Encounter in Newman House

by Annette Condon

At a Poetry as Commemoration event, Anna O Laoghaire spoke of the shunning of her grandmother and siblings, following the killing of their father, RIC Constable, James McDonnell in 1919.

Despite peace, the echo still rages in our hearts and heads.
Safe in the sanctuary of Newman House, this autumn day,
we relive the hand-to-hand fighting up and down St Stephen’s Green,
picture Irish heroes against the drunk, mad Black-and-Tans,
listen to communiqués from the Four Courts, brother against brother.
Splashes of blood on the pavements.

We are witnesses to Anna’s raw pain, hurt passed down the generations.
We hear of her orphaned grandmother, siblings shunned,
refused a loaf of bread and pint of milk in the local shop,
forced to abandon their home, split up and scatter.
A scar, a hundred years deep, runs down the M7,
winds across Ireland through hills and ditches.

We follow the blood a hundred miles, back
to Sulchóid Bheag, little wood of swallows,
a few miles outside Tipperary town.
A cold January day: A lonesome road.
The first shots in the War of Independence,
an event we learn about at school.

Two Catholic RIC officers fall dead.
The Volunteers escape across fields, railway lines,
seeking shelter but are turned away.
Yet, Marian Tobin opens the door of her home
to the Tipperary Third Brigade,
the most wanted men in Ireland.

Her drawing room at Tincurry House much like this,
ornate fireplace, shuttered windows.
I feel guilt, the need to speak up, stand and say:
“The men who killed your great-grandfather
took shelter in my grandaunt’s house that night.
I’m sorry for the pain your family suffered.”

My voice cracks on the final words.
My confession: a plea for forgiveness.
Our two stories brought us here. They collide, dovetail after a century.
Ghosts watch. Silence falls from the baroque ceiling,
manna drifts along the golden curtains. It washes over the room.
Anna and I embrace.


Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was written in response to an encounter with fellow writer Anna O Laoghaire at the Poetry as Commemoration symposium on 12 October 2023 at the Museum of Literature Ireland. A companion poem entitled ‘Two Women Embrace’ composed by Anna features on the Virtual Poetry Wall.

Cover Image: St. Stephen’s Green, Newman House : facades. UCDAHCP0119