The Testimony of the Bones
by Máirín Diamond
There are three narrative poems in The Testimony of the Bones: ‘The Light of Love’, ‘The Flower of Light’, and ‘The Bone Field’. They constitute a complete cycle; one inspired the other. ‘The Light of Love’ explores my original conception of heaven. A spiritual guide brings me up to heaven, I describe the journey, the beauty and the people whom I meet there. Later, I go back down to earth because I discover that the truth of this world is found on earth.
‘The Flower of Light’ attempts to confront the ancestral trauma of the Great Famine in Ireland. Instead of dwelling on this subject in the poem, I am distressed by some modern values that threaten to contaminate and destroy the West of Ireland’s ancient traditions, culture and unspoilt natural beauty.
‘The Bone Field’ is a long narrative historical poem. It deals with the Great Famine as the defining event of modern Irish history. There are long sequences in ‘The Bone Field’ that chronicle the extreme suffering of the generation that endured the famine. It is essentially about the famine and emigration, but it may also be read as a metaphor for the spiritual hunger of modern times.
‘The Bone Field’ was inspired by orally transmitted experiences and stories of the famine, mass emigration; local history, folklore and research. It was also inspired by a belief that ghosts of memories haunt our culture’s psyche. The poems show courage and a willingness to share the ancestral pains of our people. ‘The Bone Field’ is a literary record of the Gaelic world prior to the Great Famine and mass emigration, which was almost destroyed by the catastrophe. The Bodleian Library of Oxford University requested a copy of The Testimony of the Bones in 2000.
‘The Bone Field’ focuses on a family (fictional) from Connemara who died of starvation and disease during the Great Famine. The horrors and tragedy of the famine and mass emigration in Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century are imaginatively played back. One of the main characters walks across Ireland from Renvyle to Dublin. He narrates his experiences and gives the reader the wider picture. The characters express the Irish people’s sense of outrage, dread, fear, helplessness despair and grief when they realise that the famine and mass emigration have irreparably fractured the bones of their ancient culture.
‘Connemara’ is a lyric, it celebrates the beautiful place where I was born and grew up.