A daughter foresees her father’s death - May 12th, 1916

by Ger Duffy

(i.m. Nora Connolly)

At midnight, a motor ambulance came, the officer said that the prisoner
was very weak and wished to see his wife and his eldest daughter.
Mama believed this, the last time she had seen him, he had been in great pain.
I knew what they meant.
We sat in the back of the army lorry, bumping
through dimly lit streets, O’Connell Street was deserted, the smell of burning
and smoke, gaping holes in buildings, two soldiers stood guard on the eerie
bridge, then we turned up to Dublin Castle. The duty nurse said she had
to search us first, in case we had brought something in, to help him do
away with himself. Six soldiers with fixed bayonets were guarding the top
of the stairs, and the small alcove leading to Papa’s room. They stood aside
for us.
Papa had his wounded leg resting in a cage, his pale face turned to us.
Mama asked, “How are you now?” His voice was low, “I was court-martialed.”
“How is your leg?” “Are you able to sleep at all?
He smiled, “Tonight, was the first night’s sleep that I’ve had, then they woke me
with the news. I suppose you know what this means”. “Oh no James, not that”. “Yes”.
Mother started to sob. “Don’t Lillie, don’t unman me, don’t cry”.
I held his right hand and felt a small piece of paper between us.
“Haven’t I had a full life? Isn’t this a good end?”
Mother knelt by his bed, her head on his chest.
“But your beautiful life James, your beautiful life!”.
I tried to control myself, I stared at father’s poorly dressed wounds.

told Mother to take us back to America that Jim Larkin would look after us.
“My life hasn’t all been in vain Lillie, we’ve six beautiful children
and the Socialist cause will succeed”. “The socialists don’t even know why you are here, James”, Mother said. “ Ah, they forget that I am Irish”.
The RAMC officer said it was time
to leave the prisoner. Mother collapsed and had to be carried from the room,
father could only lift his head to watch her go.
“Don’t cry Nora, there’s a brave girl, there is nothing to cry about”.
He whispered, “That’s my court-martial statement, see if you can get it published”.
I don’t tell him that anyone who might have cared had already been executed.
The nurse said as I passed, “Tell your mother, I’ll try and get a lock
of his hair”.
The sky was brightening outside Kilmainham Gaol at 5 am,
a crowd had gathered, although it was terrible quiet. I imagined them
carrying him down to the Breakers yard, tying him to a chair. The sound
of the volley of gunfire went right through me. Some women started
the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. I stood there, until the black flag
was hoisted and the priest left. Later, I went back to claim his body.


Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in a Poetry as Commemoration workshop held online in December 2023.  The workshop was led by writer Nessa O’Mahony.