Meeting the Irish, 1972
by Edward Boyne
We were hoovered-up off the known streets
by revving buses nervous in The Coombe,
rushed at speed, through drowsy posh estates.
It was like a moving quarantine.
We had polished the Doc Martens
and sharp-shaved the heads.
Wore braces for the half-mast jeans,
leather jackets, studs, Led Zeppelin tee-shirts.
Left behind the dogs. You don’t want
hard dogs to learn country ways,
Gitser said it was like the road to Letterfrack,
to visit his banged-up brother Rick.
The fields were wrinkly with loose walls
once you passed Loughrea.
Stones dumped randomly in queer shapes,
shop signs you couldn’t read,
and a ragged reek of turf smoke on the breeze.
Shawlies leant over half-doors for a gawk
at the blight alighting off the ‘Gaeltacht’ bus.
Lunch was no chips, potatoes like grenades,
fish fingers, watery tomato sauce from Cork.
Me and Gitzer were escorted
to pine bunk-beds under the eaves,
in one of the breeze-block bungalows
pitched up on every patch of hairy bog.
Infants of Prague hung like holy princes
on the walls, and a hippy-looking Jesus
pointed sternly at his heart.
School-hall with emergency doors
and economical varnished floors,
bottles of Seven-Up on side tables
for the break. White plastic cups.
Dress code was wholesome tweed,
collarless shirts, open sandals,
hairy ears, smug gansies, sleeveless
cardies buttoned to the throat.
The Geriatric Ceilidh Band
warbled in one corner, a jangly din
of squeeze-box, pipe and fiddle,
massed bodhrans like the artillery
of several minor insurrections.
On our first stand-off fidgety night,
girls danced alarming jigs and reels
knees up brazenly in front of us,
at their watchful chief’s orders.
Slick virgin movers, high steppers,
arm posers, chaste-steppers, hip chasers,
below the belt, throwing shapes,
shaping throws, sideways slow,
dancing tap, tapping dance, dancing
like you had to know the rules.
At the end the applause was in
their own language and their curtsies
were untouchable, ringlety genuflections.
You could tell they lived in history
and thought they had the like of us
by the short and curlies.
It was made quite clear
we had been let come to this place,
to come to their conclusions.
Shocko fancied his chances
off the tall one in ringlets with the legs,
Wondered if she came in Irish
or in English or maybe French.
Said she gave him the eye
in every language known to man or boy.
I told him to shut his face-hole, park his dick,
‘no messin with the local motts’,
and we’d maybe get through this ok.
They claimed we talked ‘Bearla’ on the sly,
spat the word, like it meant the end
of good, virtue, order, peace, worse.
We had no official language badge
to make safe sense of us.
We told them that ‘Bearla’ was their poxy name
for the words we always spoke aloud
and all the warm whispers inside our heads.
We said we talked the way
our ould-wans talked,
and their ould-wans too
and further back,
to when their chief’s
drained the land
of landless scum
like us and ours.
What right had they
to say it wasn’t alright?
Before they got us out
we taught them a few words
they never knew or guessed:
animal gangs, sausagy coddle,
pawnbrokers balls, stone bruises,
Dolphins Barn, red biddy,
street dealers prams, fancy women,
brassers, kip houses,
Pimlico, The Glass-Go Inn
on York St, Blackpitts,
the moneylenders knock,
Iveagh Baths to fumigate the lice,
‘Sure the weather’s that changeable,
you wouldn’t know what clothes to pawn’.
We asked in cheeky Bearla:
‘would yis come back
on the same smokey bus,
to our kip for your turn,
and a compulsory month
of culture in The Coombe?