Uncle Maurice

by Ian Duhig

i.m. Maurice Meade


Once, with Belfast burning on TV, my brother asked

why Dad joined the Free State Army and not the IRA.

Nobody spoke. I recalled Uncle Maurice, Dad’s friend

who, in his time, made war in four different uniforms.


Denied a graveside volley, I wake him silently for our

Civil War centenary commemoration, kitting him out

in new quatrain box jackets for this four-sided soldier

who put friend or foe alike in boxes, as seemed fitting.


The new Ireland was not uniform but hybrid, as I am.

This too: poetry to prose, or maybe only bad singing,

as Billy McGrath’s was to German troops who booed

it at a team-building exercise with Casement’s Brigade.


His Irish taught their new comrades respect with fists.

When the Landsturm arrived, they stole all their rifles,

barricaded themselves in and defied the Kaiser’s army

until Casement was called in to deal with the rebellion.


In truth, many of the Irish Brigade had only signed up

for better food, clothing, accommodation and the drink.

More and more Englishmen swelled the Brigade ranks.

Maurice had a job while in it as a wholesale liquor rep,


but missed action, so he re-enlisted to fight the British

with the German army in Egypt, the IRA back home,

then for the Free State in the Civil War: a professional,

happy to kill in cold or hot blood. Too happy perhaps.


Yet he’d been Dad’s friend, my sister’s godfather, died

childless, the end of his line so worth my few enlisting

words that change sides from poetry to prose and back.

His memoir stops dead at the Civil War, my sister noted,


typing it for him, as also his love of uniforms, the first

on that Recruiting Sergeant’s he met as a boy in town:

“I asked would I get a tunic, buttons and belt like his!”

Next stop Flanders, where Maurice’s story truly began.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem featured on Poetry as Commemoration jukebox installations in Limerick and Derry from May to July 2023.

Ian Duhig was  born in London to Irish parents. He has published several poetry collections: The Bradford Count (1991), shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award and the Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection); The Mersey Goldfish (1995), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize; Nominies (1998), named as one of the 1998 Sunday Times Poetry Books of the Year, and receiving a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation; Lammas Hireling (2003), a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year); and The Speed of Dark (2007), shortlisted for the 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize and the 2007 Costa Poetry Award. His most recent collections are Pandorama (2010) and The Blind Road-maker (2016), the latter of which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. Duhig’s ‘New and Selected Poems’ (Picador) was awarded the 2022 Hawthornden Prize for Literature

Ian will lead Poetry as Commemoration writing workshops the UK in Autumn 2022.