The Red-Haired Housemaid Speaks

by Gerry Hanberry

(Sunday, 23 April 1922)

The men are all up the town
gone mad roaring and shouting,
that ‘long-fella’ down from Dublin
speechifying about the country.

Isn’t it well for them that they can spare the time,
and me, and hour or two off on Sundays if I’m lucky.
It’d be more in their line to be tending their gardeneens
and maybe thinking of finding a wife.

Wouldn’t I love to be down by The Blind Arch
watching the fine Connemara men
pelting turf from their gleoiteogs
onto the pier at the fishmarket.

Would they notice me in my new lace-up boots,
the first pair I have ever owned,
and I buying fish for her ‘ladyship’s’ Friday dinner?
Or maybe some Saturday morning,

if her ‘ladyship’ is not watching,
I might stand outside by the road
when the men from Cois Fharraige are passing
with their donkey-carts nose to tail,

loaded with vegetables for the market,
and a few bottles of poitín
for their regular customers
hidden under the cabbages.

I’d be wasting my time standing there in the evening
when they’re streeling home stotious with drink
after their day in the baile mór,
only the donkey knowing the right road.

I’d have to hide my red hair.
Some say it’s a sign of bad luck
to come across the likes of me.
I wonder if that poor young priest,

the one they found in the bog-hole in Barna,
ever passed me by on the street?
But that’s only nonsense, the kind of piseóg and seafóid
you might hear from the old people,

like the story they have of the mermaid
who sits on a rock at the river’s mouth.
I’ve as much chance of a husband
as she has by the looks of things.

It’s here I’ll be for the rest of my days,
sweating and slaving for himself and herself,
servants and their masters,
as it was, is now and ever shall be,

for all their squeezing of bagpipes and beating of drums
the walls of the Galway Jail above by the river
will still remain as high,
looking in or looking out.

Commissioned by Galway Public Libraries as part of ‘1922: A Dialogue through Poetry and Music’  a collaboration between five Poets and Musicians who were commissioned to create new poetry and musical works on the theme of 1922.

Video: 1922: A Dialogue through Poetry and Music: a collaboration between Poets Lorna Shaughnessy, Gerry Hanberry and Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi and Musicians: Yvonne Fahy, Alan Preims and Úna Ní Fhlannagáin to create new poetry and musical works on the theme of 1922