|I grew up in the country in a small town in the south west of Ireland where I lived with my mom and my older brother. I was about six years old when my brother and I became interested in rock collecting. We dug ourselves a little excavation site where we would search for rare or unusual stones. But there were other things buried down there we didn’t know about.
Behind our house was a large field of thick grass and brush, which also contained the clearing where we dug for rocks, beyond that there was a river where my brother and I would go sometimes to play. There were rumors that a long time ago an old priest had died there when he slipped and hit his head on some rocks. He was carrying a golden chalice, which was lost and never recovered. I mention this because I always hoped I might find that chalice buried among the rocks.
We began our dig three months before the start of summer. Completely unaware of what we would eventually uncover. It quickly became a favorite place. We went there every day after school and pretty soon the hole had become quite deep, so that to stand in it we were chest level with the ground. I felt like a real archaeologist.
It wasn’t any old rocks we were looking for. White rocks that we called "chalk stones" were an especially good find because you could use them to write on other rocks, but the real prize were the smooth blue stones, the name of which I have forgotten, those were rare. Anything else was thrown out of the "dig site", unless it was very unusual, like if it was perfectly round, or square shaped or looked like a face. Sometimes we would compare our finds. I hated that my brother was always better at finding the blue stones. He's older than I am and, growing up, he almost always managed to be better than me at everything . He put the rocks he found in a neat row as he found them while I left mine in a disorganized pile. I tried constantly to find something I could beat him at.
When summer came and school ended we had more time to spend at the dig . It was warmer than usual that year. We both wore shorts and t shirts but with the hot sun beating down on us we discarded our shirts. We had been digging all afternoon when I heard my brother scream in pain. I turned and saw that he was bleeding all down his arm. He had uncovered some broken glass and had cut his hand on it. We had found stuff like that before, rusted nails, jagged tin cans but we usually saw it before we felt it.
He picked himself up out of the hole and propped himself up on some rocks. Tears rolled down his face as he cried and cradled his arm.
"I'm going home,” he sobbed.
I felt guilty as I watched him walk home by himself. I wanted to keep digging. Suddenly something in the earth caught my eye.
"I found something,” I yelled, but he was too far away to hear.
I dug the little white thing out from the earth. At first I thought I had found a chalkstone but it didn’t feel right, it was light. I tossed it into the grass. I soon found another and then another and somehow the thought never occurred to my six-year-old mind that these little white things were bones, and I was uncovering the skeletal remains of a person. I had always imagined a skeleton would look clean and white and all in one piece like in the cartoons, not broken up into lots of little bones. The skull confirmed it for me though.
I had collected the bones in a little pile. I was so excited by my find that I rushed home to show mom my find. I figured she would be impressed. She was dressing my brother’s arm with a Band-Aid when I walked in with the skull hidden behind my back. "Guess what I found?” I had said before I held it up so she could see. After she calmed down and confiscated the skull, she called the police.
Two policemen came and my brother and I watched my mother lead them to the dig. A policeman asked both of us if we had found any more bones. I told them we hadn’t. More police and men in white suits arrived. They dug up the whole clearing until it was just a large patch of mud and dirt. I could scarcely tell where our dig site had been anymore.
They found more bones down there. Lots more.
Mom tried her best to explain to me that the bones we found had been buried there on purpose. 1845-1850 were the years the great famine struck Ireland . During that period the sick were dying so fast that not enough coffins could be made and often the gravediggers were themselves dying of hunger sickness, making proper burials impossible. Bodies were literally piled on top of each other and buried in the ground.
I realized that It was one of these mass famine graves that my brother and I had located our dig. The thought made me feel guilty. We never stayed too long in the clearing after that, even with the bones removed it was still a grave and it could never feel the same again for us. It was sacred ground.
For several weeks after I had terrible dreams. I’m standing on the riverbank watching pale ragged corpses float past me. I can see the river is full of these bodies. Sometimes I would wake from the nightmare and lie in my bed too afraid to fall back to sleep, afraid the dead would come get me for disturbing their grave
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