EXTERNAL AFFAIRS /
Ballymun Incantation

 

Dermot Bolger reading his Ballymun
Incantation at the ceremony to mark
the demolition of the first Ballymun tower?

Whose voice can you hear?
Who calling down the stair?
What ghost trapped in a lift shaft?
What child who played and laughed?

In nineteen hundred and sixty seven,
Craning our necks towards heaven,
We arrived here by truck and bus,
Three thousand families of us.

Tea chests and cardboard suitcases,
Boxes bound with old shoelaces,
From tenements in condemned streets,
Now the world appeared at our feet.

Crowding the lifts and up each stair,
Onto the balconies to breathe the air,
The chosen families of Ballymun.

I think this heat is killing us.
Why can’t we turn off the radiators?
Where are the shops we were promised?
Why won’t they come to fix the broken lifts?

My name is Mary, when I turned nine           
I slept alone for the first time,
My sister whispering secrets overhead
In Ceannt Tower in a new bunk bed.

In Plunkett Tower my wife grew shook,
She was alone when the lift got stuck,
She hated the squatters jarring her nerves,
I still see her shaking, reciting prayers.

My name is Agnes, when I was born
The Civil War was still raging on.
I moved to Balcurris with my grandchildren,
I lived for Novenas and Sweet Afton.

My name is John, I stole my first kiss
Just before the doors opened in the lift
Eilish was still in her school uniform
Surely no other love could be this strong.

Help me, I’m still lost here and all alone,
I injected my mother’s hopes into my arm,
Shivering in the depths of cold turkey
I thought I could fly from this balcony.

Why won’t the voices stop whispering,
Straining to be heard amid the babbling?
Lives that were ended and lives begun,
The living and the dead of Ballymun.

Remember my name, it is Elizabeth,
In the local workhouse I faced my death.
Cholera stole away my famished son,
I buried him amid the fields of Ballymun.

Remember me, my ghost also haunts here,
Seeking my child who fell through the air.
The coroner declared my death was suicide,
I just wanted to be my dead daughter’s side.

I loved the marches during the rent strikes,
All us boys riding behind on chopper bikes,
It was brilliant there laughing with my mates,
That’s where I asked Joan for our first date.

Every touch and every thrust and every kiss
Every feud, every fight, every lip split,
Every face lost at the window of a tower block
Every loan shark with a list of women in hock.

Every whiskey, every Valium, every cigarette,
Every couple holding hands in a kitchenette,
Every laughing child being spun in the August sun
Every boy with a piebald horse to gallop on.

Every mother dreaming about some different life,
Every first tooth, first communion, every surgeon’s knife,
Every welder, office cleaner, every unemployed,
Every girl who fought back when her dreams died.

Every young poet who wrote it out in verse:
McDonagh and MacDermott, Connolly and Pearse,
Every name scrawled on walls in each tower block,
Every face that is remembered, every face forgot,

Every life that ended here and every life begun:
The living and the dead of Ballymun.

 

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