The Early Purges

The title is borrowed from totalitarian politics where ‘purges’ removed elements deemed ‘undesirable’ by those in power. Heaney applies it to the cruel realities of farm-yard life as he experienced them as a six-year-old. A youngster’s innate feelings are challenged. The boy has a conscience and sympathies but (as Heaney, perhaps, later in the Troubles) is never an active contributor to violence; Dan Taggart, in life a modest farmhand who did as he was told, is portrayed as the ruthless agent of totalitarian policy, despatching ‘pests, in this case drowning kittens. Insulting his victims beforehand as ‘scraggy wee shits’ somehow helps Taggart to justify his acts. The young watcher’s compassion is aroused by the sounds of their clawing attempts to […]