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,
more like tourists than the sailors we were dressed to be,
meandering along the roads,
catching glimpses of life in the olive groves and rocky yellowed fields,
lives who’s roots you came to help protect,
while you were only 19 years old same as me,
burning under the same sun,
I remembered you as the bus raced over the bridge,
on the pilgrimage to Camp Shamrock with a cargo of ammunition,
and crumpled US dollars to see the mingy men.

Coaxing the Fire

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Coaxing the Fire.

The poker methodically at its task,
guided by the sure and steady hand,
rosy glow of the embers coaxed back to flame,
nursed from deathbed to resurrection,
throwing warmth out over worn tiles and a grey mottled cat.

The door of the stove is open,
maw glaring molten and red,
cheap bread transfixed on the long fork,
Lyons tea keeping warm on the top,
don’t get that black soot on the edges,
be careful the toast not to drop.

Connaught Gold Creamery butter,
spread thickly with the green handled knife,
scrape off burnt bits into the coal scuttle,
cradled on the chipped porcelain plate,
quickly eat up your supper,
’tis bedtime at quarter past eight.

Smoke curling up from the Caroll,
baggy cardigan drawn over her shape,
that silhouette seen in the window,
the warmth of the welcome within,
half the day coaxing the fire,
missed for the rest of our life.

Béal na mBláth

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Béal na mBláth

I often wonder how that young Private felt,
when he saw the blood flow from Collins,
to mingle with the dirt in Beal na mBláth,
struck down by a ricochet,
the echoes still reverberating,
ringing through the decades.

At 19 a killer,
hands stained with English and Irish blood,
armoured in the green of Éire,
sworn by oath to the free state,
the pathway to our republic,
Risen rebel soldier,
with hand grenade & Lewis gun,
bayonet & faith.

To watch Micheal dead,
the dark stains spreading out trickling to the ditch,
like civil war cancer which spread from shore to shore,
Did it fall silent?
Did the peal of rifles cease?
Did they lament & weep?
At another mothers son snuffed out amongst the ancient hills of Cork.

What genius did we lose in the moment,
as that cursed round tore his head off at the side,
what cursed luck has Ireland,
that traitors oft chose to stab her in the back,
they felled the most loyal one on the roadside,
The Big Fella lay dead in the mouth of flowers.

Note:
My Grand-Uncle William Barry was the driver of the armoured car providing security for the detail in Beal na mBláth.
Sliabh na mBan, referred to as ‘Slievenamon’ in its earlier, anglicised form, is one of thirteen 1920 pattern Armoured Rolls Royce cars acquired from the British by the fledgeling Irish Free State.
All the males in my paternal line have worn the uniform of the state, for over 100 years a Barry has served beneath the tri-colour with Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Soldier Still

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Soldier Still

I saw the reverent hands unfold the cloth,
the 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 head,
burrowing into the mind with patriotic dreams.

Those gentle hands that hold a son, fighter like his father,
the mounted crests on arms that shield a family,
and a voice that roared no more,
spat upon with infamy,
as cowards strike with calumny.

Soldier still, with hands that have both shook & struck,
fighting for all sisters & brothers of sacred oath,
plastic keys replacing plastic rifle,
barbed comment replacing barbed wire,
from Bekaa to Finglas the defiance is simmering,
like a bayonet,
shining.

Those honest hands that put words upon the page,
have erred yet have not lied,
nor have they shyed away,
steadfast day after day,
urging all to engage, no wasted energy on rage,
the naked truth cannot hide,

Bare,

Alone,

Centre stage,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,
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

Guard

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Guard.

As the rain it fell,
they stood in silent sentinel,
the youth whose life barely fills a page,
for those alas who will never age,
most gave their life on foreign soil,
where the cedar bleeds or hewn in Katangian dust.

One fell at Derrada Wood & earned his star,
one lost far out on the unforgiving sea,
borne away on Scuabtuinne,
another in distant hills of Fataurlo,
more lost in flight on that darkest night,
one more rolled in Bantry waves, seven lives for to save.

The eternal flame,
the unknown dreams,
the bronze busts and limp half mast flag,
the sympathy & sighs from those who linger and remain,
to keep a fleeting vigil as heroes sleep.

Pause for a second,
wet your eye,
think of those who lie,
where and whence they died,
did they breath with that last gasp,
wives, sons, mothers or their daughters name?

Families baring such pain,
aching loss as gun carriage rattles past,
the click of leather heel and clink of brass,
mournful last post bugle call,
rifles bark the final retort,
shock & quiver the teardrops fall,
and all is quiet,
and all is still,
as the rain falls.

Lord of Connaught

Lord of Connaught.

The last Lord of Connaught is still,
silent are the hills,
which once quivered with the ancient sound,
echoing round Belleek Castle & the Moy.

Sold out like many other rebels for a handsome purse,
hunted & chased,
beset by hounds,
mere curs,
the lesser generations of a magnificent line.

The slopes of Nephin Mór rang with the cry of the West,
the secret paths & valleys were know only to the Lord & kin,
cool water pools quenched thirsts & caves offered refuge.

Decades past & those unseen places in the hills,
give respite to hunted ragged men,
flying by columns at night.
The ancient rocks bear witness to fleeting history of man,
as natures princes were erased for sport.

 

Note:

Belleck Castle is a beautiful place to visit.

The image above and the text below are from their website.

http://m.belleekcastle.com/

‘Belleek Castle was built between 1825 and 1831, on the site of a medieval abbey, one of four along the River Moy. Belleek was commissioned by Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore. The manor house was designed by the prolific architect John Benjamin Keanes, and the neo-gothic architecture met the taste of the time, when medieval styles became fashionable. The Knox-Gores lived in Belleek until the early 1940’s.’

Root

Root.

In a mud churned furrow where poppy bloomed,
The root of cataclysm did take hold,
It was watered there by the dark red blood of a generation’s youth,
Ploughed over with once good earth by steel track and skittish hoof.

The cataclysm was set loose upon the earth,
In a rage of slaughter not to be outdone,
The screams, smoke, dust and pain conspired to blot out the sun,
As the poppy wilted in once bright green meadows.

The good earth was saturated, swollen, corpulent and corrupt,
The potential, beauty, wisdom, worth soaked away into the dirt,
The world would barely pause to contemplate the waste,
Before it began in earnest another desperate race.

The race was up and out and over,
Then slipping in fetid corpse mud slime,
Ducking low as snap of round went overhead,
Or crawling broken on the ground as lead found it mark,
shattered femur, pierced lung or heart,
And when the shelling stopped and the dead lay still,
The living staggered, knelt or screamed.

The cataclysm once sedated with its fill,
Sank back into the dark and waited still,
Patiently it sat and watched,
Until man turned on man and humanity was forgot,
More blood and waste to feed it’s hunger,
As the world plunged again deep into destructive thunder.

Another generation’s youth rushed to the cause,
As vicious thugs with sweet words lured boys to acts of bravery and glory,
When they were to be nought but compost, death and gory,
Footnotes on fascism’s twisted story,
The cataclysm bloomed for five long years and bathed itself in a flood of tears.

That root had withered back into hibernation yet underground its tendrils beat,
Wherever conflict unleashes violence,
It will burst forth with glee and mirth across any nation of this good earth,
Alas it will not be my generation that leads to its starvation,
For some still choose to feed it hunger,
For crime, corruption and sheer bloody murder.