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Poetry > Sequences

Based on Irish emigration to Manchester at the time
of the industrial revolution. Mostly these emigrants lived
in an area which became known as
Little Ireland. Its
terrible housing and filth laden streets are described
in Frederick Engels'
The Conditions of the Working Class
in England
as accommodating those who "must really
have reached the lowest stage of humanity".

Hunger drove them here,
where only the spirit starved.
Of all places, one
they would not have chosen.

Among outcasts,
they were outcast;
carriers of disease, poverty,
their unforgiven history.

And unforgiving.
Fed cotton mills, dissension,
a plethora of wars; kept intact
a dream of Ireland.

Today, their memory's
an entertainment, a guided walk,
a footnote in the history
of old Manchester—Yet

so bleak this morning
they might still be here, gaunt
against the grudged light,

the stoop of Connaught fields
remembering the cut
of an Atlantic wind,
the healing of seasons.

(ii) Dara

How does the oak survive
where nothing grows?

"Cut it down, Paddy."

An encumbrance
in its own place.
We rip deep roots.

Here they will build
a temple to cotton,
obscure heaven.

We become inured
to darkness, noise,
the soul's void.

But now the wrench
of its letting go
makes air shrill.

(iii) Writing Home

It was hope we had then,
that aching night. A cold wind
driving us. Watching the lights
go out, and the land.

My man's arm a comfort:
"See, Sarah, it's still there."
Our hearts singing and breaking.
Eight months we'd waited

on the passage, and every day
wasting. "Still, Sarah, still."
And still it was, looking back,
night and distance making peace

with all we'd left. Moments
from our lives looking up at us
as if we'd gathered them in small piles.
Then dawn: a kindling.

"Look, Sarah, the sun gettin' up
to let us in!" Stepping off
with a lurch of the heart.
So many fine buildings

all of them black.
Soot everywhere
from tall chimneys that cut off heaven.
Our room never saw the day.

The child came early.
A poor little thing she was
and my milk dry.
I took it hard then.

His arm never left me.
"I'm sorry, Sarah," he fumbled,
as if loving was the evil.
The joy had gone out of me.

I'm on my own now
and weak for the work.
They don't welcome us here.
Sure who'd blame them?

It's little enough they have.
I wash their corpses, lay them out.
Glad sometimes, for the quiet company.

(iv) Memory

we huddle round
timid with loss
re-live departures

how a boat trailed
a slow finger
left the shore desolate

we disembark at dawn
the journey is yet to make

(v) Mary Murriherty

Times, she thought it real: the folding in of dark;
the almost-silence before the houses rose, coughing
and wheezing; the comfort of her imagined room
where walls retained their plaster, were bright and trusting;
and on a shelf a book she might take down a moment,
contemplate the secret flow of lines, the whist of leaves turning.

Beyond the dwellings, the lane drew itself up
as if it would take a deep breath, then off with it downhill
in slides and panics. Sometimes the feet larruping puddles
imagined a scuff of daisies, a breeze feathered with

She paused where the lane cobbled to
Drapery, Apothecary,
words to shade dressed windows, their blinds
half drawn, demure for Sunday. In the emptied flower window
a single petal, pale as if light drained it. In the morning
someone would brush it away, a delicate unwanted thing
she might revive a day. Gently press between dry leaves.

The church reeked of damp overcoats, a slow incense
from bent backs invoked crucified arms, pale saints
troubled by light—something too delicate in an upturned face.
"In Nomine Patris et Filii…" The
seoithín of Latin prayer
a cradling for her thoughts. "Emitte lucem tuam…"

She wondered if God spoke. Or was He just a quiet?
The silence she imagined in the early room, the book
she could not read—strokes shaping and merging.
Éist! Éist!
And God spoke to Mary Murriherty:
Blessed the poor,
they shall see God. Blessed the meek, they shall be called
children of God. Blessed the persecuted…

Outside, rain. His breakfast late. Already she feels the blow,
anger pinning her to the stunned wall, the harangue of fist.
But when it comes, hard to her stomach, the pain's delayed,
holds off, then bursts from her in a violent flood.

Slumped over the sag of an arm, she watches how it eddies
in little runs and knots, dissolves and is absorbed, the wet mud
taking it into itself, slowly, completely—as she imagines love.

canach: cotton grass, bog cotton
seoithín: seoithín-seotho, lullaby
Éist: Listen

(vi) Béarla

Our thoughts are stones
small pebbles picked up
on a childhood beach
we finger in the dark.

They weigh heavy now
soft vowels that disposed
the lips' blessings
dispose the soul's silence.

Words we are slow to learn
stammer like chains.

Béarla: the English language

(vii) Muiréad

Mary they call me,
a meek name for a handmaiden,
rechristen me in mild water,
cleanse the seditious tongue.

When Dara calls I see them flinch
as if a hand dipped in the holy font.
"Patience is the armour of the strong,"
Dara says. He keeps an acorn in a drawer,

whispers in the night,
"Mo grá thú."
A breath, a mountain spring
finding me naked. I rise like a warrior
open to his thrust,

"O mo Mhuiréad! Mo grá thú."
The forbidden tongue
licking my soul,
like flame, like balm.

Dara: comes from the Gaelic dair, meaning oak
Mo grá thú: You are my love
dochloíte: invincible

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