Friday, 14 December 2012

Rich and Poor

The Rich and the Poor

A tale of Peig Mhóron from the Great Blasket
 Taken from ‘The Western Island’ by Robin Flower, Clarendon Press 1944

I said, “Some say… if all the money in the world were divided up among all the people, all could live easily and there would be neither rich nor poor.”

“Don’t believe them, Bláheen; for that plan was tried once, and we all know what came of it. 

It was this way. There was a good king once.  The people liked him well, but they liked the queen, his wife, even better.  For all she wished at all times was to keep the poor people up. And she was always complaining, asking why it was that the poor people didn’t get fair play to lift them out of their poverty.  One day she spoke to the king, “I hope, O king,” she said, “that you will do something for me and give the poor people fair play.”  “Very well, my queen,” said he, “you shall have your desire.” She was very pleased then but perhaps she wasn’t so pleased afterwards.  The king made proclamation that certain things should be done, that everyone should be put in a good way and be able to manage for himself.

It wasn’t long till the poor people were getting in a good way, and in a few years they wouldn’t be at the trouble to buy or sell anything.  And one day it came to pass that there wasn’t a potato to be bought in the market. When it was dinner time, and they sat to table, the queen saw no potatoes coming. “What’s this?” she said.  “Isn’t there a potato for my dinner today?”  “Well if you haven’t got a potato,” said the king, “you have your will.  You wouldn’t be satisfied till the poor got fair play, and now, when they have their own way, they don’t trouble to do anything for you and me. You ought to be satisfied.”  “O if that’s the way of it,” said the queen, “You’ll have to put a stop to this work.  I must have potatoes for my dinner.”  So the king had to rein in the poor again, and bring them under subjection.  And then the queen was satisfied.”

Peig rose from her stool on the floor and, “Well Bláheen,” she said, “We’ve been a long time talking, and people will be saying of me that I do nothing but sit and tell tales, and it’s time you were going home to your dinner.

“It is,” I answered, and we went to the door and looked out.  The sun was going down into the western sea, and its rays struck across on to the mainland.  Away up on the side of Sliabh an Iolair, above Dunquin, a cataract could be seen flashing white in the light of the evening sun.

“Do you see that fall?” she said. “It was in a house below that fall I lived when I was a girl, till it was time for me to go into service. And I was married at seventeen.  You wouldn’t see anywhere a merrier girl than I was till that time, for it is youth that has the light foot and the happy heart.  But since the time I was married I have never known a day that I was entirely happy.  My husband was a sick man most of his days, and then he died and left me, and I brought up my children to read and write, and there never were children with cleverer heads for their books; but there was no place for them in Ireland, and they have all gone to America but one, and soon he too will be gone, and I shall be alone in the end of my life.  But it is God’s will and the way of the world, and we must not complain.” And she threw her shawl over her head and turned back into the darkening house.

Picture credit: Sliabh an Iolair (Mount Eagle) from the Great Blasket Island, by gerrym  26 Mar 2010, courtesy of the website Mountain Views


Penny Dolan said...

Sad but too-true tales for this time of the year. Thanks.

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