We bury our dead

I’ve been working on some side projects of late based around migrants to Europe, and how utterly like us they are. Our losses are their losses when it comes to family, love and life in general. What will eventually become a collection starts today with this piece.

You sit on your couch
Cushions plumped, back supported
A cool breeze comes in from the open window
Your dinner was unremarkable but your belly is full
Tomorrow your alarm will ping you from sleep
Your day will start again and you count the days to your next paycheck

When your mother died, she died in a hospital bed
Her eyes were closed, her mouth easy
She breathed her last with the help of a small drip pulsing small amounts of unbelievable comfort through her body
Your heart broke, but she knew no pain
She was warm, she was clean, and she was in a tight circle of care

When her mother died, she was alone on a road
One gunshot followed another, footsteps ricocheted off crumbling walls
Her mother’s last breaths were gasps, no medicine to temper the gulps
The sun chased them all as they tried to say goodbye

When you buried your mother, you buried her in your family’s plot
She lies with John, with Mary, with Tom
The last soil closed over her and you shared a drink to remember her life

She did not bury her mother.
Her body lay on a road between the school and the marketplace, a pathway for trucks and tanks
She does not know where her mother lies now. She cannot ever visit her again in life.

When your mother died you grieved. When her mother died she ran.
She knew if she did not that her life would be gone soon after her mother’s. She ran to the only help on offer, a gnashing offer of care that was made risky by her skin. Your loss is only welcomed here if it is the same colour as ours and speaks the same language.

You think of your mother a hundred times a day. She thinks of hers the same. You think of how you spent hours together shopping and planning family dinners. She remembers her mother’s recipes for lamb and bread, and the clothes she stole from her wardrobe.

You lost your mother despite wishing that love would keep her here, but you lost her with great dignity. She lost hers knowing that the world had given up on her mother ever having dignity.

You turn on to your right side to switch out the light and sleep. Your mother’s face is present before you.

She keeps her eyes open, unable to let go of the fear of what might be next for her.

Both of your mothers wanted the same for their daughters. They watched you crawl, fall, tumble and grow. They saw your precious energy surge into beautiful life. You saw theirs extinguished.

The love is the same, the worlds are different.

We bury our dead in the way our world allows us to.


O Generations of freedom remember us…

So the Queen of England has come to call. She’s here in her finery and the guards are changing at Buckingham Palace in her absence. It’s been a busy fortnight for her. A new hat to buy for her grandson’s wedding, not to mention having to stifle a laugh or ten at the cut of Beatrice’s headgear.

But now she’s here, her first time on the island so very close but so very far away from England. My immediate reaction when the visit was announced was that it was the wrong call. It was too soon, insensitive even. Too much had happened and it was not the right time to invite a reigning British monarch to visit our country. It would cost too much, in a year of bailouts and soaring unemployment. It couldn’t be justified.

The plans continued for her arrival. Politicians yapped and while they did, posters and graffiti not seen since the ’80s went up all over Dublin. “No Royal Visit.” “The Queen’s not welcome here.” I had my eyes and ears on other happenings in the past week and so, only really turned my attention to the media coverage and the event itself when her plane was landing in Baldonnel. It was bizarre watching her arrival. I’ve grown up seeing the Queen of England as a distant figure, a representation of colonial might, grotesque wealth and pompousness. I still don’t have any time for the monarchy or what they represent in the modern age but this visit, to me,  has represented something very different, very new and very welcome.

It has caused me to stop and think, to reflect on what a wonderful thing it is that we can welcome the elderly Queen of England as a foreign dignitary and not as our ruler. Our free state, for all its failings, has worked, and is intact, and gives Irish people a place to call home. The deaths of so many in the civil war and ensuing battles must be grieved and respected but not seen to be wasted. It has been a great time of reflection. The Queen has paid tribute to the dead on both sides, and by Christ, there’ve been a fair few of those deaths caused at the hands of the Irish.

It’s not a matter of who started it, not anymore. It’s a matter of taking this as a moment to take stock, to mourn the loss of the dead, of those at Omagh and those in Canary Wharf, of Jean McConville and those who were killed on Bloody Sunday. We mourn them, we never forget them and we now begin to provide a future away from bitterness for the young of Ireland and England.

The panto villain came over here and it was grand. We’re grand. And it’s now our responsibility to see that things have changed. It is not 1916, it is not 1922. Ireland is different. I’m sharing the following poem that was also used in an Irish Times story today, and read at the Garden of Remembrance yesterday, as it reflects my feelings perfectly…

In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,

We lit the light of hope, And it was not extinguished.

In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.

We planted the tree of valour, and it blossomed.

In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.

We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.

We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.

Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.

O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

(Rinneadh Aisling Duinn by Liam MacUistin)