Bishop Street Without, Bishop Street Within

by Fionnuala Kearney

I’m yanked by a chain from my navel up Bishop Street hill, 

past my long gone mother – all grande dame poise, slayer 

of the wrong kind of priest – to the bombed-out gap 


where my gran’s house stood. I comb the rubble searching 

for her, masonry chalk on my lips, hair, 

in my lungs, until, I’m a dust ghost of her. 


Now I know her victory: all six children survived. 

Her battle was a hustle in butter, sugar, whatever 

could scrape a few coins to put spuds in their mouths. 


She’d shoosh them under stairs as boots stormed past, 

rattling doors in their frames; hear scuttle of grenade 

over cobbles; glimpse the shivering shadow 


of the man clutching the pin. And after the boom 

and quake, coated in dust, she’d gag as the rust-tang of 

blood hit the back of her throat from a form, 


familiar, slumped in the gutter. Grit and grief’s spores 

inhaled, osmosed to her unborn girl and deeper 

to the egg of me.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Written at a Poetry as Commemoration workshop in the Verbal Arts Centre Derry led by writer Maria McManus in November 2022.

From the author: Bishop Street Without, Bishop Street Within was written as a result of Poetry as Commemoration workshops facilitated in Derry. I was inspired to write this poem on discovering that Bishop Street, which straddles the Derry Walls (hence Bishop Street Without and Bishop Street Within), was a location at the heart of the Derry Riots of June 1920. Although my own family has no historical links to Derry or these riots, I was interested in the experience of females – particularly mothers – during this unrest. I am intrigued by our need for concrete artefacts to connect with the past, and how there may also be a direct biological link to events a century ago through the female line.

Image of Derry City Walls: zoocreative / Derry Walls / CC BY-SA 2.0  from via Wikimedia Commons