Four Courts, 1922

by Darren Donohue

Grainy images flicker
as though projected
through the dull prism
of memory.
A small squad
of Free State soldiers
shell the Four Courts.
The artillery merely
bruises the stone walls,
all part of a ruse
to give the rebels ‘a fright’.

To one side,
the general public are roped off –
men in peaked caps,
women in shawls,
scarecrow children.
They watch the flash and glow,
their mild interest heightening
the absurdity,
exposing an invisible gulf
between them.

I imagine the crowd
drifting home for their tea,
lighting the fire,
vaguely aware of the shelling.
At bedtime, the children ask:
‘Why are they fighting?’
Their parents sigh and say:
‘One must oppress,
the other must rebel.
This is the lesson they were taught.
That is the only language they know.’

A single gunshot,
like the start of a race,
and the killing begins in earnest.
I see Kevin O’Higgins,
standing in a sober room
condemning his friend
and best man, Rory O’Connor to death.
In a breathless whisper,
O’Higgins asks: ‘Is there nothing can be done?’

Men standing in clouds of cigarette smoke
or filling the shadows of doorways –
sigh and say, ‘Nothing to be done.’
And the soldiers shoot their brothers.



Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem will feature on the Poetry Jukebox installation in IMMA from October 2023 to April 2024.