The Curragh of Kildare

JThe winter it has passed
And the summer’s come at last
The small birds are singing in the trees
And their little hearts are glad
Ah, but mine is very sad
Since my true love is far away from me

And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For it’s there I’ll finds tidings of my dear

The rose upon the briar
By the water’s running clear
Brings joy to the linnet and the bee
And their little hearts are blessed
But mine can know no rest
Since my true love is far away from me

A livery I’ll wear
And I’ll comb back my hair
And in velvet so green I will appear
And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For its there I’ll find tidings of my dear

All you who are in love
Aye and cannot it remove
I pity the pain that you endure
For experience lets me know
That your hearts are filled with woe
It’s a woe that no mortal can cure

Songwriters: CHRISTY MOORE / DOMINIC BEHAN / HAROLD SHAMPAN

The Wrens of the Curragh’

In 1856 The Curragh Military Camp had been established on the plains of Kildare, and attracted a community of Irish destitute women. The women, mostly in their twenties, lived on the plains about a mile from the camp. Outcast by society, they supported each other within their community and lived difficult lives in furze-covered shelters dug in the ground using any protection from the weather they could find.

Because they mostly iced in ‘nests’ in the ground the women became known as The Wrens. Their choices were limited to either living rough on the Plains of Kildare or in the workhouse where they would have no control and no dignity whatsoever.

Their only means of income was the oldest profession. They sold their bodies to the soldiers of the camp.

The women were ostracised by society, the church, and the local communities. Many had young children living with them but such was the nature of society at the time that they received little compassion. They were beyond the pale of so called ‘respectable society’. They were stoned, spat at, and beaten in the the local communities. Shopkeepers refused them service. Only one business, run by a widow, would allow them to enter and be served.

The army permitted them to buy necessities twice weekly at the camp store and sent water wagons out to the ‘nests’ twice weekly.

There are accounts of gangs of local men who considered it sport to terrify the women and burn down their nests.

There are accounts of incidences of gang rape by groups of soldiers. An incident reported in the town of Newbridge concerns a local priest who attacked one of the Wrens, tore the thin shawl and gown from her shoulders and beat her with his riding crop until her blood splashed all over his riding boots. Though witnessed by many locals, no one voiced any protest.

Another priest was known to attack any Wren he encountered with scissors he carried for the purpose. He would cut off their hair, marking them with the “shame” of the Corinthian prostitutes. No one ever objected or tried to help.

For fifty years, until the end of the nineteen century, the Wrens of the Curragh lived in the ditches of the Plains of Kildare and died there of from disease and exposure. When they fell ill the workhouse usually refused to take them in and those few they did were kept away from sight in conditions no better than those they had left on the plains.

Because of the hypocrisy of religion we Irish, usually renown for generosity, could be just as uncharitable as anyone else.

THE CAMP, C 1860

Author: Uisce úr

Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.

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