Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Michael (a rhymography)

The following poem is not intended as an endorsement of the actions of those portrayed. I deplore violence and this post was motivated by historical, not polemical, interest in Ireland's past.


Many long years ago by the star-speckled light / Of a West Cork sky on an October night / A fine Irish mother gave birth to a son / Who would grow up no stranger to the sound of a gun

His five older sisters took care of him well / While his mother milked cows and churned butter to sell / And as soon as young Michael was able to stand / He'd be off with his father at work on the land

The old man would tell him of days long ago / When brave Irish soldiers resisted the foe / Of brutal repression, of cruel punishments / Of absentee landlords, extortionate rents

Listening to his father with love and with pride / Young Michael knew somehow, deep down inside / (Though for reasons he couldn't yet quite understand) / That some day he'd be called on to fight for his land

At the age of sixteen, with tears in his eyes / To his dearly loved family he said his goodbyes / And like many young Irish folk of his age / He headed for England in search of a wage

He stayed with his sister in old London town / The hub of the Empire, the seat of the Crown / In a GPO office he learned to keep books / (And many young girls there admired his looks)

At weekends he'd gather with other young men / To play Gaelic football and hurling and then / He'd be out on the town, enjoying the craic / A drink and a joke and a slap on the back

The occasional row (rarely coming to blows) / And Michael could often be found with his nose / Deep in a book, for he longed to discover / the ways of the land that he loved like no other

Its language, it's history, its heroes and kings / Its writers and poets, all manner of things / From the terrible famine that ravaged the land / To risings that never quite went off as planned

Then one day after work he's approached by a friend / I'm off to a meeting, would you like to attend? / You mustn't tell anyone, that's understood / But we'd like you to join our secret brotherhood

It's your solemn duty / We hope you'll agree / To work for the day when our land will be free / From rule by the English, their laws and their King / Pretty soon Michael was proudly sworn in

War came to Europe in nineteen-fourteen / 'Twas the bloodiest conflict that had ever been seen / But Michael refused to sign up for the war / There was only one country that he would fight for

So in nineteen-sixteen when conscription was planned / He boarded a ship back to his native land / Where once more he practised the book-keeper's art / This time for Count Plunkett, a wealthy upstart

The house of the Count stood on acres of land / Where an audacious rising was practised and planned / And in Dublin's post office that Easter weekend / Alongside his comrades, their dream to defend

While civilians hid in their homes, out of fright / As the rattle of Mauser-fire filled the spring night / Michael fought, while the smoke and flames rose on the breeze / 'Til the big British guns brought his men to their knees

The shame of surrender, the long year in gaol / But the freedom of Ireland was Mick's holy grail / He refused to be cowed by the pain of his plight / And when he got out he continued the fight

He'd joined a party that was known as Sinn Féin / An Irish republic was their stated aim / They were gaining support from all over the land / in spite of the fact that their meetings were banned

Then one day De Valera, who was Sinn Féin's top man / Was carted away in a police van / And thrown in an English jail to rot / For (alleged) involvement in a German plot

When the Great War was over, with peace in the land / An election for Britain and Ireland was planned / Michael decided to stand for Sinn Féin / He campaigned in South Cork until the day came

By their hundreds and thousands the people came out / To support independence, there was no room for doubt / So Sinn Féin decided, with so clear a mandate / That Irish MPs should decide Ireland's fate

We won't go London to take up our seats / As a national assembly in Dublin we'll meet / So with public support from Rosslare to the Foyle / They shunned Westminster's halls and they formed the first Dáil

For a national government it might seem strange / But their meetings in secret they had to arrange / The locations were usually chosen by Mick / For he knew who to trust and which places to pick

This was the cat and mouse game that they played / Always alert for the next police raid / And as head of finance Mick worked many a long hour / Raising the cash they would need to take power

De Valera, in prison, soon thought of a way / With the help of the Chaplain to shorten his stay / He'd 'borrowed' the key from the robe of the latter / (Whom his friends had distracted with 'spiritual' chatter)

Using wax from church candles 'Dev' made an imprint / Which he sent back to Ireland, where Mick took the hint / A copy was made of the Lincoln Gaol key / And Mick boarded a ferry to cross the cold sea

Under cover of darkness Mick cut through the wire fence / Then clambered through into the courtyard, from whence / He crept stealthily up to the door of the gaol / He had only one chance, he knew he must not fail

Imagine the cursing, the swearing, the shock / When Mick's carefully cut key simply broke in the lock / But Dev too had a key (smuggled in in a cake) / He inserted it - thankfully it didn't break

So away down the street the escapee was led / Disguised as a woman, a wig on his head / Then off in a taxi to Liverpool's port / And back home to Ireland without being caught

Now, at this point Dev felt the need for a pause / He went off to drum up support for the cause / While the 'Chief' was away across the Atlantic / The fight with the British was left to young Mick

Dublin Castle was the place / That the Dublin police force used as their base/ And the G Division (who worked undercover) / Were the boys whose job it was to discover

Every bit of information / About Mick and his rebel operation / Their shady network did comprise / Of double-agents, informants and spies

To find out just how much they knew / Mick paid a visit to British HQ / A friend on the inside showed him around / He was horrified at what he found

The Brits had files on all his men / Mick had a realisation then / The 'intelligence war' would be the key / To an Irish republican victory

Back at base Mick gave the nod / To his best group of men (they were known as 'the Squad') / And in the Castle post next morning / Was received a letter (by way of a warning)

Written, it was clear, in Michael's hand / It said that an early demise was planned / For any 'G Man' who did not stay away / From the business of the IRA

I'm afraid that this warning they chose to ignore / And for each one there soon came a knock at the door / Or a tap on the shoulder while out in the street / The crack of a gunshot then hurrying feet

In the crowd the assassins would soon disappear / As the streets were increasingly haunted by fear / The British hit back with their own murder gangs / Known as the 'Auxies' and the 'Black and Tans'

A new Special Branch group known as the Cairo Gang / Were sent in by the British as part of their plan / To destroy Michael's network and his power to fight / - Mick's 'Squad' took the lot of them out in one night

Next day in their anger a convoy of Tans / Headed to Croke Park where five-thousand fans / Were hoping the afternoon match would be good / - The Tans shot fourteen of them dead where they stood

Such a dark time for Ireland (and Britain as well) / As the streets and the fields became bloody as Hell / As police trucks were ambushed in town after town / The Tans plundered Cork City then burned the place down

In nineteen-twenty on Christmas Eve night / De Valera returned to take charge of the fight / And for the first time in his rebel career / Michael went out and drank far too much beer

Into the bar came a British patrol / To capture some 'shinners' their primary goal / One asked for Mick's papers then told him to stand / Compared him to a photo he held in his hand

Though Mick and his comrades would all soon be dead / Unless he held his nerve and maintained a cool head / He smiled and he joked and he played the buffoon / 'Til the squaddies gave up and they left the saloon

DeValera was eager to take charge again / He began hatching plans for Mick and his men / And the Chief was less than overjoyed / With the fighting methods Mick had employed

There's no honour in fighting an underground war / Of this point DeValera was sure / No need to keep our troops concealed / We'll meet the British in the field

A full-scale daylight attack was planned / Mick tried to make Dev understand / He didn't have the men to spare / For open, conventional warfare

(Work in progress)

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