It’s 1928 and Ireland is only beginning to emerge from the horror of the civil war. Sarah, a young girl of sixteen, lives in a cottage on the outskirts of the small village of Tullybawn. She lives alone with her father, a farm labourer who has a fondness for the drink. Sarah herself is slightly innocent. According to the family, this was a result of a fall in her childhood. Whatever the truth or otherwise of the story, the fact remains that Sarah is not worldly- wise. While her mother lived, things were different, she had someone with her all the time, someone who understood her and loved her whole-heartedly.
Since her mother died when Sarah was fourteen, things have changed completely. Her father, out of loneliness and grief, has taken to drinking more and because he works during the day, Sarah is left to her own devices. For Sarah, the cottage and the isolation prove sometimes too much for her and she escapes to run wild through the fields and the wood near her. Her father is terrified something will happen to her, he is especially terrified that someone will take advantage of her simplicity and beauty and she’ll find herself pregnant. In the dark repressive catholicism of the time, a pregnant unwed daughter was probably the most shameful thing that could happen to a family. So the father beats her to keep her from rambling – to no avail. Sarah has a compulsion to wander through the countryside and nothing will stop her even though on a number of occasions her father beats her so badly that neighbours have to intervene to safe her.
The father then discovered, through a concerned neighbour, that a large farmer, just below the village is paying her great attention. At the creamery, this man, married though he is, talks to other farmers about her beauty and what a shame it is that she is simple-minded. When he heard about the big farmer’s comments, Sarah’s father is desperately worried. He is even more worried when he finds out that this farmer contrives sometimes to meet Sarah on her flits through the fields and the wood. It has to be stopped before anything shameful happens to Sarah. A landless labourer who lives in a cottage is in no position to take on a large powerful and prosperous farmer so the decision is made. Sarah has to be protected from herself so a week before her 17th birthday, she is given into the care of a community of nuns in the nearby town. She emerges from the convent only once – for her funeral. She died aged 38 from pneumonia.