Heaney’s ‘Early Purges’ and human parallels – by Michael Mieyler

It occurs to me that Heaney’s poem from his first book, Death of a Naturalist, 1966, describes a cultural bedrock, that, with fierce Puritanism and other basic faults, the sheer necessity of “having a good name”, regardless of whether this was justified or not, The Beast in Man  . . .  justified Magdalen laundries (‘a secret haven for girls in trouble’, run out of society’s sight, by unqualified, unskilled nuns acting as midwives). There was much shocking activity, culturallyacceptable cruelty executed at the time. (i.e. recently !)

(This was not only in Ireland, the Swiss engineer with whom I shared an office in 1965 gravely advised me to be present at the birth of my children, which would allow me to estimate if the child was acceptable or not, in which case it could
be eliminated.  I was shocked.)

Séamus simply had to accept that cruelty was what happened, he certainly was not happy about it in those he knew in his County Derry farm.

The Early Purges by Seamus Heaney

I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
Dan Taggart pitched them, ‘the scraggy wee shits’,
Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
Of the pump and the water pumped in.

‘Sure, isn’t it better for them now?’ Dan said.
Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens’ necks.

Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, ‘Bloody pups’. It makes sense:

‘Prevention of cruelty’ talk cuts ice in town
Where they consider death unnatural
But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.
The Cruelty of Conquest

Generalizing the concepts of well-run farms to Empire is not a giant leap. You had to murder, maybe thousands in the conquest, the armed robbery of all that the people of a country possessed, a handful more in the process of anglicizing some
is trifling. A learned lady recently told that the native people of
North America now constitutes ~0.8% of the population.

But how did the Irish get taken on board the Brutish Empire ?
Clearly there was not much else they could do to survive. In C19 Royal Brutish Army was composed, up to ~40% of Irishmen: that was all they could do!?. The Empire had stolen their land for their own, and as an agricultural country they
had nothing else.

The English are outraged by China’s treatment of Uighurs. Yet it is not different from what the English did worldwide: the sun never sets.

How did the Catholic Church get involved in the brain-washing of native Canadian children and the substantial death rate of the little conquered ones ? Was Henry VIII’s church not interested in the job ?

Anyhow a great deal has to be explained – and there are reasonable, non-evil narratives that could be carefully thought out and then validated by a forensic examination of the relevant facts obtaining at the time.  The death rate of
children in graves (the dates can be measured from their bones, rates have oftenbeen very high) the death rate of children separated from their folk, the effect of banal European diseases on a population that had never experienced them  . . .

I think that with the level of technical and analytic competence
available today, it would be worthwhile making studies, but the great deal of study needed – an
investment in the health and well-being of civilization itself – would at least involve getting the Bill Gates foundation interested, at least. (and Melinda)

In any case the fuss about the evils of Empire cannot be hand-waved away. I think that we must accept that there was much cruelty and hope that we have improved and can pat ourselves on the back??

Certainly the most evil option open to ‘us’ with our modern competences is to draw a line and maintain that it is illegal to look at what happened before a certain date. Such an act, apart from being intrinsically despicable, would let the cat
out of the bag and incite citizens worldwide to seek to know what is being hidden.

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