The Secret Languages of Ireland

The Secret Languages of Ireland


Breaking camp,

they left at dawn

without waking a soul

their wagons consigned

to flames.

Anna na mBreag


Veronica swirled poitín against the light;

cautioned me not to smash my teeth

with the bottle as we swigged.

As I felt her Irish tongue

in my mouth, I pondered the significance of words.

So the back slang for kiss from Irish póg becomes gop

in the cant. Thirty years on

in this seminar room we teased apart the place-lore

of Friel’s Translations; smelt turf

cut with a loy. Eamon from Co. Clare and myself,

the Englishman, who named his son Ronan.

The Irish for little seal.

At interview Ashling asked eventually

if she would need to declare officially

she’d had a child out of wedlock

over the water. She spoke some Gaeilge,

but had not the book learning. They

had sent her out of school early.

In class she recited Mise Raifteirí an file

by heart with an aside that the nuns

equally patriotic and religious

would slash her knuckles with a ruler

if she stumbled. Outside in the English

Midlands it was a soft day.

Nostos – a sweet sickness for home.

Bitter dregs from a chipped cup.

Sweating from a Smethwick foundry,

Seán unwrapped a knock-off death mask

of James Joyce. In aluminium, not bronze-

still a steal at a hundred pounds. He was narked

neither Eamon nor myself

wanted the thing on our wall.

Speaking to no-one, nobody. That building

where we taught will be pulled down next year,

already over the rubble the blackbird’s

song  echoes from Lough Derg.


Published in  Lifelines  ed. Helena Hoar and others, (Imprimata  2016)