We're delighted to present an extract from The Cruelty Men, the acclaimed new novel by Emer Martin, published by Lilliput Press.

This book is a sweeping multi-generational view of an Irish-speaking family who moved from Kerry to the Meath Gaeltacht and the disasters that befall their children in Irish institutions. Abandoned by her parents when they resettle in Meath, Mary O Conaill is faced with the task of raising her younger siblings alone.

I was going underground. Under my life. Under the country. Under the barley. Under the potatoes. Under the churches. Under the lunatic asylums. Under the cow shit. Under the wild primroses on the hedges. Under the schools. Under Bridget’s cloak. Under the bed where I gave birth to my twins. Under the courts that stole my children. Under the chieftains and druids who sliced our son’s nipples and stuck them face down in the Iron Age bog. Under Patrick’s staff that pinned me to the bed where the doctors held me down and attached electrodes to my head. Under my womb madness. 

Under the connivance of monks that took our stories and twisted them into their own. Under the Vikings who plundered our treasures. Under the betrayers, the snitches, the deal makers that welcomed our enemies to the shore. Under the Normans pouring tar at us from their freezing green zone castles. Under the flight of the Earls who left us to ourselves, what a joke, as if we stood on the edge of the cliffs with hankies waving them off, poor miserable peasants that we were. Come back, oh nobility, and fuck us again. 

Under Cromwell who scoured the land of us and banished us to windy wet mountains where even the sheep lost their footing. Under the Brits who beat our language out of us. Under the landlords who put us out on the soft side of the road. Under the world where the fairies are. Where the limbo babies’ tiny skeletons still cage their earthstuck souls; because heaven wouldn’t open to them. Under the tangled roots of imported trees. Under the huge machines that stripped the bogs empty. 

Under the music that squeaked out of the boxes, the air that rushed from flutes, the bang of the drum. Under the low lying ever thickening clouds. Under the blight. Under the boats that shipped corn to England. Under the deck of the coffin ships. Under the people of 1916, the children of the starved who had crawled out of the West. Under Paidrig Pearse’s gammy eye and bad poetry. Under the stone yard in Kilmainam Gaol, where they tied the wounded James Connelly to a chair and shot him. Under the Black and Tans. Under the constant grey sky. Under failed negotiations of poor leadership. 

Under each other now. Under the Blue Shirts. The uncivil war. Under Beal na Blaith. Under Archbishop Macquaid rasping in DeValera’s ear as they made plans for us. Under the poets who ordered us to open the door without giving us the key. Under the picture of the Sacred Heart offering us his inedible organ pressed with thorns. Under the singers who made us shiver but would not warm us. Under the endless decades of the rosary. Under the museums that hid the Sile na Gigs from us. Under the pricks of self loathing men who stuck it into us and condemned us as dirty with their juice. 

Under the Virgin Mary who will one day show no mercy to the child in Granard. She is the one and only, the holy and immaculate virgin that renders all us mothers whores. 

Under the cassocks of the bishops and cardinals and the popes with their useless cocks ticking like metronomes, marking out time until the chickens come home to roost. Under Ben Bulban. Under the endless verses of rebel songs. Under the drink. The poitin that could turn you raw blind, the Guinness that blackens your shite, the uisce baithe that bursts your liver. Under the fierce watch of the bad nuns who ate their sandwiches and drank their lemonade as the starved children in their care collected turf for their parlours.    

Under the solicitors, the guards, the school principals, the doctors, the bank managers, the decent people of Ireland who you need to sign for your passport. 

Under the thud and hum of the laundries. Under the heaps of banned books from exiled scribblers. Under the shoeless bloody feet of slave children in the obscene care of the church and state. Uncounted lives melted like snow off a ditch. Under the fairy forts in Meath, the hag stones in Beara, the disappeared Georgian buildings. Under the INLA, the RUC, the IRA, the UDA, the UFF, the SAS, the UVF, the MI5, under the bombs, the assassinations, the murders, the kneecapping, the man who was shot dead outside his house last night. 

Under the toll roads that they built to slice through a Neolithic  world they refused to understand. Under the tribunals, the confessions, the recessions, the depressions. The brown bags of money under tables. Under the heroin, the flats, the dirty canals, the coke come-downs, the cathedral-like shopping centres, the developers, the bankers, the crap ugly buildings standing empty, the Great Ongar, the unlandscaped blank green spaces in the sprawling housing estates built on floodplains, the unsignposted roundabouts. Which way now?  Which way now? 

Under your shrivelled breast, oh hag, that I sucked and sucked, but it was too late to come to you for nourishment, so dried out were you with our neglect. And when you cried out in pain, it was only black crows that squeezed out of your tear ducts and flew at me as I lay in your embrace, and all of these hag crows plucked chunks out of me, until dismembered, I was taken off inside the black noise of the flock in small separate pieces, and squawkingly digested, and shat out onto the forest floor, and eaten by insects, and inside these creepy crawlies, under the canopy of trees, when the insects died and dried up, the soil of this land took me for what it could suck out of me which of course wasn’t much by then. 

Was it, Oh Ireland?

The Cruelty Men
Emer Martin's The Cruelty Men

The Cruelty Men (published by The Lilliput Press) is out now.