Son of Erin
by Aidan Andrew Dun
Dedicated to Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four. Gerry C was banged up in a high-security British jail for fifteen years till finally released cleared of all charges of involvement in an IRA bombing of a Guildford pub in October 1974. I also dedicate this to all the Palestinian freedom-fighters currently held wrongfully in Israeli jails.
He’s a West Belfast boy, he’s an Ulster lad,
through the Tyrone branch he’s a Conlon man (sad
that forced conversion in Sasana, so sad).
In the rivermouth city raised, it’s too bad
the Troubles took away the childhood he never had.
Here’s the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
Now he dreams he’s a sailor like Sinbad,
another street-kid in cold wintertime half-clad;
climbing through the sky with some comrade
he flies the blue pigeon, pisses off his Dad,
rides Liverpool-bound with a newspaper ad.
Innocent sailing to the Promised Land,
the downfall of the Gaelic Order of legend
is seen again in your fate, well-intentioned
man with no real hatred for England,
with your long black hair and your hippy headband.
Don’t go insane as you look ahead, damned
sailor destined to be cast up on the sand
where skulls of madmen, slowly whitened,
burn under suns imperial, grand.
Fifteen years is a lot to stand
in a prison beneath the Gardens of Fand.
Sleepless mysteries, looking back at night,
as the contraries lock together tight:
a bed under mirrors and a house full of light,
a prostitutes lair and the squat out-of-sight
where the goddesses made you feel alright
but the jealous freaks still wanted a fight.
And then the whole world was set alight
with nitroglycerine’s ‘might is right’;
and that was when the dove took flight,
and disappeared into the azure height.
And they locked a scapegoat up in spite;
and, Gerry, God forgot about you quite.
Until your father came to your side
though you cursed him in your bitter pride.
He came because you had been denied
your freedom, and he alongside
you suffered, like Christ (for He was tried)
and he too, your father, with nothing to hide,
was sent down to do many years inside.
Through the pain of those years you both survived
as they pissed and shat in your food, applied
lashes with coshes, in your mindstate pried,
tried to make you, Gerry, commit suicide.
And when, after your father had died
(and when for your father’s death you’d cried)
and when at last the prison door stood wide,
the judge could only say ‘The officers lied.’
And then the tabloid monster of Satan,
from high-security jails of Britain,
disorientated and ashen,
he whose good name they tried to blacken,
whose neck the screws wanted broken,
ran down a one-way street, a free man
on News-at-Ten, like shot-from-a-cannon,
because now at last it was known for certain
he’d been treated worse than a common felon
for fifteen years, though he didn’t weaken,
ever become something less than human,
among his solid Celtic brethren,
the long-suffering Irishmen.
But freedom came like a dark demon
with the dirty money of compensation
for the time of his early manhood stolen.
And, Gerry, the cocaine wouldn’t loosen
as you sought to numb yourself and sweeten
the memory of those years so barren
behind the cell bars made of iron.
And all I can say, lips bitten,
not expecting words can hearten,
is that you, Gerry, were never beaten
forgiving even what they did to you in prison
all those years, my friend, Son of Erin.