Seige of Smerwick

Smerwick

WALTER RALEIGH DID NOT MASSACRE 600 IRISH AT SMERWICK

These days, with talks of Brexit and Irish Borders and that thorny “Irish Question” that never goes away there are many British (but mostly English) people who struggle to understand all the fuss.  Why can’t it all just be neatly packaged and go away?

So much history.  Scratch any corner of the Emerald Isle and you will open a bloody scab.  Like the one at Smerwick in Dingle.  Back in 1580 Walter Raleigh, him of the cloak in the puddle, found himself in County Kerry under the orders of Grey de Wilton, Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy of Ireland.  They were putting down the ill fated Second Desmond Rebellion.  The pope had sent a force of 600 Spanish and Italian mercenaries to assist the Irish in their rebellion against the protestants.  They were even joined by some English catholics.

These were not nice mercenaries fighting for the rights of the poor Irish Catholics.  They were rabid beasts.  When they landed in Kerry they engaged in a campaign of rapine and pillage on the English planters, on the local people, even attacking the families of Spanish Merchants who lived in the area at the time.

Grey bottled the main army on a poorly fortified headland at Dún an Óir, an ancient Iron Age ringfort.  He had his guns on the landward side and six navy ships at his disposal in the bay.  The Spaniards and Italians didn’t have a chance.  The English negotiated a surrender under terms.  Once the Papal troops laid down their arms they were summarily executed.  With the exception of a few officers the men were massacred under the orders of Grey.

The event might have remained in obscurity, a brutal but forgotten sideshow, if not for English politics.  Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth Raleigh fell out of favour at court.  He was imprisoned by James I and tried.  One of the many accusations thrown at him was the Smerwick Massacre, an event at which he was not present.  Later papers suggest that he found Grey overly heavy handed and Grey left him behind in the race to Dingle.

But Smerwick was levelled at Raleigh in the court papers and he was ultimately found guilty.   So if you go to Ireland today and ask about Smerwick the story you are likely to hear is that this is where Walter Raleigh perfidiously executed 600 brave Irish rebels after they surrendered.  They will tell you he did it himself and enjoyed it.  History is a funny old game.  The massacre at Smerwick took place on November 10th, 1580.

 

Ocean’s Love to Ireland ; by Seamus Heaney

I

Speaking broad Devonshire,
Raleigh has backed the maid to a tree
as Ireland is backed to England

and drives inland
till all her strands are breathless:
‘ Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter! ‘

He is water, he is ocean, lifting
her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
in the front of a wave.

II

Yet his superb crest inclines to Cynthia
even while it runs its bent
in the rivers of Lee and Blackwater.

Those are the splashy spots where he would lay
his cape before her. In London, his name
will rise on water and on these dark seepings:

Smerwick sowed with the mouthing corpses
of six hundred papists, ‘as gallant and good
personages as ever where beheld’.

III

The ruined maid complains in Irish,
Ocean has scattered her dream of fleets,
the Spanish prince has spilled his gold

and failed her. Iambic drums
of English beat the woods where her poets
sink like Onan. Rush-light, mushroom-flesh,

she fades from their somnolent clasp
into ringlet-breath and dew,
the ground possessed and repossessed.

Happy Birthday Andrew Motion

Image result for andrew motion

UK poet laureate from 1999 to 2009, following in the footsteps of Ted Hughes (husband of Sylvia Plath).  The top choice for that gig was Seamus Heaney, but the Irishman ruled himself out.

Born Oct 26th 1952 Motion had the good fortune to study under W.H Auden in Oxford and to have Philip Larkin as a colleague at Hull.  He followed Malcom Bradbury as professor of creative writing in University of East Anglia.  Now esconced at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA.  A brilliant poet from a stable of brilliant poets.

Andrew Motion shares a birthday with Dublin Poet Trevor Joyce, but we’ll give this page to Andrew on the day England defeated the All Blacks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final in Yokohama.

Diving; by Andrew Motion

The moment I tire
of difficult sand-grains
and giddy pebbles,
I roll with the punch
of a shrivelling wave
and am cosmonaut
out past the fringe
of a basalt ledge
in a moony sea-hall
spun beyond blue.
Faint but definite
heat of the universe

flutters my skin;
quick fish apply
as something to love,
what with their heads
of gong-dented gold;
plankton I push

an easy way through
would be dust or dew
in the world behind
if that mattered at all,
which is no longer true,
with its faces and cries.

Birthday of Giants

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Ireland has in total 8 Nobel laureates.  They break down by category as follows:

Literature:  4,  Peace: 2,  Physics: 1,  Physiology or Medicine: 1

It is hardly a surprise that Ireland excels in literature.  Irish mythology divides the society of the Tuatha Dé Danann into three tribes, the Tuatha (nobility) the Dé (priests) and the Danann (bards).  In medieval Ireland the communal body of  lore was protected by the Filí (court poet historians) and the Bards (itinerant poets, story tellers and minstrels).   These individuals were highly respected and honoured.  There are dreadful cautionary tales told of the fate of lords who failed to honour a bard properly.  No sword cuts as deeply as a well crafted satire.

The claim to fame of my own clan, the MacFhlannchaidh (Clancy) is that we were filí to the Dalcassian Sept.  We were the brehons (lawyers), historians, poets, diplomats, ambassadors and scribes.  Basically the civil service of the time.  The Dalcassians were one of the most powerful tribal groups in Ireland.  they successfully rebuffed attempts by the Normans to invade their lands.  Two American presidents, J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan trace their heritage back to the Dál gCais.

The Irish literature winners are W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

The last two were born on the same day, April 13th.  Happy birthday to half of all Irish Nobel Prize winning literature laureates.

Ascension; by Samuel Beckett

through the slim partition
this day when a child
prodigal in his own way
returned into the family
I hear a voice
it is excited it comments
on the football world cup

forever too young

meanwhile through the open window
over the air in a word
heavily
a sea swell of the faithful

her blood spurted in abundance
on the sheets on the sweet peas on her bloke
he closed the eyelids with filthy fingers
on the green eyes big with surprise

she lightly roams
over my tomb of air

 

Rite of Spring; by Seamus Heaney

So winter closed its fist
and got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump

in its throat, ice founding itself
upon iron. The handle
paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
round stem and snout, then a light

that sent the pump up in a flame
it cooled, we lifted her latch,
her entrance was wet, and she came.

Happy Birthday Paul Muldoon

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One of a gang of Northern Irish poets who flowered in Queens University, Belfast, during the worst of the Troubles, Muldoon is often compared with Seamus Heaney.  He maintained he was a poor student and should have dropped out of college.  He has gone on to become one of the most honored writers of the 20th Century, Professor of multiple universities including St. Andrews,  Princeton and Oxford, winner of Pulitzer and TS Eliot prizes, poetry editor for the New Yorker magazine.  The list goes on.

Here is a poem about the birth of his daughter.  I love the way he contrasts the magical world of apple-blossoms and chanterelles with the clinical sterility of the hospital with its scubs, shears and stables.

 

The Birth; by Paul Muldoon

 

Seven o’clock. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year.
No sooner have I got myself up in lime-green scrubs,
a sterile cap and mask,
and taken my place at the head of the table

than the windlass-woman ply their shears
and gralloch-grub
for a footling foot, then, warming to their task,
haul into the inestimable

realm of apple-blossoms and chanterelles and damsons and eel-spears
and foxes and the general hubbub
of inkies and jennets and Kickapoos with their lemniscs
or peekaboo-quiffs of Russian sable

and tallow-unctuous vernix, into the realm of the widgeon—
the ‘whew’ or ‘yellow-poll’, not the ‘zuizin’—

Dorothy Aoife Korelitz Muldoon: I watch through floods of tears
as they give her a quick rub-a-dub
and whisk
her off to the nursery, then check their staple-guns for staples

Republic of Connacht

Flag of Connacht

Flag of Connacht

Little known fact, but the province of Connacht in Ireland, was established as an independent republic on 27th Aug 1798.  It existed, very briefly, 12 days in fact, as a client republic of Revolutionary France.

On this day lets remember the men of the West, and Wolfe Tone, a great revolutionary who came close so many times, but never quite managed to bring it off!

Wolfe Tone

Requiem for the Croppies: by Seamus Heaney

The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

Passes a Poet

This is a poem from my childhood.  It has nothing to do with an electronic device.  Image

When I was in 6th class (1974/5) we read this poem in school.  Then the teacher had us all write a poem about blackberries.

I dived in head first.  This poem is my childhood.  My family always did hit the bushes every September to harvest natures bounty.  I still do it, but now with my own children in the hedgerows around Dualla in Co. Tipperary.

Afterwards we make gooey blackberry and apple tarts, blackberry sponges and fresh yoghurt smoothies.

Back in 6th class I wrote my own poem and was immensely proud of it.  A year later in First Year at secondary school we were asked to submit a poem for the school poetry competition.  I hauled out my blackberry picking poem and won first prize.
The judge of our competition was none other than Dermot Bolger, another famous Irish Writer.

So I can claim to have taken inspiration from a Nobel Laureate to create a poem that won a prize judged by another great writer.

Sadly, I can’t find my own poem.  But I found the inspiration, thanks Seamus.  You passed away yesterday after a short illness.  We will miss you.  Rest in Peace.

Blackberry Picking; by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
a rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.