Béal na mBláth


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.

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


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,

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,



Centre stage,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,
a soldier still fights for right,
for life.


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



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.

by Ruairí de Barra

The poet and soldier Francis Ledwidge said “I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilization, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions”.

If you have never read his wonderful work, please go and do so. It is truly and simply some of the finest writing one could ever hope to read.