Suantraí Micheál Fay

by Cathy Dalton

for my grandmother, Annie McKenna

Carefully she bends, and dips the cloth
To wash away the clay and streaks of green
That mark his brow
From where he fell down earlier in the field
Tends to him with utmost silent care
As if for fear her touch might waken him.
She takes his hands in hers, and folds them in
Like angel wings upon his chest to sleep
Leans in again to twine around the beads.
Crossing herself, she murmurs in the dark
A prayer at nightfall on this April day.

The decades slip between her busy hands
Joyful, sorrowful, year on year she tells
Each off without complaint, and tends
Now to her children and her land.
Her lips are sealed, her life an open book.
Just once she speaks those mysteries to her girls
Of how she held his face and bound his wounds
To give him back in death some semblance
Of the man he was. And after that
She spoke of it no more, and the like the country round her
Held her peace.

Michael Fay was a member of the Carlow IRA Flying Column who was killed in an ambush at Ballymurphy, Co. Carlow on April 18, 1921, while on exercises. The group included Annie’s brother, Willie McKenna, who was among those taken prisoner. Michael Fay had previously served in the British army in WW1, as had Annie’s two brothers, Sonny and Jimmy, who were both killed in action. Annie prepared Michael’s body for burial.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in a Poetry as Commemoration workshop led by Mary O’Donnell in Kilkenny Library on March 8th 2023.