Some years ago there was a proposal to (what – insert, erect, unveil?) a tribute to James Connolly in the form of a stained glass window in Belfast City Hall. Now, as an ageing Trot, Connolly is a hero of mine, but I don’t do heroes well and I was uneasy with the motives behind the proposal. It wasn’t just the element of gesture (not to mention wind-up) politics that seemed to be involved: the notion that a revolutionary should be celebrated in such a way seemed to be more to do with cementing a republican presence into City Hall (not that I have a problem with that) than with acknowledging what Connolly the socialist did and stood for in Belfast.
The issues stewed for a while before finding some kind of expression in this poem…
With your nosed pressed against a stained glass window
portraying James Connolly tied to a kitchen chair
with a target pinned to his heart like a Poppy-Day poppy,
you’re either an honoured guest in the Lord Mayor’s parlour
watching smoke clear from the grounds of City Hall,
or peering in from outside as the shade of Winnie Carney,
fresh from a night of markswomanship and shorthand,
waltzes her ex-Orangeman husband, her red Prod,
on marble floors – and it was far from marble you were reared.