The gates of DG Waring’s house were rusted. The driveway overgrown. I turned a bend in the driveway and the house was on a slight elevation in front of me. The great empty windows overlooked Carlingford Lough. The house was partially burned in a reprisal attack. Blackened on the northern side where the flames took hold. To the right of the house there was a row of graves. The graves were small. Children, I thought at first. The earth on several looked fresh-turned, black with some malice I did not understand. When I looked at the headstones I saw that they were the graves of dogs.
Above my head the rooks sang the Black Proclamation.
My brother bought me a box of lead figurines of the Rising leaders. The figures rest in foam cut-outs. James Connolly. Padraig Pearse. Plunkett. The green uniforms. The Sam Brown belts. If you look closely you can see that they are in fact figures from some other war painted to resemble rebels from 1916. I want to believe in them but I can’t. Need is not quite belief. I line them up on the windowsill and ask them to recite the Black Proclamation.
Willie John Cunningham was the Carlingford Lough pilot. His death notice was in the paper. He smuggled the material for my wedding dress from Omeath to Greencastle across the lough, my mother said. The dress hung in an old wardrobe for years. Hand-sewn sequins on a white background. At night the lost brides are out there on the mudflats and shallows. With the curlews and terns. You can hear them calling to their husbands.
The Black Proclamation is the history of the defeated.
I stepped through the ruins of the rear of the house. The kitchen appeared untouched. There were cups and plates on the table. Estate invoices spilling from a bureau drawer. There was a tapping noise from somewhere in the house. A branch against a window pane. I walked into the hallway. The fire damage was worse here. Charred timber. The staircase hung in the air. A black cat watched me from the top step as if its presence had been written some time before.
I ran away from Waring’s house and stopped at Mary White’s shop on the way home. The shop was small with a low ceiling. Mary asked me where I had been. I told her. She leaned over her dark counter. The night I was born the soldiers took my mother to DG Waring’s in the back of a lorry.
In the basement of that house they stripped her naked and searched her. As they were stripping the pregnant woman DG Waring circled her. Mary said she was wearing an Italian Officer’s uniform and carried a cane which she tapped against her leather boots.
Mary’s mother went into labour on the floor of the lorry as it carried her from the house into the cold Easter night.
Men in crumpled suits. Tired-looking. Losing more than they win. The bullet struck his pelvis and richocheted upwards through his heart. Compromised. Disheartened. They are waiting in their buses. In the taxi ranks. At the gospel hall. In the hospital car park. In the dread night. At the dinner table. On their own street. In their own shops. At the checkpoint bookies school quiet streets where they once dreamed of love. They know their time is limited. The Black Proclamation calls upon the dead generations of the future, not those of the past.
Colm came to the door the night they died. My mother opened it. They had been to school together It was a stormy night. Where is my chief my master this bleak night mavrone, she said quietly. Cold, cold bitterly cold is this night for Hugh. Its showery arrowy speary sleet pierceth one through and through, pierceth one to the very bone, Colm said. Recite to me, my mother said, the Black Proclamation.
The Black Proclamation requires you to dishonour it with cowardice, inhumanity and rapine.
The Court Martial Prosecutor William Wylie wrote about Constance Markievicz in a private letter sent in 1939. I am only a woman you cannot shoot a woman you must not shoot a woman… she never stopped moaning the whole time she was in the court room… We were all slightly disgusted. I won’t say any more, it revolts me still. But this is what people do in war. Men and women. They moan. They are paralysed with fear. I dream of soldiers running from a checkpoint explosion at the border, throwing their weapons away and squealing. They inform and denounce others that they might live.
The Black Proclamation requires that you revolt the Court Martial Prosecutor.
The text of the Black Proclamation contains language which some might find offensive. The Black Proclamation is subject to terms and conditions. The authors of the Black Proclamation bear no responsibility.
We lay awake listening to the bands and the preacher in the town at the bottom of the hill as he read from the book of death.
The Black Proclamation stands above you armed with an automatic rifle. The bullets pass through you and splinter on the floor beneath you and the Black Proclamation is afraid of being hit by a richochet. The Black Proclamation is waiting in a lonely farmhouse. The Black Proclamation does not torture but uses inhuman and degrading treatment. The Black Proclamation sets the tilt switch. The Black Proclamation makes the warning call using an identified code word. The Black Proclamation kicks down the door. The Black Proclamation cites national security. The Black Proclamation walks in the funeral procession weeping. The Black Proclamation controls the media. The Black Proclamation wouldn’t have one about the place.
A few weeks ago a friend stood at his father’s graveside. Like my own father, a beautiful, ruined man. His uncle turned to him. You have to remember that we came from a generation of men who were destroyed by the North. As they fade away they turn to look for their lonely wives but cannot see them.
Here at Greencastle the beach is scoured by the tide. Dark weed, empty paint tins from the boats. The southern shore is half a mile away. On the Blockhouse Island cormorants hold their wings aloft. It is said that they are messengers from this world to the underworld and that they hold their wings that way to hide their shame.
Forty-five years after I climbed over DG Waring’s gates I hear her swagger stick.
Tap tap tap.
The skeletal dogs have broken from their graves. Teeth rotted. Bone eye- sockets askew.
Tap tap tap.
Where are you going she says.
I haven’t finished with you.