08 April 2006

Poem Eight: A Story From Effrinagh

Effrinagh is a place about five miles east of Carrick. It remains a quiet place in spite of its proximity to the bustle and hustle of Carrick. It's dotted with lakes and traversed by boreens the Council doesn't much get around to looking after. Jim Gralton came from Effrinagh, where he built his Pearse-Connolly Hall before he was deported to New York. If you're not from this area and you've heard of Effrinagh, it's likely because of the Gralton connection.

I heard a story about a woman who lived in Effrinagh who, as they say here, had the cure. That means she had the power to heal the sick. I don't know what her particular cure cured. But the story about how she got her powers made the hairs on the back of my neck quiver. It's said that one of the last men to be hanged beside the courthouse in Carrick was an innocent man. All the people knew it. So the parish priest in Effrinagh said to this woman that if she were to get a piece of the rope used to hang that man, there would be power in it. So she did and sure enough she got "the cure". And she lived out the rest of her days healing people's ails.

I thought of this story when I first began the project. I spent a good deal of time poking around the Courthouse while it was being renovated. It seemed to me that there was a whole legacy of badness in that building. Even the guys on the construction crew who were from far-flung places such as Moldavia and Poland could sense the bad "juju'. An acquaintance who is a historian of the area told me that if the stones of the courthouse walls could talk, they'd be screaming at the injustices and horrors they'd witnessed. And if you read the records of that court, especially in the years of the Famine, it will drive you near despair. Children being given 40 lashes for stealing apples. Page after page of this. It had to be acknowledged--not plastered over.

And the story of the cure in Effrinagh struck me as a parable, an instructive tale about how we might live now. I felt we had to open our eyes to the sordid history of that building. Thus, the first stanza (the poetic form is called a triolet, that is the first line is repeated three times in the poem) which echoes He dangled in the air. And after the recognition of the injustices meted out there, the second stanza offers one way to live in light of that history. The line repeated three times in this stanza is Retrieval is an art. Retrieval is one of those laden words that, like a tuning fork when struck, reverberates with associations. Historians are great retrievers as are some writers and artists and musicians. The Courthouse has been re-imagined and re-novated into the Dock and at the fulcrum of this shift is art. These changes were made for the purposes of art, and perhaps, art may be the force that helps us come to terms with what happened inside those walls in centuries past.

I'm not usually given to explaining what I write in this way. I feel that the work must be failing at some level if this kind of thing is called for. And that may be the case. But many people have said that they found this poem very dark. Stark even. And I wouldn't disagree.


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