll tell everyone over dinner! It’s so good to be home!
“You got here right on time – Dinner’s almost ready.”
Happily, we walked back to the house, where we sat Keegan down at the table, then I finished the stew. Cadhla quickly whipped up some scones for us. When we finished eating, Keegan pushed back his chair.
“Best meal I’ve had in thirteen years. Och, I’m getting old!”
“So how’d you get home, Da?” Cian asked, still shoveling food into his mouth.
“Well, you know my sentence was only for ten of those years. Those ten years went by very slowly. Your letters helped. They kept me going. All around me many men died. But as long as I had your letters I could keep going. The conditions were terrible. We got little more than what we had in Ireland.
“After my ten years were up, I was released, but with no where to go. This is why many men never return from Botany Bay. Nearby, I found a small farm wanting help. They hired me, and for three years I worked, saving money to return home. And here I am.”
“You’re different, Keegan.” I stated.
“Sure, as if you aren’t. Thirteen years is a long time. Let me guess, Cadhla, you’re now what, seventeen, and Cian is thirteen?”
“Yep.” Cian beamed.
“Máirín, shall we go for a walk? All of us?”
I looked at him, puzzled. Then I smiled. “Yes. Let’s go.”
Together, the four of us, finally reunited headed for the fields. They were as they had been before, many years ago. We watched the sunset with happiness. Cian was lying in the wheat, watching the clouds, Cadhla stood, watching grain wave in the wind. Keegan and I stood side by side. I leaned my head against his shoulder.
“Remember when we met?” I whispered.
He smiled.
Everything was perfect again. The family was together, well fed, and happy. The birds were flying over the fields of Athenry once more.


By the lonely prison wall,
I heard a young girl calling,
Michael, they are taking you away,
For you stole Trevelan’s corn,
So the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

Low, Lie, the fields of Athenry,
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing,
It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

By the lonely prison wall,
I heard a young man calling,
Nothing matters, Mary, when you’re free,
Against the famine and the crown,
I rebelled, they ran me down.
Now you must raise our child with dignity.

Low, Lie, the fields of Athenry,
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing,
It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

By the lonely harbor wall,
She watched the last star falling
As the prison ship sailed out against the sky
For she went to hope and pray,
For her love in Botany Bay,
It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

Low, Lie, the fields of Athenry,
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing,
It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

Author's age when written


I really enjoyed reading that, Kyleigh! Makes me want to go write now. :)