Daimhin was staring up at the dark recessed ceiling of the little cottage, with Taylor sleeping in the crook of his arm. His hand was draped across her tiny waist and she was snuggled closely next to him, moulded perfectly to him. He was listening to her steady breathing. He could not put aside the awareness of that dark hole in his life that has always been omnipresent. This was the very first time since his mother died, more than three hundred years ago, that he felt loved, even though Taylor never said the words.
Clearly, as if it was only this morning, he remembered his mum’s warm embraces, her tender smiles, and her loving words.
When Daimhin was born back in the third decade of the seventeen hundreds, there was a period in Irish history which was called the long peace and indeed for nearly one hundred years, there was little political violence in Ireland, in stark contrast to the previous two hundred years.
His mum was killed at a time when punishing laws were introduced to strengthen the position of the English Protestants in power and to reduce the Irish Catholics to servants. In this era, Catholics were not permitted to vote, marry a Protestant, join the armed forces, or to carry arms—even for protection. Protestants could Will property to their one eldest son, maintaining the larger estate sizes, whereas Catholics were forced to divide properties among all male heirs and over time their lands shrunk into tiny plots.
His family lived on one of these tiny plots. They were really, really poor and sometimes they had to eat grass to suppress the hunger pangs, which never really went away.
Daimhin was eight years old when his mum fell pregnant again, in a house where there were already too many hungry mouths and not ever a crumb of bread.
The baby never made it, and neither did his mother. They both died of starvation long before the baby was even due.
The day his mother died, his father continued as if it was just another day. Daimhin felt as if the only person who ever cared about him in the whole entire world was stolen away from him, and his father was the murderer, because if he had not made her pregnant, she would have been able to carry on, on the meagre scraps as the rest of them did.
He continued bearing each day in torment. At the age of nine years, his father made him plant potatoes, which rotted. He was beaten on a daily basis. There was never any food, yet his father managed to come home senselessly drunk every night. At ten Daimhin cowered in the corner, although he knew his dad would find him. There were not many places to hide in their little shack.
In those dark moments, the only thought that kept his tears at bay was that soon he would join his mum wherever she might have gone.