In computing, Moore’s Law stated that the overall processing power of a computer would double every two years. This has literally powered the start of a wave of technological development, whose social impact is unfathomable, especially if we remember we are still the same cognitive creatures we were hundreds of years ago, when things changed at a far slower pace. This is both frightening and exciting and has accelerated the outcome of international capitalism – globalisation; that great sway of moving things, from people to pins.
Around 2009, more people lived in cities and urban areas, than in rural parts for the first time in history. Partly explained by population growth it is also to do with mass migration to the expectant honeypots of city life, both in home countries and abroad. Those who work in the cities, sometimes leaving their families for many months or even years, send much needed money back to family members who are no longer able to make a living from the countryside. In the Philippines for example, ten percent of its population work overseas, generating some $25 billion in remittances to their home economy (10% of its GDP). But I have always wondered what of the country without the ten percent of its population. What effect can this have?
Mike Gallagher’s powerful poem, Paraic and Jack and John, tells a familiar story of the Irish diaspora, who have left to go to the UK, America and elsewhere, and the gap this left for those still living in Ireland. “not too many options there,/the bus up Gowlawám,/the train to Westland Row./Holyhead gave them choices:/Preston? Ormskirk? Cricklewood?” These men traversed the 260 mile long A5 road that runs from Holyhead on the Welsh island of Anglesey all the way to London and the Kilburn Road. However, Mike tells of the towns and villages they left behind with little or no men, just “Goodbyes to//the mothers, always the mothers,/the father-mother-farmer mothers,/the savers of hay,/the spreaders of turf;/brought into heat once, maybe twice,/a year, migrant’s return, marital duties,/children’s allowances, God’s word – stuff like that.’ But there is so much more to this wonderful poem as he takes great chunks out of the powerful institutions who ruled over these people, “the teachers, the leather-lashing teachers,” “the priests, upholders of the status quo,/apologists for poverty,/for blind obedience,” “politicians, truth’s contortionists,/purveyors of false promises,/self-serving hoors,/too busy building dynasties.” And then there is the story of the three men of the poem’s title, of which Mike explains.
“Paraic and Jack and John is about next door neighbours from Achill, an island off the west coast of Ireland. All three – one was my brother, Paraic – died in construction accidents in Britain. Practically everyone in Achill emigrated. The only males on the island between the ages of 16 and 60 were priests, teachers or policemen. The migrants returned for two weeks holidays each year, leaving the mothers to raise large families and farm a few meagre acres of poor land. On coming of age, the sons joined their fathers on England’s building sites. This was a time when most of the ‘hard graft’ was done by hand, and health and safety provisions were non-existent. We were programmed to this way of life and no one – especially not the Establishment – questioned why things should be any different; after all, the status quo suited them very well.” Mike Gallagher.
Mike Gallagher, writer, poet and editor, was born on Achill Island and worked in London for forty years before retiring to Kerry. His prose, poetry, haiku and songs have been published in Ireland and throughout Europe, America, Australia, Nepal, India, Thailand, Japan and Canada. His writing has been translated into Croatian, Japanese, Dutch, German, Italian and Chinese. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce competition in 2010 and 2016, was shortlisted for the Hennessy Award in 2011 and won the Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Contest in 2012.His poetry collection Stick on Stone was published by Revival Press in 2013.
Paraic and Jack and John
Hardly ten years between them,
the next door neighbours
from that huddle of houses
under Mullach an Airde,
close, too, their destinies,
not too many options there,
the bus up Gowlawám,
the train to Westland Row.
Holyhead gave them choices:
Preston? Ormskirk? Cricklewood?
their Dark Rosaleen,
her spalpeen fanachs,
her jilted lovers, cast-offs.
And yet they sang her praises,
her songs of love and hate,
of repression and rebellion
in the Cocks and Crowns and Clarences
of a thousand English towns.
the teachers, the leather-lashing teachers,
no knowledge, no history
imparted here, only know-how,
know how to swing a pick, to wield an axe,
to dig their way through London clay.
Leadógs, twelve of the best, my boys,
now, on your ways, we have no room
for your likes here.
the priests, upholders of the status quo,
apologists for poverty,
for blind obedience,
sex obsessed, the lure of sex,
more sex, less sex,
fill the pews, fill the plates,
fill the boats, go, spread the word;
your road to heaven
does not leave
politicians, truth’s contortionists,
purveyors of false promises,
too busy building dynasties.
No need for you in their grand plans,
more use, you overseas;
so take the boat, the cattle boat,
join the herd.
the mothers, always the mothers,
the father-mother-farmer mothers,
the savers of hay,
the spreaders of turf;
brought into heat once, maybe twice,
a year, migrant’s return, marital duties,
children’s allowances, God’s word –
stuff like that.
the mothers, the dazed, distraught mothers,
in the wake houses, huddled
under Mullach an Airde
after the scaffolds collapsed
and the trenches collapsed
and their lives collapsed
and their whole bloody worlds
And the teachers came
and the priests came
and the politicians came
and these, the weavers of their destinies,
these seekers-out of brawn,
and not of brain
that it was the will of God,
that it was the way of the world,
then spilled a few self-cleansing tears
to the mothers that bore them –
and buried them
in cold Slievemore.
Notes on the Text:
Dark Rosaleen: A poetic name for Ireland.; Spailpin Fanachs: Casual labourers who attended hiring fairs; Leadogs: Slaps, physical punishment; Cattle boat: Up to the 1960s, the migrants shared the boats with herds of cattle which were also being exported ‘on the hoof’; Slievemore: ‘The Big Mountain’, which dominates Achill; the graveyards hangs precariously on its side.
The poem is taken from his collection Stick on Stone, published by Revival Press