April 25th : Last week I mentioned a new book called “The Killing Snows”, by Charles Egan. the book is a historical novel about the events of the Great Famine in County Mayo, during the winter of 1846 to ’47. I met Charles Egan in New York about two months ago and he told me how he came to write the book, which concerns some of his Mayo ancestors who were involved in road building during the Great Famine. He found some records in his grandfather’s house which gave details of how many local people were paid a pittance during the Winter of 1846 to build “Famine Roads. If you are familiar with rural Ireland you will be aware that Ireland has many many miles of local roads in all kinds of unexpected places. Many of these country roads were build during the Famine period in order to give work to poor starving people. Ireland has literally thousands of miles of local roads in many unexpected places which were built during the Famine as Relief projects. The people were able to buy some wheat and yellow meal instead of potatoes. However wheat and meal was expensive and also not very nourishing. Buying meat was out of the question. Many poor starving people died literally on the job of road building. The potato crop, the mainstay of the poor was destroyed by potato blight ( Phythopthora infestans) fungus from 1845 to ’48. Twenty years later Louis Pasteur, in France discovered a control/prevention for this fungus called “Bordeaux mixture”, really a Copper sulphate/ Washing soda mixture, which also killed a similar fungal infection in vines. If Pasteur had made his discovery a generation before he could have helped solve the potato blight problem in Ireland and elsewhere.
The book is a powerful shocking fictional, but accurate account of the events of the Winter of 1846 in County Mayo and well worth reading. There are some great characters. There are some great characters in the story: Luke Ryan, who came back home from England in April 1846 to his family farm,his family, girlfriends and the whole rural population which over the coming months would be devastated by hunger and Typhus Fever. You really have to read this book to appreciate it.
There are some Priests who figure in the book, Fr. Flynn the parish priest whom I would not consider very christian, but rather intolerant. His curate Fr. Reilly comes across as a kind Christian gentleman. I am now going to quote you some lines from the novel which were spoken by another priest Fr. Nugent who was so so involved in helping to relieve the plight of the poor people with Luke Ryan,the man responsible for paying the people who constructed the roads in that area of Mayo in 1846.
Here is poor Fr. Nugent reflecting on his life as a priest: “Yes. Luke, I’M only a priest. Nothing more. It was all I ever wanted. Mabye it was because of my mother. I was the last of her sons, the last chance of a priest in the family. My father- he thought we were foolish- the both of us. He was a man of the world from County Meath- good land- and he owned it all himself.Our house wasn’t far from Maynooth. My mother wanted me to study there and my father had to accept it. Not that he liked it.But he had the money ,so I was sent. But an education wasn’t what I was looking for, and even in a seminary, I couldn’t find what I wanted. Isn’t that odd ? They taught us everything they knew- Canon Law and Theology, Latin and Greek, the Gospels and rest of the New Testament, Mass and the Sacraments, the History of the Church. They taught us all about the old heresies, and all the others, no one ever heard of in Brockagh. They taught us about the new ones too and how we’d have to stop them converting all of Connacht. Nangle and his Achill Mission, that was the enemy right here in Mayo. Bishop McHale was supposed to do many things to fight Nangle and the forces of evil, and to ensure all the schools should be Catholic. The Protestants and Presbyterians could teach their own, as we didn’t want them. But through it all there was only one thing they never taught us. They never told us how to find God. And do you know why they didn’t? It was because they didn’t know. They just didn’t know. But they made me a priest anyway. And they sent me to Dublin, these godless men, to say the Mass to rich Catholics. they thought it was better for me. I was a rich farmer’s son. I couldn’t handle anything else. And I said the Mass in their big churches and their colleges and their private oratories, but I couldn’t find Christ there. So I asked the Bishop for another parish- I asked for Donegal or Mayo or Galway or Kerry. He told me I was a lunatic,He said I’d never get anywhere in the Church, never make the Hierarchy. He said it would break me. But I insisted. So he gave in, the Bishop gave in. He wrote to McHale, and they tried me in a village near Tuam. But it wasn’t enough for me. I could see what they were doing with the schools, the way they were driving people apart, driving away other Christians, who were just like ourselves, and all in the name of Christ. So I asked for another parish again, and they told me they’s send me to Achonry Diocese to a little place called Brockagh, They couldn’t find anybody else who wanted to go.”
There Fr. Nugent found God. I will tell you more about this good man next week.
The Book “The Killing Snows by Charles Egan is available on Amazon. com for $14.99.
May 2nd : Last week I gave you some of my thoughts on Charles Egan’s historical novel about the Great Famine in County Mayo during the Winter of 1846. The book entitled “The KIlling Snows” is a powerful but shocking account of what went on during the Famine times in Mayo. Charles Egan’s father had been brought up on a small farm in Mayo, In 1990 his father following the death of his brother,gave Charles a box of documents which by their dates, had been stored for over a century. The early ones- a lease. two payrolls and three letters-covered the years of the Irish Famine. they told an incredible story of suffering, of love and of courage. The key events in this book are based on that story. I must say the book was an eyeopener to me. But to appreciate it you must get your own copy. It can be ordered on Amazon .com for $14.99.
Last week I was writing about Fr. Nugent’s views on the meaning of his priesthood. I found Charles’ views in his writings about this good priest interesting , especially in the light of recent church events both in Ireland, USA and Africa.
I continue Fr. Nugents story:- He was appointed to minister as Parish Priest in Brockagh, far from middle class Dublin. He said Mass in a church little better than a cowshed, similar to places in Kenya where I also said Masses. Fr. was happy, and he found God there. He had no school or Protestants to keep out . It was only when a man called JIm Voisey came back to Brockagh in the famine of 1840 that he saw there were other Christians too, who understood the Christian message. He worked together with this man to help the poor and starving. Fr. Nugent learned a lesson of tolerance from Jim Voisey. I suppose you could say that it took the Churches a long time to realize that the message of Christ applies to all people whether they are Christian or not. Fr. Nugent had compassion and care for all people. In a way he would remind you of a Mother Theresa or an Albert Schweitzer.
I think I have told you enough about this novel. I suggest you go and read it for yourselves.
Every best wish and blessing