The Sting of Salt

‘Naturally, these women are very bitter’, Alec McCabe

‘I have no dead men to throw in my teeth 
as a reason for holding the opinions I hold’, 
Dr Ada English (Treaty Debates, January 1922)
Words cut deep in the Dáil. Votes are cast. 
Rain comes down in rods and ricochets 
off the cobbles in Quay Street. 
The dead seem to puddle at our feet.
Are we to step around them? 

Rain drums on the rooves of this garrison town:
on Renmore, Earls Island and Lenaboy Castle,
on the Town Hall and County Gaol, on Baker’s Hotel 
where the Auxiliaries drank porter.  Relentless, 

it drips from the stone porch of the Colomban Hall
where we joined the Gaelic League, on the charred 
offices of the Galway Express. It hammers on the roof 
of Mrs Breathnach’s  house, raided a hundred times
before the split; she’s lost count since. 

The rain has seen it all but remembers nothing.
It falls into the lake and disappears, carried 
over the weir to canal and river-surge, on past the mill
and out to mingle with a tide that stings the rocks in Salthill;
the salt of memory stings our cheeks.

So many lost and more losses promised,
who could’ve guessed this year would be the hardest? 
Rain falls on the sea and disappears, forgotten -
so many things we wish we could forget. 

The rain comes down in rods, but who will reign over
the women who scurry across the bridge, hunched 
under the drudge of low skies and lowered ambition?
I lift my eyes from the sheen of wet granite to catch
a late ray electrify the white gables of the Claddagh –

if only the sinking sun of Empire could turn plaster to gold.
Sometimes hope feels like a rainbow, conjured up
when water meets the light, but the magic won’t survive 
another bank of clouds on the horizon. 

The Connaught Rangers are gone from Renmore,
Dunkellin pulled down from his plinth, dragged 
through the streets and dumped in the Corrib. 
He won’t be missed.  

We leave so many things behind 
to make the journey forward, things like trust, belonging. 
What’s left to take with us when so much is gone?  
`			What might be? 

The vote at twenty-one is no small thing,
but will our voices fall unheard like rain on the sea?
Or will they echo in the rumble and drone
of downpours that ricochet off the cobbles
in the lanes and alleys of this walled town. 

From 1922: A Dialogue through Poetry and Music. Commissioned by the Galway Public Libraries, a poem to commemorate the centenary of 1922, the year the Civil War began. Listen to the poem, accompanied by a new composition by Yvonne Fahy.