The Prodigal Ulster-Scot Poem by Barney Rooney

The Prodigal Ulster-Scot

Rating: 5.0

Having strutted out like solemn wee cocks
from tiny country halls hung with damp and cold
to hold the gates
to end up bickering in the blocks and boxes
of rough cast grey estates

Kinfolks in past days came to labour in mills
build ships or farm in this close-by place we share
so near its ours and also theirs.
With them brought a sober god who’d trade
the joys of life for ships and hemp rope made
in Belfast the like of which the world had never seen
bow and stern against the green.
Aunties arrived in summer on the Ardrossan boat
supped tea and shortbread
and sang in prayer in tented fields
near Larne, Stranocum, Doagh.

Then, aah.. the special days
Calling the lord to account to witness
their swagger and rat a ta tat
the pike, sash and the bowler hat
the skirl of pipe, the fife and drum,
the sparks and crackling for the day to come
drunk drunk with the heat
of bonfires and raucous laughter
billowing orange and purple against the grey
these few days let out to play
the young, the old and dead men walked
to do and die in William’s cause and thought
they still would do when bid.

But all things give way.

When the time came to say ‘enough’
the news was hard to break,
tragically hard to take,
William is dead, stone dead.
Despite his yearly slap of paint
the waxen look confirmed a fate
that 300 years of strangers breath
was unlikely to resuscitate.
And the men who pulled the strings
to whom you’d worked and danced as bid
all those years found profit in other things.
Looking down their nose, sniffing,
they turned away to catch the wind
and blew it from their mouth
barely enough to raise a whistle from a flute
and warmed from the south.
Bad to feel betrayed
by those whose bidding gave you space,
or worse to be outplayed
by the ones they bid you keep in place.
All but you seemed to prosper.
Croppies learned to change their dress
in sober suits from M&S
played higher games among the few
while you daubed the kerbs with red and blue.

Not easy then for a lost son to get back in the door
this talk of grants to apply for and forms to decipher
though the key was dangling there on a familiar ring
but hard to see or take now painted green.
Wear your white gloves if you must but take it.
Don’t be too proud. Thon rough homespun coat kept
for centuries to trail has a wearing in it yet.
Too tight? Ease off the union flag,
it might be hard for some to swallow but,
put down the book,
theres different rules to follow
at least concede to an expectation
of some reconciliation.
Curl your fingers around the key
of culture and identity
and a quare tongue in which to state a case
when too small to be a nation, too same to be a race.

Well, you’ve certainly managed to get a hearing
and, at the risk of giving offence,
on the slimmest evidence. But,
strangely its good to see you home.
We were all brought up to greet
the return of a wayward son,
though a fatted calf now seems too much meat,
magnanimity overdone. So, come on in but, take care.
Having left in something near despair
it would indeed be cruel
to be cast in yet another farce to play the fool.
The tale was in his telling as Carson used to say
Frank that is. So tell your tale, write your own.
Who knows where your making of the past will go
but in whatever tongue the story is told
welcome, failte, fair fay tae ye, clear the page for
the tainted soul
the wasted muscle
the broken heart
of Northern Ireland.

Darwin Henry Beuning 16 June 2019

Barney, Wonderful poem. I have added it to My Poem List.

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Sally Plumb Plumb 23 May 2015

Your writing is remarkable! Great stuff.

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