Saturday, 15 April 2017

Proclaim the Dream: A Poem

By Rose Morris

Why were many of the poets and writers  of the Irish Cultural Revival at the beginning of the 20th century motivated to take up arms to fight for Irish Freedom? Why did some of them enlist to fight in the first World War?

For the latter I bring to mind Francis Ledwidge and Tom Kettle who were both preparing to fight for Irish freedom but decided instead to enlist in the British Army following John Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge when he called on the Irish Volunteers 'to go wherever the firing line extends'.

Tom Kettle wrote a poem for his baby daughter, Betty, to try and explain his own reason for deserting her and going to war in France where he died in September 1916. He wanted her to know that he didn’t die for a king or a country, but “for a dream, that was born in a herdsman’s shed” and for ‘ the sacred scriptures of the poor'.

All the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising had their dreams too and they also left behind letters and parting words to their loved ones and these lines equally live on in this shared history.


Kilmainham Gaol. Dublin, Ireland
Photo credit: Carl Mikoy via / CC BY 2.0

Whether the dream was born in a herdsman’s shed 
Or died in a stone breakers’ yard it still lives on 
 Through rhyme and reason in many a heart, 
 A revised history, a contested legacy 

Some will look back and call it sublime
Some will say it was a glorious madness
The bittern will cry in the wild sky unheard 
And Pearce will have gone his way in sadness

Patrick Pearse
Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Betty may have grown up cherishing her father’s lines 
Believing that he lies in shame with the foolish dead,
Where he fell at Ginchy, buried in some unknown grave
No honour, just blame, she a child of circumstance.

Thomas Kettle
Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The sixteen who died for Ireland’s freedom
Will be more remembered for their gallant part,
Fifteen face a firing squad in Kilmainham prison yard.
Roger Casement  to hang on the gallows in Pentonville

Roger Casement
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Tearful mothers, weeping wives, lamenting lovers 
Take away lines and letters and parting gifts 
As brave men say last farewells and give reasons,
Denying futility, claiming the supreme sacrifice

“Your life, Seán, your beautiful life.”
Mary, take these four buttons from my coat,
The only gift Mac Diarmada had left to give
Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can.

Seán Mac Diarmada
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Counting the cost, McDonagh was ready to pay 
And ‘his song floated upwards on the wings of daring’.
Ceannt faced the firing squad after his confession
Content that Ireland had shown she was a nation

Thomas McDonagh
NLI Flickr /No Known Copyright Restrictions

Heuston died on a soap box, a youthful, calm and fearless face
Joseph Plunkett went to death husband to his darling Grace
Marriage vows exchanged in the prison chapel, bayonets fixed
To the witness words of the Enniskillens chanting prayers.

Beside crucifix carrying priests they walked at dawn
To where a wooden box and sand bags marked a place,
Where they stood to wait, blindfolded and hands bound, 
Before their writhing bodies fell on blood they jointly shed. 

Kilmainham Gaol
Image by: psyberartist (Kilmainham Gaol)/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

‘Untie my hands, remove the blindfold’. 
Wishes of McBride, duty bound, the officer denied.
A white target square upon his breast, Con Colbert 
Moved it to a higher place, upon his heart to rest. 

Thomas Clarke entrusted to his wife a final message
To let the Irish people know that he and fellow-signatories 
Had struck the first successful blow for freedom
And  the next blow would win through’. He died happy.

Michael O'Hanrahan
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Hanrahan, Daly and Willie Pearce joined freely in the fight
And walked to death as brave as any that had gone before.
Men of vision, Sons of Ireland, faithful and they fought
And the dream lived on in the conscious heart of a nation.

Irish Sky
Image by: By Fabiog82 (Own work)Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Text: © Rose Morris
Rose Morris was born near Dungannon, in Co. Tyrone. Having retired from a career in Art and Design Education in Greater Manchester she now spends more time pursuing her creative interests and involvement in community projects in Manchester and County Tyrone.
She co-founded the Manchester Irish Writers group with Alrene Hughes in 1994.
Her continued involvement and sharing within that group has greatly enhanced the development of her own writing. 
Her short stories, monologues and poetry have been included in the Manchester Irish Writers’ published collections; The End of the Rodden, The Retting Dam, Stone of the Heart, Drawing Breath and Changing Skies.

Rose wrote 'Proclaim the Dream' for MIW's commemorative event, '1916: The Risen Word', which was performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester on March 10 2016. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.

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