When he died there were carnaptions.
A bachelor, it was left to his nieces
now elderly too
to clear his house.
Sparse in life, there wasn’t much to share.
The desk he did his counting on
florins in soldier rows
became my mother’s.
His Orange Order grand-mastery was probably
returned to the lodge
where he signed the Covenant
sheet ten, Donaghadee.
In his attic
without fuss or splutter
the blunderbuss waited
dusted by six decades of spiders
since it shone that April morning.
Below his nieces fretted,
imagined marching feet in Hunter’s Lane
to haul them away
to Armagh Gaol with the IRA women.
Sixty years before, it had been simple
when the UVF took charge,
That Friday night, the men
polished their boots, a Sunday chore
and ate their tea and left the brown bottle alone.
Father sat ready
his face so fierce, the little girls hid on the stairs
as he opened the door.
Low and clipped
and their father – their father!
answered Yes Sir!
They woke early
to men marching down the lane
and horses pulling heavy wagons back.
Later Uncle John set the blunderbuss on the sideboard.
All done, he said.
All off the boat,
we’re ready to fight the Home Rule.
We’ll put them in my attic – no-one will come
to a Boer soldier’s home
but just in case.
bring the blunderbuss too.
And Uncle John sat at his desk counting them in
and out again.
Now he’d died
in another time, another troubles.
Hand it in to the police
Counselled the Catholic father of their great niece
You are old ladies
What can they say?
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.