Thursday 25 April 2019

Rising Poems: 'Connolly' by Liam MacGabhann


The man was all shot through that came today
Into the barrack square;
A soldier I - I am not proud to say
We killed him there;
They brought him from the prison hospital;
To see him in that chair
I thought his smile would far more quickly call
A man to prayer.
Maybe we cannot understand this thing
That makes these rebels die;
And yet all things love freedom - and the Spring
Clear in the sky;
I think I would not do this deed again
For all that I hold by;
Gaze down my rifle at his breast - but then
A soldier I.
They say that he was kindly - different too,
Apart from all the rest;
A lover of the poor; and all shot through,
His wounds ill drest,
He came before us, faced us like a man,
He knew a deeper pain
Than blows or bullets - ere the world began;
Died he in vain?
Ready - present; And he just smiling - God!
I felt my rifle shake
His wounds were opened out and round that chair
Was one red lake;
I swear his lips said 'Fire!' when all was still
Before my rifle spat
That cursed lead - and I was picked to kill
A man like that!

An Assessment of 'Connolly' Dr Lucy Collins

The idealism of James Connolly's life, and the stark facts of his death, are the twin concerns of this poem. It offers a striking perspective on the subject; its speaker is a British soldier who remembers his role in Connolly's execution at Kilmainham Gaol.

The stumbling rhythm expresses the soldier's regret and uncertainty - 'Maybe we cannot understand this thing / That makes these rebels die'. His thoughts are disjointed but he recognises the human need that shaped the rebellion, the universal desire for freedom and justice. Connolly's capacity to inspire loyalty among his followers is given an almost religious significance here, and its powerful effect is clearly felt by the speaker himself.

Yet though he reflects on the moral force of the rebels' actions, he registers his own responsibility as a soldier too. The poem meditates on the obligation of the individual to the group. Connolly is set apart from the rest of the rebels in his commitment to improving the lives of the poor, and his suffering expresses the collective distress of all marginalised people.

Dr Lucy Collins is a lecturer in English at University College Dublin (UCD). She is the curator of 'Reading 1916', a forthcoming exhibition at UCD Special Collections.

Irish Independent

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