Tadgh and Ellen’s Story

By Mary Joyce

Tadgh and Ellen married when they were both 20. Tadgh farmed the family’s few gardens on the hillside and fished Lough Mask. Ellen cared for their two children, Tadgh Óg and Molly and their elderly parents.

Then the shocking news came down the valley that something was happening to the potatoes and the crop failed. The parents died and Tadgh got drowned fishing on the lake. The landlords and soldiers were merciless, evicting people and burning their homes.  Those who could emigrated. 

Alone, homeless and desperate, Ellen wrapped the children’s feet in rags and with what food she had, they headed for the Workhouse in Ballinrobe.

It took them three days of intense struggle. The children were sick and wasting away. Their feet were blistered and bleeding. Their rag footwear disintegrated on the gravel road. They slept a night in Ballykine wood and another under a cock of hay. She covered them with her shawl and skirt but the hard ground dug into their bodies. She prayed it wouldn’t rain on them. Her meagre rations didn’t last long and they were weakening. Carrying and dragging the children, she persevered.

Ellen dreamt she saw her mother who encouraged her to be brave. There was no help along the way; everyone was in the same boat. She managed the hills on her hands and knees. She was able to carry both children that way. She bathed their faces with water from a stream but they were burning up with fever. The children’s sunken eyes gave them a haunted look.

At last she saw the workhouse and tried to encourage the children on but she didn’t believe her own words. The building got closer and at last she saw the doorway. Carrying and dragging Tadgh Óg and Molly, she was afraid she wouldn’t make it. Her back and knees were objecting too much and everything was getting blurred.

Then she saw her mother in the doorway. She was smiling and was wearing a beautiful white dress. Her open arms beckoned to them and gave Ellen the last surge of energy she needed to get through the doorway. The children revived and ran to their grandmother.

But why was her mother here?

Why was she wearing white?

The Pictorial Times, December 14, 1846


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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