The Dilemma: John Hewitt

As term-time ends at the Stormont British Administration Centre and recess is called for the sectarian head-count known as local elections, Martin McGuinness, ex-IRA leader and now Deputy First Minister…  

… who already, in an election flyer I have received, terms himself Joint First Minister) offers the latter sobriquet to the DUP leader, should Sinn Fein top the poll. Little wonder the flawed Robinson (husband of the other one) dismisses the empty gesture, designed to enflame rather than contain sectarian tensions and religious fears.

A good man calls to my door and asks for my vote. Sadly he’s standing only for the parish circus (he’s been outmanoeuvred by a less worthy colleague) and, though he’ll get in, will be powerless to make a difference. 

I return to Hewitt for inspiration and guidance. A salve, perhaps and a warning. Like everyone else, I must be wary of the alternative.


The Dilemma


Born in this island, maimed by history

and creed-infected, by my father taught

the stubborn habit of unfettered thought.

I dreamed, like him, all people should be free.


So, while my logic steered me well outside

that ailing church which claims dominion

over the questing spirit, I denied

all credence to the state by rebels won

from a torn nation, rigged to guard their gain,

though they assert their love of liberty,

which craft has narrowed to a fear of Rome.


So, since this ruptured country is my home,

it long has been my bitter luck to be

caught in the crossfire of their false campaign.

Here at a distance, rocked by hopes and fears

with each convulsion of that fevered state,

the chafing thoughts attract, in sudden spate,

neglected shadows from my boyhood years:

the Crossley tenders caged and roofed with wire,

the crouching Black and Tans, the Lewis gun,

the dead lad in the entry: one by one

the Catholic public houses set on fire:

the anxious curfew of the summer night,

the thoroughfares deserted, at a door

three figures standing, till the tender’s roar,

approaching closer, drives them out of sight:

and on the broad roof of the County Gaol

the singing prisoners brief freedom take

to keep an angry neighbourhood awake

with rattled plate and pot and metal pail:

below my bedroom window, bullet-spark

along the kerb, the beat of rapid feet

of the lone sniper, clipping up the street,

soon lost, the gas-lamps shattered, in the dark:

and on the paved edge of our cinder-field

intent till dusk upon the game, I ran

against a briskly striding, tall young man,

and glimpsed the rifle he thought well concealed.

At Auschwitz, Dallas, I felt no surprise

when violence, across the world’s wide screen,

declared the age imperilled: I had seen

the future in that frightened gunman’s eyes.





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  1. Pingback: Why We Hate Others in Northern Ireland | Brian John Spencer

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