Polly Of Bridgewater Farm  An Unknown Irish Story

Chapter XVII

Londonderry, May 1847

Polly and the children had never seen such a city as Derry.  They spent hours clambering over the high stone walls that held so much history of siege and saint, of oak groves and daring young apprentice boys.  Even at night most of the streets were bright with the new gaslight.  By day, Ships Quay was a thronging mass of shouting sailors, baggage handlers, ticket sellers, fish mongers, and hucksters, all clamoring for the attention of passengers desperate to find passage.  It was an exciting place to be if you were young and held a ticket on one of the sailing ships floating at anchor in the safest harbour in Ireland.

The Sesostris was one of these.  A magnificent three-masted vessel built on the coast of Scotland, chartered by J. & J. Cooke, with an experienced captain, Mr Dand, in charge.  William could hardly contain his excitement.  At last, his dream of sailing in a real ship towards who knew what adventures had come true.  And perhaps one day ha would own his own farm.  the youngest children, Robert, little Maggie and the bouncy two-year-old twins Isabella and Rebecca all caught his excitement.  Young Joseph spent the whole day exploring the port with his father.

Polly and her mother soon retreated back to the shops of the upper town, looking wistfully at provisions they could neither afford nor take on board.

others were worse off; some families had long ago given up hope of passage anywhere.  Famine had hit hard and early in this most northern part of Ireland.  The population of the Inishowen Peninsula had been devastated, the workhouse in Derry overwhelmed by the number of applicants.

That night, Polly returned reluctantly to their dismal lodging that was so unbearably different fro the farm they had left.  She felt as though her inmost spirit was cramped up by the narrow walls, the smells, and the suffering she had seen in the eyes of children all day long.

She stood for a long time at the window of the tenement house looking out over the roof tops with the sun setting slowly in the far western horizon.  Then, to her amazement, she heard a familiar song, faint at first, then growing stronger, vibrant in the clear air.  There was a solitary blackbird perched jauntily on the nearby soot-blackened rooftop, singing his heart out with his special evening song, almost as though he had deliberately chosen her for an audience.  For nearly an hour she listened entranced, beckoning her mother and Eliza to joint her.  Through all that followed, she would never forget the blackbird’s song.


What a splendid book … What a delightful story … I could feel the slushy peat field … I could smell the rain coming.”

M. O’Gallagher

Available here: click here

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