The Patriotic Blues

poetry 0
Laurence O’Dwyer

 

In “the excitement of firing” one young soldier on the roof of No. 25 Northumberland Road knocked himself unconscious with the butt of his own rifle, while his comrade, who’s telling this story as an old man, fired away “like blazes.” It’s the same house with the plaque for Malone, the dead Malone shot by the window. I know the very spot; I used to pass it every morning on my way to work unaware of what had happened there a century before.
       Dublin must have been full of gems that week; men and women caught centre stage with the butterfingers and “bollocks!” of unexpected history. Not quite the Homeric lines of war. But once your gun jams there’s plenty of time for a stranger to fix you lovingly in his sights before pulling a trigger that weds you forever to a certain door.
       From the roof of the College of Surgeons, a volunteer looks down on St. Stephen’s Green. The fighting is elsewhere now. The flames are raging through the city and a horse is going wild in the empty street below, terrified and seemingly blind; it’s open mouth mimicking the madness to come. But any uncertainty is quelled by the dogmatic tones of a rebel leader, proudly listing in military speak the oh-nine-hundred blather of watches out of sync.
       On seeing the city falling asunder one of his “very young” comrades lost his head: “I had to take him out meself, he could have done any amount of damage,” while British army soldiers crawl along the street like a “long brown caterpillar,” with endless replacements running up to fill the gaps where the insect is blown apart. This vision is followed by the voice of the medical student who tended James Connelly in a bungled way.
       In the aftermath, two sisters returned to Drogheda. The younger one, still in her teens, having a canter with the soldiers, a gun tucked under her dress. Her sister recalls that she kept them laughing “as though barricades were the most natural thing in our young lives.” And once they’d picked up whatever it was that needed picking up, some holy water, another gun perhaps, they returned to the city, but it was too late; trucks with soldiers were heading down the road and her sister, more childlike now, was crying: are they leaving, are they going away for good. The whole city had a terrible smell, “like water poured on hot ash,” though it was more like Gulliver pissing on the queen, only the other way around.
       It must have been about this time that our “less dogmatic” medical student was being marched to Richmond Barracks, where the crowds outside, Irishmen all, were shouting at the soldiers to finish them off. “I suppose they all had relatives in the war,” he says, remembering how they were rounded up, a handful released and fled like eels. No one heard the shots that night. The waves on Sandymount Strand were muffled and dumb and no one was quite sure if the tide was in or out.

Laurence O'Dwyer is a graduate of University College Cork and holds a PhD in paradigms of memory formation from Trinity College Dublin. In 2017 he received a MacDowell Fellowship for the Arts. In 2016 he devoted his time to writing and long-distance mountain running, mostly in the Pyrenees. He was also the recipient of the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry in 2016.