M. J. Molloy, The Wood of the Whispering (1953)

CHARACTERS, Sanbatch Daly; Con Kinsella, a woodsman in his middle thirties; Paddy King, an old farmer; Jimmy King, his brother; Stephen Lanigan, an old farmer; Sheila Lanigan, his daughter; Mark Tristnan, a young farmer; Hotha Broderick, a farmer in his fifties; Kitty Wallace, a young girl; Sadie Tubridy; THE SCENE: A wood in the West of Ireland. THE TIME: 1950.

PREFACE: After the Israelites of old escaped from Egypt and long slavery, they wandered in the desert for forty years, never daring to attack the warlike tribes who occupied their Promised Land. But after forty years the old slave-born generation had died, or retired from leadership, and a bold new freeborn generation had taken over. Under new freeborn leaders the new freeborn nation crossed the Jordan, and conquered after many a fierce campaign, their Promised Land./For forty years Ireland has been free, and for forty years it has wandered in the desert under the leadership of men who freed their nation, but who could never free their own souls and minds from the ill-effects of having been born in slavery. To that slave-born generation it has always seemed inevitable and right that the Anglo-American plutocracies, because they are rich, should be allowed to destroy us because we are poor—destroy us root and branch through mass emigration. So for forty years we have continued to be the only dying free nation on earth, inheriting Turkey’s old title of “The Sick Man of Europe.” And for forty years our slave-born economic and financial experts have continued to assure our slave-born political leaders that the depopulation is all for the best: that big cattle ranches and big grain ranches are more economic than smaII farms. But neither cattle nor combine harvesters have ever fought for their country as small farmers have been known to do./In the last war neutral Norway found itself invaded by both sides on the same day, because its position was strategically important and because its population was too small to defend its big area. And the bitter lesson of the Six Counties and of Partition, and indeed of all history, is that the worst disaster that can befall a nation is not conquest, but colonisation. And depopulation is the thing that invites colonisation and insures its success. Ourselves and Britain lie like two vast aircraft carriers off the coast of Europe. Every year with the rise of air power our strategic position becomes more important, and every year with the fall in population our defenses become weaker./While we desert the finest farm-land in Europe, the Jews return from all over the world to the Promised Land from which they were driven nearly two thousand years ago. They set to work to make fertile and to populate land that has been desert for two thousand years, sunscorched desert where the new grasses have to be watered four times a day. What man has done, man can do; and we could repopulate our deserted farm-lands if only we could find new freeborn leaders with minds and souls not warped or stunted by birth in slavery./In 1910 the Great Blasket island had one hundred and fifty people and a well filled school. Forty years later the population was a handful, there was only one child, so they called their island Tir Na Sean, the Land of the Old. There are countless dying villages and townlands in rural Ireland to which the same title could be applied. The death of a village, like the death of an individual, is usually a painful business, and marked by distressing symptoms. But of this fact our suburban depopulation enthusiasts know nothing./But country people know all about it, and they know the background of this play, the comedy of the eccentric old bachelors, and the tragedy, too. So it was no coincidence that its first amateur performances were by two tiny rural villages: Inchovea in County Clare and Killeedy in County Limerick, which between them won half a dozen drarna festivals with it—before their dramatic societies were shattered by emigration. Every activity is hit by a falling population; and every activity is helped by an expanding population.

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