Stripped

STRIPPED.

What if all you had was gone?

What if all you had was a black bag and the clothes on your back?

What if all you loved went limp and slipped from your fingers into the deep blue?

What if all you could ever do is dream and dream of tomorrows that never became today?

What if all at the last was the brine that forced its way into your mouth?

What if that last sounds to reach your ear were screams and useless prayers?

What if as the last light blinked out and the darkness rushed in, a hand grasped you?

What if you felt your ribs break and your throat tear as the brine pours out?

What if you looked up and see brown eyes under a green helmet?

 

by Ruairí de Barra.

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues.  The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘Live Encounters’ March 2018. You can take read the three poems on the Live Encounters website or download a free .pdf copy just by clicking here.

Live Encounters is a wonderful publication and all of its issues, as well as special editions, may be found on its website at https://liveencounters.net/

I would like to thank Mark Ulyseas for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.

any of some incredibly talented people.

 

Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, January 30th 1990.

The Aer Corps have a motto ‘Go Mairidis Beo’ its accepted translation is ‘So others may live’ which echos the US Air Force Pararescue motto. It stands as a statement of commitment from the people who will place the lives of others above their own.

It also is very apt to apply it to Irish sailors, who in all weathers will put to sea in small RHIBs, against the fury of the ocean and into the face of the storm to save their fellow mariners who are in peril on the sea.

On the night of the 30th of January 1990 the LÉ DEIRDRE was at anchor in Lawrence’s Cove in the shelter of Bere Island from severe gale force winds. A terrible drama was unfolding close by, the Spanish fishing vessel, Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza) had run aground on rocks near Roancarrigmore Light, North East of Bere Island in Bantry Bay. She was taking water and she had 16 souls onboard.

LÉ DEIRDRE recieved the ‘MAYDAY’ at 2100hrs and as quickly as she could, the crew weighed anchor and headed out of shelter into the severe gale towards the distressed vessel.

The decison was taken to launch the ships Gemini to attempt a rescue, this was due to no helicopter support being available and there was no way to maneuver LÉ DEIRDRE in close to the vessel due to the weather.

Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, a native of Drogheda along with Able Seaman Paul Kellett from Dublin volunteered to crew the Gemini as boat Coxswain & Bowman respectively. The highly experienced seamen committed to their perilous task, while knowing the risks, in the face of the horrendous conditions.

L/Sea Micheal Quinn DSM

Once the Gemini manoeuvred close enough to the ‘Gardtoza’ it quickly became apparent that boarding the stricken vessel or a rescue would not be possible. Unable to board L/Sea Quinn took the decision to attempt to return to his vessel, then disaster struck. The wind & waves capsized the small boat and cast both sailors into the churning waters.

The brave comrades were separated in the darkness and an exhausted A/Sea Kellett was washed ashore on rocks near Dereen cove. Only concerned with raising the alarm and finding his crew-mate, he pushed himself through the barrier of utter exhaustion; he clambered up over the jagged rocks, as they tore flesh from his naked feet until he managed to reach a main road. A passing Garda patrol picked him up and he passed the message that L/Sea Quinn was lost out there in the blackness.

There were soon two operations underway, an RAF Sea King Helicopter arrived to successfully rescue the crew of the Gardtoza and a number of merchant vessels joined LÉ DEIRDRE in searching for L/Sea Quinn.

Sadly the next morning an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, at 0800hrs on the 31st sighted and recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene.

Borne by comrades, L/Sea Quinn DSM is laid to rest with full military honours.

L/Sea Quinn was only 27 at the time of his death and the survivor A/Sea Kellet was only 21. Their courage and their commitment to the each other, the Naval Service and the nation is an example of the spirit of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which shone as brightly in these two young men as it has ever shone in any patriot.

In recognition of his unselfish bravery and devotion to duty the Distinguished Service Medal was posthumously awarded to L/Sea Quinn. The King of Spain also made a posthumous award of the Spanish Cross of Naval Merit in recognition of his brave attempts to rescue the Spanish crew. A/Sea Kellett was also awarded both medals in equal recognition of his bravery and dedication to duty.

The Middle Sea

The Middle Sea.

If you drew back the ocean waves,
the graveyard of the middle sea would be seen,
strewn with the bodies of the poor,
from a hundred nations, they lie scattered by the thousands,
on the seabed, blanketed in the forever dark.

The ocean has no memory or mercy,
the sand will not a headstone make,
there will be no names carved in Tripoli or Valetta for these nameless bones,
locked or trapped inside decrepit hulks,
they tried to cross the waters with pitiless men.

The force that drives the third world out onto the waves,
must be stronger than the sickening worry in the pit of the mothers’ stomach,
as she places a toddler between her knees in the bilge,
the golden glow of Europe delivered via satellite,
must cloud again the eyes when the door of the hold is snapped shut.

When the jackals have stripped each and every dollar,
they’ll extract what they desire from your flesh,
hanging on the hook your family defenceless,
when you open your mouth they’ll break your teeth,
or execute you on the beach if your panic starts to unsettle all the rest.

The hands of Moses will not part this sea as they plummet,
there is no saviour here in the depth of night,
the deflating chambers on the collapsing raft,
ditching the screaming into the swell,
lungs inundated as salt water rushes in,
they’ll be dead before they rest on the ribs of the fallen below.

by Ruairí de Barra

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues. The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Merciful Sleep

Picture12

Merciful Sleep.

Nameless and blameless,
drownings not painless,
Saint, sinner, soldier and thief,
weeping child for their mother,
father lost brother,
Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

Stuck to the cardboard with third-degree burns,
for hours without any relief,
please get him to stop crying,
tell him his sister’s just sleeping,
gently drifting,
as the others are still dying,
in the water just beyond my hands reach.

The sounds of the ribs cracking under my hands,
are better than the screams in the dark,
we can’t save them all, despite piles of money,
lie to yourself and say ‘more could have died’,
go to your cabin,
curl up in a ball,
and pray that exhaustion brings relief.

Twins reunited with the grieving father who falls to his knees,
a rare ray of hope in a boat overflowing with dread,
a young pregnant lady with a six-month round belly,
who was drowned when we pulled her in over the side,
the shame and the anguish knowing there’s people,
who would prefer if she had just died.

There was mass on the flight deck with the singing of Coptics,
shattered people proclaiming their beliefs,
the chorus of women swaying in union,
while the men spoke the words of the book,
when the darkness it came, it all when so quiet,
silence unbroken by the chosen in merciful sleep.

When the boat rolls over faster than you can imagine,
disappearing in the blink of your eye,
ditching all into the sea,
decision time now, which one to save first,
knowing full well you might never be right,
living with that isn’t easy,
when it plays in your head every night.

The cause of this mass migration is desperation,
crippling poverty and war without end,
if you choose to flee please don’t go by the sea,
don’t waste your life onboard one of these rafts,
you’ll die in the ocean forgotten and lonely,
with so many others washed up on a beach.

by Ruairí de Barra

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues. The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Faces

 

Ballons

Faces.

I draw faces on the nitrile* gloves with care,
never more struck by my privilege,
until I meet those without a home,
a child alone,
the laughter and delight at a simple toy,
a joy,
they are gathered at my feet,
their little bundles stand out in stark relief,
drawing in the bright sun,
on expensive paper with cheap crayons.

Children from the opposite sides of a continent,
separated by a vast expanse yet inseparable now,
sons of Ishmael and Isaac,
divided by words in a book,
one blue, the other amber through my sunglasses,
sharing a cardboard mat as worn out parents lay against the hanger door,
stress etched on their faces yet absent now in these little artists.

Their drawings made tears fall later as I sat and stared at the pages,
a little token offered up in friendship,
from tiny hands without shoes,
a village where a family lived and granny sat outside,
a car of an uncle that used to go so fast,
the battle in the streets,
where Technicals* blaze bright tracer fire,
and the roaring jets drop bombs.

One home has lurid yellow thatch,
while the other is a burnt-out shell,
smoke curls out of shattered windows,
in the other, a pet dog abandoned wags its tail,
one child escaping poverty,
the other hell,
the stick figures have names and stories,
except those who are lying still,
floating on red tides,
as the sun beats down on my neck,
blowing glove balloons.

by Ruairí de Barra

 

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues.  The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

 

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Notes:
(*Nitrile Gloves are non-latex sterile rubber gloves which have superior puncture resistance, the NS crew wear two gloves to prevent infection. White as the inner glove and Blue as the outer, so that a puncture on the outer glove will stand out and can be quickly replaced.)

(*Technical is the term for light improved fighting vehicles which are ubiquitous across Middle Eastern and African conflicts. Often an open backed four-wheel drive pickup truck  which has a heavy machine gun, anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or rocket launcher mounted on the back.)

Tibnin Bridge

Tibnin Bridge.

In 1999 I drove over Tibnin Bridge in the sweltering heat,
as the UN bus rose a trail of dust,
billowing up behind us,
the laughter onboard almost distracted me from my task,
the careful watch of the road signs,
my finger following the road snaking through South Lebanon,
on a trip from Tyre up into the hills.

I was only a baby when you died here,
but not much later my older brothers went to serve in that land,
which was soaked with your blood,
I heard your story while I was still so very young,
in the weeks before the first of them left for the Lebanon,
they spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen,
but I heard from my games in the hall outside.

The worry cries of my mother and the bravado of my siblings,
could not be drowned out by the clattering of dinky cars,
Morrow, Murphy and Burke should have come home again,
they should have worn that blue beret down the steps at Shannon,
they should have made it back,
but betrayed, they lay still in the baking heat,
as denial and cordite swirled about them in their final silence.

I paused for a moment in that laughing bus,
meandering along the roads,
more like tourists than the sailors we were dressed to be,
catching glimpses of life in the olive groves and rocky yellowed fields,
lives who’s roots you came to help protect,
burning under the unforgiving sun,
while you were only 19 years old, same as me.


I remembered you as we raced over the bridge,
pausing in reflection during our annual odyssey,
as the bus speed through the checkpoint,
on the summer pilgrimage to Camp Shamrock,
with a cargo of ammunition,
and crumpled US dollars to see the mingy men.

Soldier Still

Screenshot_20170815-103102

Soldier Still

See the reverent hands unfold the cloth,

medals laid with old memories to rest,

blanketed in a white shroud,

serving to muffle the scraping sounds,

like April’s soil absorbed the impact of screeching mortars.

 

The pride in the aged serge cloth,

snug fitted belonging to a younger man,

witness to the pain at Qana,

where Jesus turned water to wine,

and artillery turned all to death & dust,

 

The familiar hug of peaker cap about the brow,

historical brass centred on the forehead,

burrowing into the mind with patriotic dreams,

which always run before the youth,

before smoke and blood fill the future.

 

Those gentle hands that hold a son, fighter like his father,

mounted crests on arms that shield a family,

spat upon with infamy,

a voice that roared no more,

as cowards struck with calumny.

 

Soldier still, with hands that have both shook and struck,

plastic keys replacing plastic rifle,

barbed comment replacing barbed wire,

from Bekaa to Finglas the defiance is simmering,

like a bayonet, shining.

 

Honest hands put words upon the page,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,

the naked truth cannot hide,

standing bare, alone on centre stage,

a Soldier still fights for right, for life.

Note:

The soldier featured in the video below and in the work above is Dr Tom Clonan a retired army officer, author and security expert.

Soldier Still is about violence. A new dance theatre work that blends movement, text, music, real stories and real people, creating a harrowing tale of beauty and brutality. A cast of Irish and international dancers and former soldiers collaborate with an exceptional creative team to explore the viciousness, the vulnerability and the trauma of violence. Previous Artists-in-Residence at Tate Britain, award-winning Junk Ensemble have built a reputation in Ireland as dance innovators. 

“Junk Ensemble has created some of the most impressive contemporary dance in Ireland … Enthralling and exact.” The Sunday Times