A Poet’s Rising: Garden of Remembrance by Thomas McCarthy

Part of an Irish Writers Centre initiative whereby six poets were specially commissioned to create six poems; one for each day of the Easter Rising

 

i.

These stones report for duty in story after story,
The garden a cistern of unsweetened water;
Time’s patina burnished by an effort to remember,
Such effort renewed at each national anniversary
Where sea-gulls glide over the field of slaughter
To uncover another trail of poems. Time is a hoarder
That gathers us together behind the box hedge
To remember glory, to define a lost cause
Or a cause renewed at the hour of remembrance.
We remember our prayers and the seagull’s rage,
So careful now – now so conscious of the past –
That we may not create more victims. What lasts
In a Republic is the living, and so in this age
I remember the living on this cold, grassy ledge.

ii.

Our remembrance is a form of theatre, as each
Remembrance is, in every nation. An eternal flame
Burns elsewhere and cenotaphs hold heroic names;
Remnants of us pepper each Normandy beach
And Poppies grow up out of our bones. But here
I think of the one nation the poets imagined
And think again of the two states we’re in,
A state of mystical borders and broken spears
Left by a silent procession of things left unsaid.
It’s not that our cowardice has deepened; or not
Cowardice, not that, but an indifference yet
Unchallenged, an indifference to the innocent dead
That creeps along the wall of memory, as moss
Or ivy muffle traffic noise or mask all heroic loss.

iii.

A shuffle of wet tiles, history’s lovely aquamarine –
All the weapons lie abandoned after battle
Like the leaves of Sessile Oak, Dair Ghaelach,
Which scatter in a sudden burst of wind. We seem
Drawn to history, fatally, the way troubled
Families want to pace across the same old ground
In the hope of comfort from what comes round.
I find an empty bench where history doubled
Back and came to life in a fantasia of warm metal;
Oisín Kelly’s mythic swan children now seem
Like children abandoned in refugee-camp or great famine,
Arms hanging loosely in great bronze petals –
After all the Troubles, politics wants to make peace
With art. Our memory is immovable in a stiff breeze.

iv.

Thomas McCarthy reads his poem, Garden of Remembrance

James Connolly’s beautiful life, the high aesthetic
Of Pearse, the gift of three buttons from Con Colbert’s
Volunteer uniform, Thomas MacDonagh’s verse –
Listen, in this remembering place I pick
Strange names to add to the forgotten dead:
Willie Redmond explaining how at the Ulster line
In front of Ploegstreet the Southerners arrived
And words of love between two Irelands were said
Before slaughter swallowed the young. And Harold
Mooney of the RAMC, his shattered left thigh,
Should remind us of how the unsung are left to die
In a free state of dying slowly. All their untold
Stories haunt me still. Permit me to remember the dead
On the wrong side of revolution, the part they played.

v.

Mothers from another continent come here to rest.
Memory is a kind of cradle. Memory is a giant beech
In a sunlit meadow. I watch a new migrant child reach
Into this restored reflecting-pool, his outline traced
In a cruciform pool of disturbed shadows. What can he know,
This child of worldly exile, of the purpose
Of our centenary city park? How can you or I propose
A better Ireland, a safer shelter in the quiet meadow?
Here in this Irish world, in the last place where God
Found us useful, we have a duty to make a firm nest –
Not an ill-advised pageant or a national barricade.
When the midday sun breaks through, my eyes rest
On harp and acorn, on trumpet and bronze hands,
On things a family without our history understands.

Thomas McCarthy was born and raised at Cappoquin, Co Waterford in 1954. He has published a substantial body of poems as well as a collection of autobiographical essays and two novels. McCarthy is a poet primarily concerned with politics and family and he is regarded as one of the most important Irish poets of his generation

Historical Introduction

The Garden of Remembrance is dedicated “to all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”. It was opened in 1966 on the site created from the uppermost fifth of the Rotunda Gardens. It was in these gardens that the Volunteers were founded by Eoin MacNeill on November 25th, 1913. A monster meeting saw the 7,000-strong crowd overflow a temporary structure, a skating rink, and spill out into the gardens and the nearby streets.

Seán T O’Kelly took charge of an overflow meeting and recalled an atmosphere “of the greatest excitement and enthusiasm for the foundation of the Irish Volunteers. We all had the feeling that this was an historic occasion and that this was something new.”

The garden was designed by Dáithí Hanly, winner of the public competition that was announced in 1946, although the project was not completed until the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising. Hanly later became Dublin city architect.

The main focal point of the garden is a bronze statue of the Children of Lir by Oisín Kelly, which was added in 1971. This extraordinary vision of painful birth was controversial in its day, for drawing on legends considered to be pagan.

The garden also gives poetic expression to those who fought and died for Irish freedom. Liam Mac Uistín won the 1976 competition for his We Saw a Vision which is written in Irish, French and English on the stone wall. It includes the line: We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality / Chuireamar ár n-aisling ag snámh mar eala ar an abhainn. Rinneadh fírinne den aisling.

In May 2011, during her state visit to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in a gesture of reconcillation.