History Lesson©

My father, Martin Hayes or Michael M. O’hAodha, as he signed himself, died on December 14, 2015. He was a traditional Republican, of  older west of Ireland farming stock, classically educated, who could roll to bed with a Latin phrase and rise, with a verse of Greek, gave much of his life, willingly, in the service of the nation he was born with…On the morning of December 10, 2014, when the people of Ireland were poised to express their very vocal disgust and protest at the introduction of water charges but, even more importantly, their outrage at this Government’s mismanagement and complete disdain and disregard for the democratic will of the people, I published this poem, History Lesson, inspired by a conversation with he, who was born in 1922, the year of the birth of this nation.IMG_0496

 

Born at the birth of a nation
in poverty and hope
a new dawn with brooding clouds
broken families
rent by spilled blood and hate
The manifesto of their origins
written in their history
but hidden in their childhood

but that is written by the victors
what did they win?
and who won?

2014

Martin Hayes

Early memories
on a country road
a man spilling blood
cycling the lanes
a gun hanging from his crippled shoulder
and fireside stories told
of women hiding bombs in kettles
to fool the ‘Tans
and her man who vowed
to die with a hot gun
in his hands
their son
who walked those same country lanes
would later visit their graves
their final resting place
under the shade of an ancient oak
in a government car
and their history forgotten,
manipulated, distorted,
revised and rewritten
while our son of the nation
took his education
but learned his history at home
in fireside tales
of perfidious foes
and fearless heroes
then when the other side
stepped to the plate
to take their part
in building the state
in their own shape
they went to war
an economic war
a flea biting a sick, old dog
and a farmer couldn’t sell a cow
but slaughtered them and their calves
and sold their hides
while their families fled
or starved for pride
Then the dog awoke
Not for fear of a flea
but anger at a pup
it had once subdued
should become a snarling beast
It was time for many sons of this nation
to seek their fortunes, again
in the bloody fields of conflict
for what were their choices
no work, no wealth
no history, little purpose
By chance
our son was presented with a choice
to fight and die on foreign soil
or live and work
to serve the nation
his motherland
then public service
was an honourable duty
with little pay and few rewards
but with a classic education
well versed in Greek and Latin
and a memory packed with rhyme
of Wordsworth, Goldsmith, Milton
and the glorious bard
he sustained the lonely vigils
on a border of two nations
his own history told him
should be one
for what he knew of his nation’s birth
was nurtured in the warm heat of the fireside
a story of a history stolen and divided
but by who and why
was never clear
until once he stepped inside the GPO
a grown, young man
to walk in the footsteps of those who died
to give their nation
its first breath of life
and he read their words
addressed to Irishmen and Irishwomen
and spoke of cherishing all the children
It caused him to pause and think
of who had won what and to what end?
We stood together
when the ribbon was cut
to open a link between north and south
the new Lifford bridge
replaced the old stone crossing
battered, worn and dangerous
by the fast flowing waters
of Finn and Mourne,
a bridge built in co-operation
by the Councils on either side,
on that day,
beside Neil Blaney and Captain O’Neill,
we stood and I wondered
where were the cloven hooves
and Lambeg drums?
but their beat could always be heard
lest we forget
on the ‘free State’ side of the border
On visits to Strabane or Derry
Neighbouring towns of another state
That would soon explode
As a suppressed minority
Sought to loosen the shackles
In a world awakening to
Civil rights, teetering on revolution
While at home
The men in shiny, mohair suits
Looked slick, smart and sleek
So that, dazzled by their brilliance,
We failed to see their sleveen deviance
While they stripped
Fat and lean
Off country, city, town
To line their pockets
And reward their skill
To pull a three card trick
And make us all
Their grateful fools
join us then
new Europeans
and another fat teat
for this wailing, needy child
to suck on
while Northern Ireland and its troubles
become the prism and kaleidoscope
through which our deeds are seen
and what begins as defence
becomes a relentless tit for tat war
where no ground is gained
nor battles fought
but still the bodies mounted
in a war that blurred the lines
between criminal and crime
on either side
and drew the gangster and the deviant
to fight alongside self confessed
and, by their own estimation,
misunderstood patriots,
who like the heroes in the lore
were the ones who died
for a cause they no longer understood
because they couldn’t find an answer
and so they fought and fought and fought
until, far from knowing the purpose of their actions,
they didn’t understand the question
and the south adopted a policy
of implausible deniability
pretending if it can’t be seen
then it doesn’t exist
a ploy that’s never worked with children
Albert, for all his faults
called time and Enough
It’s time to grow up
But a nation grows with its people
And writes its own history
By deed, thought and act
So while a country’s colonised
By rule of law
That country’s irrepressible impulse
To express itself
Turns colonist of word and language
First Swift, then Goldsmith,
Then Wilde and Yeats
Before the torrent of a borrowed language
From a downcast race
Breathes new life into a suffocating space
Joyce, Beckett and Shaw
And from their lead
New voices roar
Clarke, McNiece
Stephens and Gogarty, too
And from the working classes
Voices that were ignored
Locked out
In the rush for the gold
Of nationalist lore
O’Casey and Behan
Inspired by Connolly and Larkin’s struggles
And still, within our time, most recent
Stand Flann O’Brien, William Trevor,
McGahern and Seamus Heaney
Or Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry
Van Morrison, U2 and Sinead O’Connor
Christy Moore and Christie Hennessy
The Dubliners and The Fureys
The Wolfe Tones and The Clancy Brothers
The Pogues, Thin Lizzy and The Stars of Heaven
Boyzone, Westlife and One Direction
Names are just a few
All hail a diversity, uncontainable
Within the confines of a history
Written by reactionary revisionists
Or shackled by the empire of thought and action
the Holy Roman Mother Church
this is a world of the fast moving message
Media that once were in the confines
of science fiction
in a thrice became commonplace
and a global concert of musicians
led by an Irishman
wakened a world to its own deprivations
Filmmakers from Raoul Walsh to Ford,
Sheridan and Jordan,
Stars shining bright in the celluloid firmament
from Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Maureen O’Hara
and others to the present day of Farrell, Gillen
and Saoirse Ronan
For who and what is an Irishman
or woman?
Is there a template, forged from a DNA chain,
wrought by struggle and defiance,
bitter betrayal and treachery?
Or is it fashioned from boundless optimism
in the face of adversity,
a melting pot of influences,
drawn from legend, myth and conquest,
brewed and nurtured with care,
diligence and respectful,
breathless awe for its’ generous hostess,
Mother Ireland,
resplendent in all her natural,
feral beauty?
Her memory is the fervent dream
residing in the hearts of emigrants,
the universal identity given
to all her ambassadors,
voluntary or involuntary.
And for all those thousands who have gone
marching to a foreign drum
but carry within themselves
the crash of waves on faraway shores,
the echo of the sounds of home
a music nurtured from birth
of place and time and race
a heart beating at a pace
for dancing at a crossroads’ meeting
or keening at a country wake
a music driven underground, at home
by imperial colonists,
bent on oppressing
and dog collar zealots,
bent on repressing
tunes of freedom,
spirits stirring
that stirred souls abroad,
awakening
to the realisation,
the sound and land
they left, resides within them
Thus, an Irish cop in Chicago
compiled an exiled nation’s memories
in music, tune and song,
preserving it for future generations
and brought it home, again
and reinvigorated, by Coleman, O’Riada
The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers and Makem,
Clannad, Planxty, The Bothy Band,
The Furey Brothers, The Wolfe Tones,
Count John McCormack singing
the melodies of Moore,
Joseph Locke enchanted thousands
with panache and palaver,
The Dubliners brought it back to earth
with songs of workers’ struggle
and daily life of Irish homes
the grime, the dirt, the constant grind
faced with goodwill and derision
you can take our homes
our seas, our lands,
but you’ll never take our passions
for the sports of kings or paupers
in the ring, on track or field
an Irish victor,
has no creed or colour
only the measure of their valour
against the odds
so when spirits raced with Delaney
to sub four minute Olympic glory
or marvelled at Blanchflower’s
World Cup achievement,
were thrilled by Best,
raced with Coughlan
or with Peters,
World and Olympic champions,
boxed with McGuigan,
Collins or McCullough,
took world snooker titles
with Hurricane Higgins,
Dennis Taylor or Ken Doherty,
we cheered, we cried,
hearts swelled with pride
and opened there a revelation
a mystery, wrapped in an enigmatic notion
that all these passions and emotion
could translate into a state, a nation
How could we not change and changing,
>change the world we live in?
though while we changed
the world we lived in
was far beyond the pale
pallor of the land we lived in
for what happens when the leaders die
the visionaries who could see the light
of a land of equals
free and proud,
Carrion’s pecking order
comes forth to stake their claim
and rip the throat
to quell the voice within,
steal the eyes
so they can’t see
the howling jackals feeding
on the carcass of the hero
while their greatest crime
becomes their greatest failing
the immolation of imagination
they climbed in a mirror
and became their own oppressor
Sought, like a wounded cur,
the comfort of an angry voice,
a swinging cudgel,
To kowtow to bankers and bondholders
and bury their own
under a pile of seething debt,
while pawning the family jewels
and natural resources
like oil, gas and water
for a derisible pittance,
they build a spire
like a spike
a monument to their delusion
a chimera of misapprehension
while the forgotten children
abused, discarded, disavowed
redundant and downsized
the surplus to their needs
lie dead in the streets
that are paved with those spikes
the symbol their own
sickening fantasy
And now,
within a decade of the centennial
of his own birth
and the birth of that nation he had served
he wonders again
as tax is piled upon tax
whose history was it for
that it should be sold and washed away
relinquished like some redundant lease
a mortgage in default
a payment short of foreclosure,
before the freedom it promised
could be cherished
by its sons and daughters?©

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