Sunday 22 April 2018

Presbyterian poet's tribute to Connolly

Belfast-born poet: John Hewitt.
Belfast-born poet: John Hewitt.

Ulick O'Connor

It was good to see Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster together in America for the St Patrick's Day celebrations. It is Arlene's first experience there in her new role as First Minister. My feeling is that she is right on. There couldn't be a better choice to represent the two most influential parties in Northern Ireland.

Martin is simply ­magnificent holding the fort for so long without ever ­seeming to miss a step in a perilously ­dangerous journey. Arlene, among all the Unionist ­politicians, seems to have an ­understanding of the aspirations of the minority in Northern Ireland.

I am sure she is acquainted with the poetry of John Hewitt, that magnificent Belfast poet who was a Presbyterian and wrote poetry of the Seamus Heaney class. Hewitt's take on Ireland was "This is my home and country. Later on, perhaps, I will find this nation is my own".

Hewitt, I think, would look kindly on these two who are representing Northern Ireland in New York for St Patrick's Day celebrations. Here is his inspired poem on James Connolly, who was of Monaghan stock and who was co-leader with Pádraig Pearse in the Easter Rising.

To the Memory of James Connolly

A dozen years have passed since then,

The memory has died away

Of Connolly and the martyred men

Who rose on Easter Day.

When I was six years old I heard

Connolly address a Labour crowd -

I cannot recollect a word

Yet I am very proud -

As one who stood upon the edge

Of Galilee to watch the ship

That waders pushed beyond the sedge

While bright oars flash and dip;

But not indeed as one who stood

Among the crowd on Calvary

To see Christ die for Brotherhood,

As Connolly died for me.

John Hewitt 1907-1987

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