“Right there is where it started,” he says, pointing out the window to emerald pastures several headlands away. Here, where the forty shades of green meet surprisingly blue seas on the southern coast of Ireland in West Cork, a breathtaking tableau dappled with dairy cows in any direction, blight is not a word that comes to mind.
But right there is where the Great Famine began.
We’re standing in late August at what will be my desk until Christmas, on a quick tour of the house whose owner should be packing for America. But with his Irish sense of time, one quite different and more expansive than my American variety, he has already taken us on a boat ride and is about to lead the way to a digging lesson up in the potato garden.
Minutes later, pitchfork in hand, I unearth a healthy bunch of spuds from rocky soil and am no less delighted than my children by the sight. The dirty yellow skins make a fine addition to the jeweled picture stretching out before us from Union Hall to Skibbereen—the finest of all, no doubt, if we were a family of five facing starvation in the mid-1800s.
That was three months ago, when we arrived for a family sabbatical now about to end. Given the somewhat last-minute nature of the plan put together over the summer, I had no idea that we would be living so close to the origin of Ireland’s defining watershed.