‘No foot, no horse.’

A man with a face like a sea otter’s speaking to a man with a ferocious red prophet’s beard, like Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners.

A man like a grizzly bear with white flour thrown on his head makes an analogy.

‘If you want to buy a bull, you judge him by the size of the balls.’ A passerby with head like a bullet with tomato-coloured cheeks, takes up the point.

‘I’m allergic to oranges. My balls are as big as them.’ He’s referring to the orange in the grizzly bear’s hand. ‘The foal touches the bag and milk just comes pouring,’ attests the sea otter who is wearing a Bronte tweed flat cap.

‘We’ll split a hundred in Christ’s name,’ suggests Ronnie Drew. ‘The truth is the truth is the truth!’ cries out a man with a crutch, habit brown ankle socks, who joins them.

 

‘We’re looking for sexy underwear,’ a youth in pink singlet with carp face, like a carp with a shaven head, towing a girl with black pudding stand up hairstyle, tells a Romanian woman in a Scheherazade dress—top red to breasts, then gold, blue and red pattern down its middle, oriental blue skirt with gold hemline.

The Romanian woman is selling dimensional pictures which shift image as you move yourself—Christ pointing to his heart which can become the Virgin Mary—a Photoplay cover girl (Mollie Ann Bourne, Mamie Van Doren)—who looks as if she’s had a ghetto nervous breakdown.

Reading glasses. Hairpieces. Fretwork, many coloured, collapsible planet playthings for children.

One Direction posters and transparent (other than logo) plastic shopping bags—the boys romping or showing their bird, rose, anchor, brigantine tattoos. Ann Breen CDs with a sepia, photocopied cover of Ann Breen with clasp earrings, large American-style teeth.

On one side of the stall furniture with sex shop fuchsine upholstery. On the other a cuisine which promises foot long German sausages and chimney cakes.

Over all this—including framed pictures which give an illusion of depth (cross on right side, Ascension left, Flight into Egypt top, Crown of Thorns bottom, thumbnail Last Supper, Stable at Bethlehem, view of Jerusalem in corner niches)—Seamus Moore belts out: ‘The old red flannel drawers that Maggie wore. They were tattered, they were torn.’

 

Paddy was a pye-dog wandering the road past the priory. A woman with two stub teeth, one on each side, wearing a raincoat she bought in Killarney for the first time, holds him on a leash.

‘It’s a holy place. But it’s gorgeous,’ she says about the priory. It’s like walking through a meadow of water forget-me-nots in the land given in frankalmoign—no obligation except praying—to the monks. It’s like walking through the colour of someone’s eyes you once knew. You keep expecting someone to say Hello but no one says Hello, and you think no one is going to say Hello, until a boy with octopus roach, in a T-shirt with The Jetsons in an aerocar, who couldn’t be more than thirteen, near the fourteenth-century bridge, says, ‘I’m twenty-seven. Say a poem.’

Baldy Cock Bracken bombed Bucko Bracken the other night. Drugs. Bucko makes his own false teeth. Baldy Cock swapped his trotting horse for two Jersey cows. There are millions of horses in South Hill. Fifteen boys got fifteen horses in O’Malley Park, put on balaclavas and smashed security cameras. Roane got a Clay tattoo on the small of her back. That was her husband’s name. But he said it was another Clay. The one they met at a swingers’ night at a sauna called Eye Candy. She went to a wedding and stayed all night. He cut the tattoo from the small of her back. He said he should have cut her eyes out and left them beside her.

I have an audience now of South Hill boys like weasel kits, one in a T-shirt with shark’s face and wide open mouth, another in a T-shirt with nine posing ferrets, two of them French kissing, another in white T-shirt with Daffy Duck against a sepia lake with lots of mallards on it, another in T-shirt with headless gorilla, another in black T-shirt with spider’s web on it, another in black T-shirt with fire brigade on it, another in white T-shirt with two grey pitbull dogs with flews, pink tongues showing and underneath Bow Wow Wow.

There’s also a man in clove and cinnamon pinstripe suit, fly three quarters the way down, with his sister’s rose quartz wedding ring and a nineteenth- century watch from Amsterdam.

‘He could be gay. He could be a child molester. We’ll see him on BBC Three,’ cautions a man with a head like a donkey’s head with bald pate, donkey’s grin among a group of youths with hair like saffron as a condiment sprinkled from the heavens, all in grey track suits which made them look as if they are wearing cement.

I recite W.B. Yeats’s ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ and have to recite the part which demands a raised rhetorical voice for them on demand five times, each time earning a cheer as for a triumphant soccer conclusion and when I’m finished there’s a mood swing—a revenge for the poem, a punishment for the light of evening at Lissadell, withdrawn pardon for the one condemned to death, execution on hindsight.

Three of the boys produce plastic pistols brought back from Lanzarote and start shooting at me with concentrated plastic pellets.

I hide behind a Range Rover with a trailer attached but a boy in a purple T-shirt with green dinosaur’s death’s head, sunglasses on the dinosaur’s brow, eyes a historical blue—blue that used blot into the copybook once and he passes it on to my copybook (lessons about the sacrifice of life in 1916 and the kneeling in the dust expected for this at a school where women queued outside the classroom on Fridays with Vincent de Paul vouchers)—shoots a pellet from behind the trailer which hits me under the eye.

I take refuge among the amusements in a burdock field of derelict sheds— the dodgems spin around to Ed Sheeran singing Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love‘; there are Victorian galloping horses, fuchsine in their cheeks, a train with carriages marked York, Normanton, Sheffield, and a Jungle Adventure aerocastle with crimson bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee) and green tiger on it— but the youths in trackie suits like cement are on the premises.

‘What is this poetry about? Poetry isn’t wanted here.’ I feel like the duck in Hook the Duck (anyone can be a winner). I try to make a getaway from the town, heading in the direction of the priory, where you could still see the string-course built to prevent assault by weasels and martens, when a youth with urban fox hair, locks, rodeo-denim blue eyes, in T-shirt with a tomcat’s face and the words Part Animal, stops me.

‘Say that poem for me.’ I have to recite ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ to an audience of grey guinea fowl with white dots, khaki ducks, chiltern ducks, Welsh harlequin ducks, red mottled leghorn chickens, white leghorn chickens in cages beside us, while One Direction sing ‘Story of My Life‘, and a youth with hair the colour of a tribe of apricots spiels his product—house cleaners.

 

I’d met him before on a Dublin street.

‘Are you looking for a hostel?’ he asked me. Shanno Sugruf was his name, he said. ‘I’ll never set foot in Cork again. Never or never is a long time. I’m not going back to Cork. I’m not going back there. I’m not going back to Cork.’

A borstal mark tear under right eye means bereavement. A borstal mark tear under left eye means you’ve murdered someone. He had a borstal mark tear under right eye. To grow up with brothers writhing and wringing around one another like ferrets in a deep basket.

One of those brothers was knifed to death. His sister who always made the pilgrimage to St Fanachan’s Well in Mitchelstown on his feast day, November 25th, in a Zhivago hat and fake mink coat, killed herself the same day.

Turn left at Tesco at the top of the town. Brigown Cemetery is on your right. You turn left at the crossroad to Mulberry. A raised footpath lined by old beech trees. Then you drink water from the well.

St Fanachan had a battle staff, the Cenn Cathach (Head Battler) which he carries in a statue of himself outside Mitchelstown Garda Station (he is sitting or crouching) in which he has the resigned look of one of the Mitchelstown guards. St Fanachan asked seven tinsmiths to make seven sickles on which he mortified his body for seven years.

Bushes are cut along edges of fields for drainage in these parts and the felled bushes piled in the middle of the fields before being set on fire.

Shanno was not allowed out of Cork Jail for his brother’s and sister’s funeral but there were fires in the fields in his mind.

‘Cork Jail is a shit hole. Pisspots wait until morning. To get water you fill your bottle and come back to the kettle in the cell.

‘You get to know a few fellows. You don’t say you’re this. You’re that. You share the munchies. Jelly popping candy shells and Cadbury Creme Eggs and Cadbury Bubblys and Cadbury Golden Biscuit Crunch.’

He showed me a white Portlaoise photo-identity card. ‘My family killed people and when I was put in Portlaoise a man from Togher, Gummy Gheeze—the only person there with no teeth—took me under his wing and protected me. Otherwise they’d have stuck a shaft in me because of my family.

When I was fourteen another Traveller boy of fourteen—The Pedlar they called him because him and his brothers would take copper and wire from newly built houses—stuck a bowie knife in my hip, ran it over, dented the hip bone. If I hadn’t turned I’d be a dead man. He was aiming at my stomach. That happened on We the People Street.’

Shanno looked like a baby kangaroo with a hip-hop hair style then. He carried half a golf stick as a weapon and later a stanley knife.

Since that happened We the People Street has changed. The youth club paint the galvanized walls for Easter and Christmas.

There are pine trees now, a log hut with tied back green curtains which have salmon trim, wine door with letter box.

There’s a discarded black boot high-heel and the pavement is strewn with cupcakes in baking cases.

Nearby Barnardo’s Better Futures. They are knocking houses down. There are metal fences and there is rubble. A youth with outraged auburn hair, facial bruises that indicate some important nutrition is missing, is doing circles with a sulky in St Vincent’s soccer field where a pizza delivery boy was recently dragged in and mangled. Youth have hanged themselves on goalposts in Knocknaheeny. Maybe they’ve hanged themselves on this one. But it’s not as bad as Tralee, County Kerry.

In a house the colour of an armadillo to the Ascension Church side of St Vincent’s soccer field—sixty years old, cross on top of it warding off the threat of industrial waste land owned by Nama above it—with Kashmir white geraniums outside it and a shrine with the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, both with hearts like blood octopuses, spider leg tentacles around the hearts, she with a wreathe of plastic dianthus, there’s a photograph of seven Tralee youths, one kin—his hair and features have the gleamings of the liquid scarlet berry of the strawberry tree—against a goalpost in Oatfield. Five attempted suicide on the goalpost. Four succeeded, including their kin.

A bus with Lionel Richie’s face blown up outside it and an Ava’s ice-cream van goes by and I continue up the hill.

 

They had reunions at Gerry Whelan’s pub in New Square in Mitchelstown, which was once a barracks, the boys who’d been in Cork Jail together. Shared cigarettes outside the pub, trackie bottoms pulled up like toreador trousers, pompons as big as dumb-bells on woollen caps.

(Shanno lifted a weight bar with car wheels on the end of it in Knocknaheeny. ‘I’m like Scarface. All I have is my balls.’ When Shanno’s pubes were just coming, brick red like the knot’s summer breast when he comes in August, those balls were objects to be handled by brothers who boxed in a boxing club in winter, wearing plum tomato coloured boxing gloves, horse iodine all over the place because of all the blood, and a turf fire lighting and they all boxing around the fire. The extra-lean amber August fox, snowy face, ravishing black outlines—pared down truth—who comes to steal the silver birch Japanese cocks and what they called silver fanny hens in the back garden, you learn something from this.)

And outside Gerry Whelan’s pub Branchy, one of the boys who’d been in Cork Jail, would crouch like St Fanachan outside the Garda station, ears of his white afghan hat dangling, to receive the kisses of Cocoa, a mongrel terrier, brown as the body’s recesses.

Lidl in Mitchelstown is the same as Lidl everywhere else but Cork Jail is different from other jails.

The circus animals are held in quarantine in England so Mary Chipperfield brought her circus to Spain. Her father came to visit her in a chopper.

Being in Cork Jail was like being a circus animal in quarantine in England.

 

Twenty-three-hour lockdown padded cell in Mountjoy, on suicide watch, wearing nothing but black briefs with yellow lower hem and a pouch with ferret’s face with two white eyes, before being sent to the committal prison of Portlaoise. That was after Cork Jail. And what did you think of? Branchy Kennevey who’d been in Cork Jail with him was from Fermoy, his family married into the Travellers at Castletownroche, and he’d told him how in Beechfield Cemetery during the Famine starving dogs—a dog for Shanno would always be his father’s dog Mr Wrinkles, Australian shepherd and pit terrier, colour of night and a moon and a hamster, his father would take walking by the wood dock by the Lee—would dig up paupers’ graves, the gravediggers not digging deep enough, coffins buried a few inches from the surface; the snuff porn—a man with bloodhound’s face sprinkled with pepper, Messiah length hair, in Knocknaheeny videos his ten- and nine-year- old sons having sex and disseminated it and that was called snuff porn—that used happen in the lanes of the military part of town, Little England; about the black boy Jimmy Durham from Sudan, his mother killed on a boat in which she was taking him to Egypt when attacked by Durham Light Infantry, the Infantry taking him, christening him, eventually bringing him as a regimental bandsman to Fermoy where he died not much more than a boy, of pneumonia, his Fermoy grave marked by a white cross.

And about Pob Horken, a Traveller boy from Fermoy, still in Cork Jail, stud in his left ear, mass wafer-white rosary around his neck, sides of his head like a shorn rabbit, altogether with the look of a Vincent’s Workshops toy punished by many hands, listening to these stories in a tank top—Montano as Scarface on it with butt of cigar in mouth and the words Drugs Saved My Life—with ferret eyes.

 

Up from Cork with a mobile phone charger and twenty-five euros. Most of it spent on the first night’s hostel.

Near Spar on Amiens Street. ‘If I have to beg on the streets I will. I did in London.’ And he displayed a souvenir other than Portlaoise Jail identity card—stub of an Aer Lingus Heathrow ticket.

‘There was a pile of horses on the commonage by Apple computers. The horses turned up the soil. They took everything. The Turleys don’t even have a goat left.’

This hegira from Cork to Dublin would become hostels in Georgian houses like tomatoes Romanian women scavenged at the end of the day on Moore Street or Camden Street, no horses in his dreams in these hostels, only heartbroken zebras grazing.

‘Stop shooting me,’ he would say to the city where he would queue in Skipper’s Lane by St Peter and Paul Church for the food parcels the Capuchins give out and where he would sit in a café with fire brigade red seating, tiled fire brigade red enclosure to fish and chip counter with a woman whose hair was as Canadian snow, around her neck a large roundel medal of Our Lady of Pompeii with Saint Catherine of Alexandria (from whose head milk flowed when she was beheaded, who appeared to Joan of Arc with a crown on her head) before he accompanied her, her hair surf-suds against the Liffey, she trailing her carry on, carrying some of her belongings in plastic bags, to a night refuge where in late summer she eats blackberries—she’s picked in the city suburbs—in a yogurt tub for her supper.

Walking through Truth Land.

 

Looking for accommodation in this city was like cruising through Golgotha and it was on one of those days of looking—I’d seen a picture of Padre Pio stabbed on a hallstand and met a youth in Timberland boots (Shanno was wearing tan Caterpillar boots from Penneys) fleeing unsettled Moscow by that hallstand on a similar search—days of epileptic daffodils.

Becoming homeless suddenly is like having a bomb dropped on your life. ‘Not fit for rats to live in,’ the Moscow youth said about some mecca for silverfish he’d seen that day.

Looking for a room in this city was like a woman having an abortion. ‘Where will I get a one bedroom flat in this murk?’ said a woman in Argyle socks, white plimsolls, diamante hairband, bortsch pink jacket, rose mittens with sky blue lines in them sticking out of her jeans pocket, young but with a despairing orangutan’s face, as she entwined herself deeper in the youth with highlightings in his jeans, with whom she was sharing a roll-up.

‘I’ve a lot of worries. I’m going to walk into the Liffey. I’ll drown,’ a man whose legs wobbled like a grasshopper’s so he looked like a grasshopper with copper hair, had avowed as he looked at a black guillemot on the Liffey, who had just turned black again after being white for winter, whom he was thinking of joining. Did he know that a dune-coloured rabbit, who likes flat parsley, of a man who’d been homeless for twenty-two years, from out there in Ballyfermot where the Gala Cinema is now Bingo, was flung in the Liffey near this spot and redeemed by his owner? ‘Happy as Larry now,’ says his owner in a deerstalker hat as the rabbit looks out inquisitively from the zip top of a carry on as the man’s pomeranian follows them.

Shanno had seen a black rabbit on his way from Cork to Dublin. ‘We’re a family of two and we’re homeless,’ a woman with Toby Jug countenance told me, paraffin purple ribbon at back of her hair in crab smock, striped trackie bottoms, the only feminine thing a delicate leopard spot scarf tied around her neck. Her teenage son beside her demonstrated his pink flushed leg—a shop girl’s leg—in blue and suffering plimsolls by pulling up his trackie bottoms. Baby fringe. Adonis luxuriant mouth, facial features.

When they did have a home he was taught boxing at Frank Kerr Memorial Hall Boxing Club in Drimnagh—where opposite Luigi’s Fish and Chip Place and Pizzeria two Polish youth were asked to buy drink from an off-licence for underage drinkers, refused, screwdriver driven in one of their heads, the other jumped off a crane from grief—by Michael Carruth, Barcelona Olympic boxing champion, masseur to the Westmeath Football team, from a Protestant North of Ireland family who became Dublin Catholics, great granduncle executed on Republican side in the Civil War.

‘My nose has been broken so many times I don’t notice,’ said Shanno showing me a photograph of Conor ‘Notorious’ McGregor, mixed martial arts artist—boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, capoeira—wearing only leather briefs, with the Tricolour draped on his shoulders.

He’d wait in Dublin until he saw Conor McGregor oppose Cole Miller in the UFC fight in mid July.

In Knocknaheeny Shanno would box wearing nothing but faux lion skin briefs and then have a Breast in a Bun meal from Burger Hut.

To beg I am not ashamed. He did it before when he lived with his father, Savage, eyes the colour of gravestones, in Milford Estate, near Surrey Docks. There was a black dealer there called Elephant. ‘What do you expect me to do?’ Savage had asked Social Welfare, ‘Swim back to Knocknaheeny? Swim back to The Glen? Swim back to St Lukes? Swim back to Blackpool Shopping Centre?’ Savage died of a heroin overdose. ‘If God wants you, he will call you.’ Elephant gave up dealing and started a house church in Milford Estate at the same time. ‘I was convicted in my soul.’

Del Del his mother, dirt on the street, Shanno said, sex for the crack. A woman like a Samurai wrestler walked past us, cigarette like rockets in each ear.

Del Del goes begging with a foxy long-haired chihuahua Little Ted, as she leads a blind man, Eyeball Furney, who wears a sombrero.

You’d see them near Heckscher (suppliers to the piano trade since 1883) in Kentish Town or New Camden Chapel Methodists Church with its two pillars or the yellow and green brick Hope & Anchor pub on Crowndale Road or situating themselves under the George’s flag somewhere, she a woman with high forehead, cleft bald spot at the back of head, algal—hanging grooves—in face, like stalactites, often in fudge-pink flared trousers.

She called you Baby until you were six or seven in Knocknaheeny, dressing you in a cinnamon suit like a prince.

 

Taking the 202 bus to Knocknaheeny is like being in the Armageddon of a courthouse, faces colours of Dracula make-up, blue, purple, red. A gallery of prison tattoos. Perhaps it’s like being in Portlaoise Jail.

 

He wasn’t afraid of death Shanno told me. He was afraid of being a vegetable in a wheelchair. Showed me the meat cleaver scar on his forehead.

Four gangs after one gang. They come up from Togher. ‘They’re jealous.’

He and his brothers had a Wembly .22-calibre revolver. 9mm automatic handgun, a Beretta.25, a .38 revolver, a .12 gauge shotgun, a Smith and Weston Full rifle, a 2.2 rifle, a sawnoff biretta rifle.

There’d been shots through the window. He was afraid to go into the back garden where the silver birch Japanese cocks were.

In his mind it was all like when Skigger, a cousin of theirs, roach like a Khepresh, a Pharoah’s war crown, was chased by a squad car out the South Ring by-pass tunnel, went up an embankment, was killed.

 

The story of my life on a Dublin street where a girl in fuchsine jump suit passed—in this city of herring gulls who approach those sleeping out as if they are smoked haddock on sale, of kestrels in belfrys, of guillemots on suicide water (eight and a half thousand people had disappeared in the country in the past year a man with facial growth the colour of Lucozade, in Smartie red jacket on a bus coming into the city had told me, leaning his head back on the seat like an apostle, many left the country, many committed suicide)—like a flamingo on crutches.

Lego, Shanno’s oldest brother had died in his sleep aged forty-nine. ‘Nine yards in and out,’ he’d said about the farm-school he’d been sent to in Cork after being caught shoplifting. Thirteen. Shared a room with a sixteen year old. But then you’re spoken for, matched at a very early age with a Traveller girl, married in St Mary’s Cathedral, The North Chapel.

‘Go in there and say a few prayers for Lego.’ Young, Lego had an Adonis roach with frontal spare rat-tails. Ash Wednesday ash moustache, cigarette periodically put in his mouth not so much to smoke as a habit of show, as saying he welcomed attention.

When he died he was a man with a harelip who looked as if part of his face was chewed away by the dog which leaped off Dracula’s ship.

Lego’s coffin was borne in a black, gilded edge funeral hearse coach drawn by two cream draught horses, the kind the guards use, but with white plumes, the driver all in black, but not in a top hat, but black homburg hat, the coach covered with teddybears, horseshoe wreathes, bird-cages trussed with flowers, past Key Cabs and Mahony’s (minerals, tobacco, newsagents, top- ups), past St Vincent’s soccer field where a sulky doing circles was followed by a black greyhound and an indeterminate hound, girls behind in hoop earrings and diamante belts like the gold and silver of Montezuma which Spain seized from Mexico, to St Mary on the Hill Church.

Outside it a woman in Capuchin friar type raingear, was heard to say: ‘They eat too much. They drink too much. They smoke too much. They have sex too much and they don’t take exercise.’

At the top of the hill, past the flanks of fawn, mauve, grey, terracotta, emerald, bottle green houses, past the industrial waste land owned by Nama, past the reservoir with one skewbald horse, soiled like a turnip just picked from the ground, left after the confiscations, is a shrine with a statue of the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart, two kneeling angels, both with their heads chopped off, an empty Green Giant corn on the cob tin thrown on it, the kind of memorial shrine Lego will have, a halting site nearby, a field with empty gas canisters and lopsided horse boxes between the halting site and the shrine, where a mallard and his wife live, far from water.

Looking down at Cork from here is like looking down at it from space or from Heaven.

Down there in Cork there are some who believe that there are people who live in Knocknaheeny who dognap small domestic dogs—schnauzers, shih tzus, crested Chinese, Lhasa Apsos, Tibetan terriers, Japanese chin dogs, Boston terriers, Mexican hairless dogs, West Highland terriers, French bulldogs—and throw them to wild Rottweilers in Knocknaheeny for bets and then set the Rottweilers on one another.

One woman who dresses in dignified black from head to foot, black cloche hat, except she wears Clube de Ragatas de Flamengo scarlet and black stripe soccer stockings, claims Gisela her Daschund puppy perished in this way.

 

‘I’m a Traveller,’ Shanno tells everyone he meets to extricate himself, to save his history and his family history—his family used go to Spilsby in Lincolnshire once from Cork for potato picking, the fasten penny contract for autumn and winter work, Hogmanay more celebrated than Christmas because the bosses were Scottish, Scotland the coldest country in the world it was said and the Cork Traveller women marrying into the Scottish Travellers who were always drinkers and who had their own ways and the Cork women having to adapt to them but now they say there’s a new generation—from the colour pink which is the colour of poverty.

A rose-pink blanket with white rabbit heads over a mulatto baby, his white mother holding pink purse with galaxy scintillation, her hair pink-sienna.

Dirty purple, plum, claret anoraks. Over another baby a power-red blanket with aquamarine owl heads on it. Amid the reds there’s a child’s forget-me-not blue eyes in homeless seagull- featured face.

Another small boy with light ginger hair, front tooth missing, dabs of ointment snow over his face, in lemon and orange plimsolls, says, ‘I’m ringing my nanny.’

Walking through Truth Land and who did you meet? A man who stands on Nicholas Street beside Christ Church Square all day, opposite St Audoen’s Catholic Church from which Poles steal candles and boil kettles on them, black woollen hat pulled down on his face which greatly resembles that of early Abbey actor Barry Fitzgerald, extra large carry- on beside him, bags, wears a black rain cape which makes him look like a Connaught nun, but when summer comes closer—and the blue geraniums and black mullein planted by a gardener who died suddenly after planting them intermingle in St Audoen’s medieval church where Margaret Ball, thrown into a dungeon by her own son for not taking the Oath, is buried—and the date of the Conor McGregor and Cole Miller fight (you did Thai boxing and main boxing yourself) draws nearer, wears true white plimsolls and you can see his tie, white tie, interlocking signal red and black bar patterns.

He takes notes. ‘I’m watching the traffic until five.’ ‘Why don’t you sit down?’ ‘Bring me an armchair.’

 

King Shanno is running wild.

With his hair colour Shanno through Dublin like a cardinal bird let loose in the streets.

Bearberries grow where the Sugruf Traveller king’s horses, banshee-white and lavish-haired, graze, and fleabane outside the cemetery where he is buried. On the Sugruf king’s grave, with its blooded marble cross, is a tall Blessed Virgin in white and blue, her teenage son to left side, in azure garments, pointing to his heart, peony-size rose in left hand, his hair curly Titian red of the Sugrufs.

Criminal, convict, prisoner, beggar: but the part of you they didn’t get hold of has royal blood, is a king; in such a cosmogony you had ancestors who were kings before Christ healed the ten men who were lepers.

Such cosmogonies help you to walk through Truth Land. They sit beside you when you are a pariah dining at Morelli’s, established 1959, or Iskander’s kebab house—shawarma specialist (marinated slices of lamb, chicken built up)—or Aussie Outback BBQs.

‘Brother.’ The sores on a junkie’s face outside Good World Restaurant are as big as lollipops; Tinker’s, Traveller’s facial features once, auburn colouring still in the hair, the features having become amorphous—they are not adrift from tribe, they have excommunicated themselves from Tribe.

‘O the streets of Dublin city can be friendly and so bright
But sometimes seem so lonely for strangers in the night.’

Big Tom blasts from a white Traveller van with bars on top, which looks like an argument, a fight, a stoush, and you wonder are these Royal Kin?

To follow the seal up the Lee to the Swimming Hell Hole as he looks for salmon. You can’t eat raw fish. You need other sustenance—Morelli’s, established 1959, Iskander’s kebab house, Aussie Outback BBQs. To follow the seal down river, as he snortles like a king, disturbing herons who complain like lags, his belly full.

But the river is not his Kingdom. His realms are when he reaches the salt tide, past the salmon pass and the half barrier to one side of the middle bank. This place is not your Kingdom, will never be your Kingdom.

 

When my father died first to greet me outside the church was Bridie Lawrence, a Traveller woman—thin as an eel, sharp featured as an axe, hair in two separate strands, sockets in her face, in someone’s cast off chin up coat—with her fracture of sons who had hair the colour of New England in autumn.

I went almost immediately afterwards to Lissadell Beach below Lissadell House with a friend, a guard from County Kerry. Forget the pain and remember the flowers he liked to say.

 

It was the tall goldenrod, the autumn hawkbit, the water-forget-me-nots, the Japanese knotweed, the Russian vine, the toadflax that day. Toadflax used be used for dropsy. The hemp agrimony had turned to banks of fluff like mattresses slashed to pieces.

When I was a child my father had taken me to a summer magic lantern performance of Twelfth Night in the Greek Temple on the lake in Blackrock Park where the rudbeckias, the coneflowers thrive until late November.

‘Not a flower, not a flower, sweet
On my black coffin let there be strewn.’

The barnacle geese had already arrived in Goose Field and sounded like a pack of dogs.

My mother had given me my father’s gold stretchy band watch. ‘Here, wear this jewel for me…’ I’d left it on the beach with my clothes when I went swimming and a mist and late October darkness came and I couldn’t find the watch with my clothes and I searched for an hour or two, in the dark, on my knees, sifting and flaying the sand, until I found it and I held it in my hand and I held his stories of rebellion and civil war, and to forget the pain the water-forget-me-not river.