Sunday 18 August 2019

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Phoenix Park blast from past rises from the ashes

Comic turn: Malahide poet Vincent Caprani. Photo: Mark Condren
Comic turn: Malahide poet Vincent Caprani. Photo: Mark Condren

As a boy, I looked forward to going to the Phoenix Park and seeing mounted in the middle of the road the magnificent Lord Gough on his horse. It was cast in bronze, but in fact it was so lifelike that you could almost hear him neighing. Groups of gougers from time to time would organise bombings to annihilate the famous soldier along, of course, with his horse.

As often happened in Dublin, the event spawned a magnificent ballad to commemorate it. It was a master of the ballad form - a work of art. I know this sounds extreme, but after you have read it, I think you will marvel as the image unfolds before you.

We thought Brendan Behan might have written it. It was certainly good enough to have been done by him. But no, it turns out it was literary Dubliner Vincent Caprani who had created this powerful masterpiece. Vincent was president of the Irish Print Union and also the author of many successful novels, (written under the pseudonym of Charlotte Massey), one in particular selling many thousands of copies. His books were very well-known outside Ireland.

I know this may sound extreme, but you can take it from me to be true. I have been reading the poem for three decades now and it always has a new effect on me. It is that rare thing, a true ballad, and not just a skimpy piece of derision.

The poem is remarkable, catching the tension of an explosion which almost, as it goes up, takes you with it.

Caprani's father was a Dublin barber and Vincent himself was able to cut words into shape so that what remains behind is a delight to the ear. Try it. Guarantee you a laugh and more.

from THE BALLAD OF GOUGH

There are strange things done from twelve to one

In the Hollow at Phaynix Park,

There's maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed

In the bushes after dark;

But the strangest of all within human recall

Concerns the statue of Gough,

'twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,

For his bollix they tried to blow off!

'Neath the horse's big prick a dynamite stick

Some gallant 'hayro' did place,

For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand

Bravely the foe he did face;

Then without showing fear - and standing well clear -

He expected to blow up the pair

But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers

And he made the poor stallion a mare!

***

For this is the way our 'hayroes' today

Are challenging England's might,

With a stab in the back and a midnight attack

On a statue that can't even shite!

Vincent Caprani 1934-

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