A poem for the day – Connolly Window

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…

Connolly Window

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.

  • pippakin

    Interesting but I’m afraid my attention was caught, in reference to the subject, and held by the very first line!

    Now please having peaked my curiosity tell me was it someone dreaming of getting in, or having gained admittance, desperate to get out…

  • Hello Mr Mooney

    What are murals and arches but windows into another world? It’s public art with a capital A.


    Thanks to them not only do we see our own world we see other worlds… and how else do you enter the world of others around here? We have different schools, different churches, different clubs, different pubs, different newspapers etc.

    One way in is poetry. Here’s hoping you become a permanent blogger beyond the month of August.

  • Thanks to you both. Pippakin, I hate to reduce a poem this much, but you hit the nail on the head. Are we inside looking out or outside looking – and whatever the answer, is this where we should be? And Articles, the strange visionary space you’re talking about is I hope what’s opened up by asking (but not answering) Pip’s question…

  • pippakin

    For me the beauty of a poem is you can, maybe should, examine it line by line and allow your mind to drift over all the possibilities, preferably at your own pace.

    I second articles and hope such explorations can continue as perhaps a break in the endless cycle of Slugger and all political blogs.

  • A quick browse indicates that Winnie had a revolver in the GPO in Dublin in 1916 and that she married George in 1928 when she was about 40. I see no mention of an Annie Oakley routine in Belfast post 1928.

  • Munsterview

    Martin Re Connolly poem etc,

    Good poem and good idea. There were many Southern good poems also that dealt with The Troubles by Republicans and others, would you consider opening this poetry slot out by providing an em address for yourself and request contributions ?

    It would be nice indeed to keep a regular poetry segment and too to revisit some of the poetry of the ‘Celtic Revival’ period when many Unionist background poets wrote strong poems advancing and defending Ireland’s cultural and other interests.

    Such poetry coming from what was then shared areas of cultural interaction and interests would be an eye opener to contemporary Catholics and protestants mentalities alike !

    Neither need it all relate directly to the troubles to paraphrase Enda O’Brien, ” August Is A Wicket Month” !

    One of the best of the poems at that relate to Connolly was the Late Luke Kelly’s tribute where the Connolly’s execution was recounted through the eyes of a British Soldier in the firing squad detail.

    Luke made it so much his own that few of his generation did it publicly after his passing and it went out of currency. It would be nice to see it included here.

  • Re above

    The soon to be no more QUB bookshop is in the middle of a closing down sale.

    The Penguin book of Irish Poetry edited by Patrick Crotty is available at £20.00 reduced from £40.00, a real bargain and with a few still left as of last week.

  • Nevin, yes, of course you’re right… but the poem’s a fantasy, a dream-vision, even dare I say it an aisling. As for a regular poetry thread on Slugger, not my call. But if it did happen, I’d argue that poems from contemporary writers would be best: the Irish classics that MV mentions are widely-known and readily available online, and come with baggage – if only the baggage of being widely-known! But the work of living poets is rarely seen as being part of the wider social, political and cultural conversations Slugger specialises in, and I think that’s a great shame.

  • Articles, a fine example of a key reason for the shop’s closure: the same volume available online for about 12 quid.

  • Amazon 21.99
    Blackwells 40.00
    Waterstone’s 40.00

    Where do you shop?

    A key reason perhaps but not the main one, quite simply it is very poor bookshop for a University.

  • Martin, I thought an aisling involved the supernatural whereas Winnie’s story is not in that class. According to this account her brother wouldn’t permit the erection of a headstone in her memory as the McBride name would have acknowledged her ‘mixed’ marriage.

  • …..I’d argue that poems from contemporary writers would be best: the Irish classics that MV mentions are widely-known and readily available online, and come with baggage – if only the baggage of being widely-known! But the work of living poets is rarely seen …

    Not so, the poem of a great poet is a fragment of his or her immortality and lives on, and that is the gift of the poet to future generations.

    If you want to categorise poets then there are those that keep the fire lit and those that warm their hands, some to the fore and noticeable and others in the half shadows. Pointy elbows I’m told serve a purpose.

  • Articles, try The Book People. As to the living versus the dead (ah, that old struggle…) all I really mean is that I think it’d be good to have the work of contemporaries scrutinised and discussed in contexts outside the narrow world of ‘the poetry scene’. But your point about sharp elbows is a good ‘un.

    Nevin, not a believer in the supernatural but sometimes the poem conjures these visions… Winnie Carnie’s is a fascinating story, though?

  • pippakin

    I prefer the idea of exploring more modern poetry. Modern poetry has an uphill struggle so efforts like this have got to be for the best.

  • Thanks for the Book People tip, Martin.
    There are some gems in there for the price of a couple of pints, folks.

  • What the dead had no speech for, when living,
    They can tell you, being dead: the communication
    Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.