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I wrote this poem in 2018 during a visit to Ireland to celebrate becoming an Irish citizen. The Dublin locations are linked to my Irish grandmother and my English grandfather. My grandmother's whole family had to flee Ireland in 1921-22 because they were caught up in the conflicting loyalties and violence of that time (my grandmother had two brothers in the IRA, and she married a British army officer).

The Old Head of Kinsale is the nearest point of land to the place where the Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915. I visited Kinsale, and wrote this poem, without knowing that my great-grandmother, Mary Desmond, was born there.


Screen_shot_2017-12-05_at_08.50.24by Patrick Howse20 Feb 2021

I. Exile

Driven onward
By foul winds
Through lands
Forever foreign;

A stranger,
Grasping at faint
Shades of smiles

To find somewhere
To sink dark-whitened
Roots into neutral earth
Claimed by others.

II. Kinsale

The day started bright,
But the clouds gather
Shadows of green
That glide across the fields,

Caressing spring-laden trees
And leaping the hedges
In their stride.

They ripple the water
Where the bay
Meets the open sea
And dance among

Gulls and hooded crows
On the wind
They brought with them.

III. Old Head of Kinsale

Rocks swallowed by boiling waves,
Bedding planes
Pointing skyward,
The stern of a sinking ship.

The crash of the surf
And the mournful
Cries of kittiwakes

Batter the cliff-top flowers
As sunshine cracks
On the black stone
And lies shattered on the water.

IV. Dublin

In the church
In Rathmines
In the beginning
Was the word;

A candle flickers
On each side of the aisle
Beneath a silent dome.

Philistine pilgrims troop
Round Trinity,
Jostling in beer-barreled rooms

Above the Book of Kells,
Deriding its purpose
And denying the honour
Due to scribes.

V. Ha’penny Bridge

The Liffey flows cleaner
As time sluices away
Shames and sins
Inflicted and imposed.

Around the corner
I can almost hear
The guns of my grandparents;

But the toll
For this bridge
Is a coin
Long-since spent.