General Fiction posted June 13, 2016 Chapters: Prologue -1- 2... 

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Potato rot threatens Four Winds Farm

A chapter in the book DAUGHTERS OF THE FOUR WINDS

The O'Connell Family

by Annette Gulliver

Six generations later, a woman travels from Australia to Ireland in search of her forebears.
There is a place across the sea
A place where my soul
Longs to be
As years go by
Memories grow dim
They are but whispers on the wind

Please refer to Prologue -
Previously:   Maddie's heart raced when the taxi came to a halt outside of a small stone cottage surrounded by pretty gardens. A thin whisp of smoke curled up from its chimney, and the smell of baking filled the air. She paid the driver and collected her luggage, then walked up the cobblestone path to the front door. She hesitated for a moment, then took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. Finally, with her cousin’s help, she would be able to put the ghosts of her past to rest.
Part 1
Chapter 1
County Kerry, Ireland 1845

The bitterly cold wind that blew across the bracken-clad hills forced the woman toiling in a field to pull her shawl tightly about her shoulders. She had been there for most of the day, and her fingers were numb through her threadbare gloves. The harvest from the rows of wilting plants in the field was poor, and the few potatoes she had managed to find sat in a basket, along with a cabbage she had earlier scrounged from a neighbour.

She continued to scratch in the damp soil until she reached the last row of plants. It was late in the afternoon, and when a fine mist began to settle in the valley, she decided to go home. She put her tools in the basket, and paused for a moment to look at the field. There were only a few plants left. Soon there would be nothing to take to market.
Sean O’Connell squinted as he emerged from the darkness of his cottage on top of a nearby hill. He took a swig of poitín from the flagon clasped in his hand, then loudly belched. A movement in the field below caught his eye, and he peered through the mist. He scowled, and then staggered down the hill towards his wife. “What in the hell do ya think yer doin'?" he shouted when he reached her. “It’s time for me supper!”

The woman was used to her drunken husband’s bullying. She ignored his outburst as she shook the soil from her gloves, then walked back up the hill to prepare the evening meal.
Smoke from the peat fire burning in the hearth filled the cottage as Meara peeled the freshly dug potatoes and chopped up the cabbage. She placed them into a pot of boiling water over the fire, and then cut several thick slices of soda bread. Sean had a ravenous appetite, and she knew that he would not be satisfied with only the thin soup. Her daughter, Clare, had been to market in Dingle that day, and Meara hoped she would bring home a fresh fish for supper. But as twilight was fast approaching, and the girl was nowhere to be seen, they would go to bed hungry that night.

Sean came to stand beside her, and stared at the watery contents in the pot. “What sort of a meal do ya call that?" he shouted, his eyes blazing. "I’m starving! Me stomach thinks me throat’s been cut!” 

Meara pushed him out of the way. “For God's sake, leave me be, Sean. I’m trying my best to get your supper.”

Sean shrugged, and took a swig from his flagon. He licked his lips, and then looked around the gloomy kitchen. “Isn’t it time that daughter of yers was home? Do ya know where she is?”

Meara knew, but wasn’t about to tell her husband. “I’m sure I don’t know.”

Sean doubted her word. In his opinion the girl was nothing but trouble. He pulled a chair close to the fire, and glared at his wife as he lit his pipe. "A man shouldn’t have to wait so long for his supper," he muttered, as he stared at the smoking embers.

Meara laid the table with three pottery bowls, and then sat by the door to wait for her daughter's return. Her mind was in turmoil, and she was worried. The fungus destroying Ireland's potato crops was rapidly spreading, and it would soon reach County Kerry. Rumours already abounded of destitute families evicted from their homes by the Constabulary, with some forced into squalid workhouses springing up across the country. The greedy landlord of Four Winds Farm was also demanding more rent, and if Sean did not find work in the newly devised public works projects, Meara was certain they too would face eviction. Not only would her family be penniless, they would be homeless.

She stared at her husband of thirty years. There was no doubt about it; the man was getting lazier by the day. Sometimes she wished she had never married him, and often regretted leaving her home and family in Dublin, but Sean had been such a handsome, hardworking man back then. Meara now lived in hope that her son Patrick would come home. He had left to join a fishing fleet in County Cork, his head full of dreams to return a rich man, but Meara had not heard from him since. Her family faced a bleak future, and the time had come to voice her concerns. She stood up and faced her husband. “Sean, we’ve hardly a potato left in the field! There's nothing left to take to market. If you don’t get off your backside and find our rent, we’ll be getting evicted.”

Sean covered his ears and closed his eyes. “Aw, stop yer naggin' woman. I'm not goin' traipsin’ all over the countryside diggin‘ trenches.”

“I just want you to do something," Meara retorted.

Sean yawned and closed his eyes. “Don’t worry, me love. We’ll not be leavin’ this place in a hurry."

Meara shook her head in frustration. There was no use talking to the man.  She stepped outside the cottage, and scanned the cliff top road. There was still no sign of Clare, and with Sean already drunk, Meara feared her daughter would not be able to speak with her father that evening. 
Matthew Gowling shivered as he sat huddled behind a boulder by the side of the road. The freezing wind cut through him like a knife, and he pulled his cap further down over his ears. It would soon be nightfall, and he wondered how much longer he would have to wait for Clare.

Matthew came to Ireland from England when his widowed mother became terminally ill, and wished to die in the land of her birth. He had worked in the tin mines of Cornwall since the age of twelve, and planned to return home after his mother passed away, but when food and lodgings depleted his savings, he could not afford a passage on a ship back to England. As a result, he had no choice but to walk the streets of Dingle in search of work.

He was by nature, a friendly young man, but from the day he arrived in the quiet harbour side village of Dingle, he felt alienated in the tight-knit community. What little of the Irish tongue he had learned from his mother did nothing to impress the local people. They were suspicious of the Englishman in their midst, and  Matthew found it hard to make friends.

The potato rot was spreading, and as farmers were left destitute, many were forced to find work elsewhere. Matthew soon found himself joining them, and being a strong young man, was signed on as crew on a trawler fishing the waters off the windy Blasket Islands. He worked hard in all weather, and soon learned the ways of life at sea. After three months, he had saved enough to return home to England, but life took an unexpected turn the day he met Clare O'Connell at the weekly market.
Clare frowned as she hurried towards the old stone bridge. It was Wednesday afternoon, and she had been to market to hawk the few vegetables salvaged from her parents’ farm. Two fresh mackerel were safely tucked away in her basket, and she knew her mother would be waiting for her. The evening mist began to settle, and she quickened her step. Much to her annoyance, her visit with Father Moriarty had taken longer than she had anticipated. The Priest was sympathetic of her plight, but he still wanted to speak with her father. She pouted, nervously fingering the scarf about her head. Nothing had gone as she had planned.

The early twilight of autumn bathed the landscape in a silvery glow, and when she reached the bridge, she was disappointed not to see any sign of Matthew. He had promised to meet her, but she could not wait; she had to hurry home. Hot tears stung her eyes and she angrily brushed them away as she hurried off down the muddy road.

Matthew was surprised to see Clare pass him by. “Clare, wait for me!” he shouted, as he ran out from behind the boulder.

Clare spun around to see him hurrying towards her. “Matthew! Where were ya?"

Matthew took her by the hand and fell into step beside her. “I’ve been waiting for over an hour. What took you so long?”  

“I went to see the Priest this afternoon, and he said we need me Da's blessing soon if we’re to marry before winter."

Matthew was not looking forward to meeting the formidable Sean O’Connell in person for the first time. “In that case we’d better hurry."

They reached a fork in the road, and Matthew suddenly stopped to take a letter from his vest pocket. “I got this from my friend in St Agnes today.”

Clare was curious. “What does it say?”

Matthew took a deep breath. “Clare, I hope you’ll still want to marry me after this.”

Clare frowned. "What on earth are ya talking about?”

Matthew’s eyes were darkly serious. “Well, there’s plenty of work for me in the mines back home, but there are no vacant houses. We'd have to stay with my friend, Stumpy, until we get a place of our own."

Clare laughed as she took Matthew’s arm. “Oh. Is that all yer worried about? Ya know I don’t care where we live, as long as we’re together. Come on. If we hurry we’ll catch me Da before he gets too drunk."
To be continued ....

Sean and Meara O'Connell - Irish farmers in County Kerry
Clare O'Connell - Sean and Meara's daughter
Matthew Gowling - A cornishman who marries Clare and takes her to England



This chapter follows the prologue - it goes back to the year 1845, where Maddie's family began.
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