Tuesday, November 16, 2010

405. Ulaidh (Ulster) 1601

We were called to the gathering
at the hill of Tullahogue, shop-keepers
and middle-aged people of the town, idlers,
old women, children, for all the young men
had gone south with O’Neill.

There was to be a great battle.

Tullahogue with its ancient stone
is a great green valley in a dip of the woods;
we settled in, murmuring, hushing the children,
among the whispering waving trees,
we, the People of Tír Eoghain.

There were three Engish prisoners
and they were brought before us.
A rustling of sounds arose among us
for we did not like them. But then
the Sherriff of the Town, didn’t he

stand up on his legs, waving a cleaver,
and call for the butcher, McCaughlan,
who came up to the stand, by God,
stripped to the waist and the sweat
rolling off his heaving muscularity.

I knew what was going to happen
and I covered the eyes of Síle, my daughter,
and I asked my wife to turn her head away
and she said No. She said no, I want
to see the fuckin bastards killed.

The mother of my children, an O’Cahan
whose brother fell in the battles last year
when I was in my dreary little shop
scraping together the pennies to keep us alive.
God, how she despises me!

The Englishman is young, he shivers,
but not from the cold, he wants to be brave.
The butcher plays to the crowd, he pretends
to swipe, then strikes, a great gout of blood,
and the young men roar and cheer.

Why are they not with O’Neill in the South?

I catch a glimpse from my neighbour
and I can see he is thinking the same.
He has his son clasped tightly within his cloak
and as our eyes glance off one another, he sees
my woman forcing my children to watch.

Nothing good can come of this.

The second and third prisoner are likewise dispatched
but the cheers grow thin. We know. We know
that the English will come and do the same to us,
to my sweet little daughter, to my infant son. My wife
shines with a look of fiery grandeur. She has no idea.