Famine Walls

In the woods along the road where I’ve been walking these past months, there are old stone walls.

On the treeless sides of hills in Ireland, there are stone walls.

Neither walls have purpose. The walls in the woods were cleared from fields which now grow the forest. In Ireland, the walls were never intended to demarcate land or confine animals, but only to occupy the hands and bodies of idle, starving men.

These walls’ inutility is obvious: they run straight up hillsides, many of them, and often simply end, without forming the corners you’d expect of a pasture.

They were built during an Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, when the Irish starved and the English, whose only concept of welfare was pay for work, had to invent a day’s work so a meager day’s ration of gruel and maybe a couple of pennies could be properly earned.

And so the starving men picked up stones and put them in straight lines, up hillsides, to no end.

And every day, walking up and down the road to no practical end, I look at the walls in the woods, and I marvel at how the forest can re-grow, and how men can starve each other.