Seosamh Mac Grianna – ‘On the Empty Shore’

The short story  ‘On the Empty Shore’ written by Seosamh Mac Grianna deals with the grievous life during the Great Famine in Ireland.


(ll. 1 f.) It was cold on the barren ridge, for it was within three weeks of All -Hallowtwide. The air was cold, and the grey crags and the potato field under the lee of the hill were cold. And Cathal O Canann was cold as he traversed the field, hoking here and there. Cold, hungry, ragged, his old clothes torn and patched, hung in tatters around his big bare bones. It was an avid search he was making, like the wind ravenous search of an animal, and in spite of that, his movement was sluggish.

It conveys a feeling of poverty because the protagonist is in a grievious position with no food close to the subsistence level. The situation is described as cold, dark, hopeless and stifling supported by the miseries the protagonist is in.

(ll.25 f.) He felt himself a little colder, a little emptier than before, and his heart a little sorer in his breast. If he and the man that was gone had ever spent a while happily in each other’s company, he had forgotten it. He did not recall any of the old man’s peculiar ways, his laugh, or the sound of his voice, or any word he had said, or any deed he had done, such as a friend would like to recall, the little remembrances which sadden the one that is left. He did not think of saying a prayer for the soul which had just torn itself painfully out oft hat wasted body. He had forgotten God, for it seemed that God had forgotten him a long time ago, ever since the blight came on the potatoes, since the beginning of the bad times. He sat there bruised in sorrow. His soul inside him was like a dark pool, which no stream entered of left, but lay there in a numbing stillness, under a sout coat of slime.

This quote backs the impression of silence and the dark, sad and stifling atmosphere. Apart from that the hopelessness is strenghtened by the loss of the belief in God.

(ll.40 f.)Loneliness came on him now, the loneliness that comes on one who has a corpse in the house, this shiver of cold that comes from death, and makes people gather to wake the departed. But the time for wakes was no more. For as life was hardening, people were becoming distant with one another. In happy times people rejoice in their neighbours. In evil times they keep to themselves, and huckster up all their strength to fight the world. And of late people were dying in hundreds, melting away with hunger, falling to fever. Some of them were getting Christian burial, some of them were lying in heaps in unhallowed clay.

The poverty, loneliness, death and the change of society are expressed in this part considerably.

(ll.102 f.) More deeply crushed, more painful, weaker, he walked on. The world was blacker than ever. The cold was keener.

The increase of negative attitudes is refered.

(ll. 126 f.) A white seagull sailed on its wings above his head,crying and crying piteously. The sun came out from behind a cloud, and spread a weak watery light, that was like the spirit of fire and the spirit of frost commingled. It spread around over the covering of the dead, over the fields of undug potatoes, over the road that were lonely, over the houses where silence reigned.

The recent quote upholds the silence and loneliness in the course of this short story.


The short story  ‘On the Empty Shore’ written by Seosamh Mac Grianna deals with the grievous life of Cathal and the solitude.

In the course of the plot the silence and the loneliness play a major role. Furthermore, here and there the atmosphere is expressed in a negative way for example with the adjectives dark, cold, stifling and others. There is a progress in worsening taking place until the silence and the loneliness lead to the denouement. The monotony of these aspects are supported by the rhetorical devices. Moreover, the atmosphere are backed by them as well.

In general you can state that the everyday life during the Great Famine is made up of grievances and solitude.



In the preceding quotes many elements of particular language style are used. They are distinguished by the quotes’ bold parts and influence the atmosphere’s monotony. Another meaning is to make it easier for the target group to understand/ read and to make it easy to identify with the protagonists by emphasising the lively.


– reader is thrown into the action


– open end

Auctorial narration

– knowledge about everything (character’s feelings)

– inactivity

Rhetorical devices:
– repetitions

– parallelism

– enumerations

– parataxis

> monotony

– comparison

– adverbs

– metaphors

– adjectives

– visual comparisons

– variations in length of sentences

– direct speech

– personifications

>relief to identify with the protagonist