Saturday, 22 November 2014

Shankill dozen

Visiting the Shankill Road in November, I hear voices from the past calling from every direction. From the Somme memorials. The ancient graveyard. The graffitied RIPs. The memorials to Troubles victims. The murals of historical characters. 

Amidst the disturbance of their calls, the living go about their business, walking their dogs, eating an egg soda, buying some braising steak, wishing each other happy birthday.

It's a place where the layers of the past are clearly visible. You can see the Victorian splendour and utility behind today's decay. The eighteenth century is just a little out of focus, the sixteenth becoming hazy. We're walking this road together with those who trod it earlier, simultaneously mysterious and entirely without mystery.

Wounds (Michael Longley, 1973)
Here are two pictures from my father’s head —
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’
‘Wilder than Gurkhas’ were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said — lead traces flaring till they hurt —
‘I am dying for King and Country, slowly.’
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.

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