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From Ulster With a Cloth Bundle

     The Ulster American folk park in Northern Ireland        tells the story of emigration from Ulster to North        America in the eighteenth and nineteenth                    centuries



Between the Great Famine and the New World

There we were in the hold, bunks all around

In rows to port and starboard

While from tarred timbers came heaves and groans

Mingled confusion and sound of a child sobbing

Louder and again.


Pale skinned grandmother she was

Hair tied in a bob, explaining

This bucket for water, that one for excrement

Make sure you’re upwind when you throw it overboard

This black cloth, tied with a carrying knot

Is all you may take, some oatmeal cake

A bible, a comb perhaps, and the Lord’s prayer.


Three weeks we sailed, or six or seven

Depending on the weather, hungry, soiled, scabbed

Sobbing and heaving. In heavy seas they battened us down

We lay in the dark, candles snuffed out

Some girls fell pregnant

Some didn’t make it, others infirm or ill

were turned back at Ellis – returned to sender

Wretched anachronisms, sent back

To starvation, death in transit

Dumped overboard? She didn’t know.


Down a passageway, rungs gripped then climbed

We emerge to the light of a New World

Post offices, print shops, general stores

Chemists, all smiles and explanations.

It takes some time to shake off the journey

She said, but trade and commerce and hard work

Will pull you through, and like new immigrants

Everywhere, we survived, holding each other up

In times of stress.


But where were the children that didn’t make it
Ill and sobbing in the hold, retching their lives

Out in the stench, where were the frail, the aged,

The crippled, denied entry, on their way back,

Dumped overboard? She didn’t say.

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© Johnmichael Simon



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