by Frances Browner

I once knew a man who
had another man shot
had him ex-e-cu-ted.
A longer, more drawn-out word
Like the man’s death, maybe.

With the stub of a pencil
He’d scratched out the words
Caught the spy Boland
Handed him over
had him ex-e-cu-ted.

Handed him over?
Like a loaf of bread
or a sack of spuds
a creel of bog brown turf.
On what evidence, I wondered.

                 Of the two hundred informers executed
                 During Ireland’s War of Independence
                Eighty-two were ex-British Army

A West Clare man back from the War
Safe from the trauma of the trenches
the beseeching cries of his comrades
Gun smoke, sickness, sweat.

A man who had to kill a man, he didn’t know
had never seen, except across an enemy line.

Caught the spy Boland
handed him over
had him ex-e-cu-ted.

Did he betray them, reveal a name
the whereabouts of a meeting.
Did he have someone die, Boland the spy
Survivor of the Somme
Relieved and happy to be home

To the seaweed, turf smoke
Dillisk and periwinkles
the grass caressing his face.
Eggs and dipping bread for breakfast
His mother’s warm embrace.

Did they called him traitor, in-form-er
Classmate and next-door neighbour?
Enemies, who’d once been friends.
Did the girl he had his eye on before he left
Ever get to make amends?

I knew the man who caught the spy Boland
handed him over and had him ex-e-cu-ted.
Did you know, Granddad, when you wrote
down the words that one day I would read them?

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem featured on the Poetry Jukebox installation in Galway from July to October 2023.