Leaving Dunmore East

By KEVIN O’CONNOR

 

Driving from Dunmore East about halfway

between Dublin and Cork on one of those narrow

cattle roads, we thought we were again lost

in the overcast and intermittent rain

 

of a mid-summer Irish idyll

when the sun suddenly appeared

between clouds and down below

the bay sparkled blue out to sea.

 

And on the cliff road a sign read “Crooke,”

thus answering our question

about the source of the phrase

“by hook or by crook” posed

 

the night before when from our bedroom

bathed in the moist salt air, we saw

through the open window across the water

a silver beam from Hook Head lighthouse.

 

Determined to take Waterford city

by storm, by any means necessary,

fair or foul, by hook or crook, Cromwell used

the two points of headland to guide his ships

 

to harbor his blood-driven ambitions.

We heard one more echo of an Irish

speech resonant with grief, a long keening

from the troubled dream of its history.

 

Later I learned another pastoral source:

custom allowed peasants to keep deadwood

they could reach with shepherd’s crooke

or cut from the King’s forest with a reaper’s hook.

 

From Kilmainham jail you had found coded

debate between sisters about violence

drawn in the margins by Con Markiewicz,

whose roses bloodied Gore-Booth’s garden book.

 

You must have channeled her militant ghost

in that night’s scarlet slip you brandished

in Buswell’s musty Georgian rooms unchanged

since the sisters took tea on Museum holiday.

 

The next day speechless with prescient grief,

I followed your path around Stephen’s Green

where Con Markiewicz tried to dig trenches

to hold off Tommies before Pearse gave in

 

and now statues stood to commemorate

the rebel martyrs and exiled writers.

So in Cork we toured the prison where she

stoked fires of civil strife with hunger strikes.

 

I soon knew why the Count and daughter Maeve

returned to Poland while his wife stayed

to feed the orphaned poor, and her mother

cradled die-hard rifles in artist’s arms.

 

Those soft days in Dunmore East proved respite

between Easter Rising and Civil War.

I felt at ease as we walked hand-in-hand

atop the promontory in a passing squall.

 

Looking down on village and quiet bay,

you smiled as if home in the sublime eye—

in moments lifted free of history

save the contours of land and sea.

 

 

Kevin O’Connor has recently published poetry in Notre Dame Review, Fulcrum, The Recorder, and Alhambra Poetry Calendar, and he is an editor of One on a Side: An Evening with Seamus Heaney and Robert Frost.

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Leaving Dunmore East

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