Treasure Island

Barney Rooney

(belfast)

The Flag


Don’t forget, each day but Sunday
a throng thousands strong of shipyard men
funnelled in the gates
and at the end of the long days shift
fanned out into the east Belfast streets
these men, this town on England’s Irish side
it could have been the Tyne the Wear or Clyde

you could tell by the gaunt skin drawn faces
they had the work sucked out of them
day in day out hammering, clanging
dust and acrid smoke in the steel bound hangars
where they’d heat and beat raw sheet to shape
making others fortunes from ships of steel and steam
they took Dargan’s Island for the Queen
took it for Belfast, for Ulster
took it for Ireland? Ah no, it has little claim
these neighbours not wanted in the Yard
have no skills and the work‘s too hard
wouldn’t want them living in the same wee streets
never mind compete
in the boardrooms of industry.

The Union flag’s jagged lines of red and white and blue
when lifted by a breeze summed up the feel of this
caught the simplicity and colours of a truth
and when they marched together side by side
converged along each lane, cresting each brae,
to add their weight or just to celebrate the day
the hearts and eyes, the party battle cries,
were full of trust and belief
their women cheered
having dutifully prepared their piece

the faith furled in this flag was loosed by what?
blame Rosa Parks, though she’d probably more on her mind
than Ulster. While she sat stubborn in her seat
shipbuilding up and moved on further east.
or Macmillan and his careless talk of winds of change
he knew a flag needs wind to look its best
wasted when its lying limp at rest
or the different flag that dared show its face in Divis Street
three simple bars of green white and orange, or was it gold
that had the pastor steaming hot and scheming cold
a neighbour’s flag banned by the law
for fear of what it flying free would draw

while the one flag flew alone Ulster could give
its loyalty and votes, not to be of note
but for the right to be ignored
the servant left alone feels sort of free
a blind eye was his master’s guarantee
that Ulster is safe
and the booming pastor’s congregations proved it true
his yellow brick cathedrals grew and grew
from thrifty huts of corrugated tin
who could doubt god deemed this flag to win
a chosen peoples’ flag
a flag for enemies to dread
a flag to taunt, to rub the nose in til it bled
until somehow it came to print
on knickers, cars and cushion covers
a joke flag shaped to a valentine for lovers

now, is it only them defends this flag and its right to fly
only them remembers the men and women it gave cause to die
only them knows the full true story
of hard work, dissent, servitude and the glory
of death in battlefields in France
its magic colours spattered on the corner kerbs of Ulster’s streets
worked a treat to ward off fenian feet
but not to keep them out of the City Hall
where they play with words and scheme for this flag’s fall
isn’t this enough of cause to spit and burn
block roads or even turn
to wipe a tear, this holy flag,
wind whipped to a polyester rag,
that staked the claims of kings and queens
wafts gentler in the myth of England’s village greens

Submitted: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Edited: Friday, January 24, 2014

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