Tuesday 23 January 2007

At Cluain Moccu Nois

Inspired by the syncretic process of creating the Celtic Church, the adaptation and adoption of Pagan philosophies into a largely benign and progressive body, until the Roman CHurch suceeded in imposing its power in the Late middle ages. As the Filíocht schools survived til the 17th century the following exchange may well have happened,. as the Celtic CHurch gave way to the Roman and the "common folk" seanachies unprotected by teh institutions of Brehon law or status as a filí were forced to yield their stories.

At Cluain Moccu Nois

On the first attempt by the Monastery of
Cluain Moccu Nois to 'record and correct the stories of the simple

He questioned me with eyes
burnng with certainty
and a mouth closed tight like a fist
with suspicion, with distaste,
he questions me.
if the word inquisitor
had been invented
he could have worn it like an old coat
settling into the dark corners of its meaning
with comfort.
but his religion is yet young
though he was born old.

I am the old man,
marking time til death.
He has taken to this new religion
It has no corners only clarity.
Think? there is a formula for thought.
all needs prescribed, proscribed
this man calls himself a scribe

Like portable dolmens, stone circles of words
he seeks to imprison the knowledge,
my gold, the stories of my race.
he waits with the kind of careful patience
that allows torturers to wait
befre applying a second heated blade
to already burned skin.
In each stoke of quill on vellum
to pin down with weighty thoughts
the gods
whose blood still flows in these veins
seeks to cleanse them
'if they must be told, let them be told properly
with all due reverence to almighty god'

I think he means it.

Fr my part I am illiterate

92 years and in all that time
I have never yet felt the want of words or knowledge
until they brought me here and told to me that word
I turn it over in my mouth
taste it
it is sour
like the bitter herbs my mother used for battle wounds
like the spring smoke used to clease the calves
what price knowledge for an illiterate?
I am the sacred liar
teller of tall tales
He assures me all wilts
in the glare of his god's truth.

I had thought to have earned my place.
In my youth
a warrior
in my old age
the filí of Eriu have sat at my knee
fuelled their visions
on the back of my words, my stories
my store of treasures
The druids
now turned culdee
wearing their new religion lightly
like to see
chieftain, farmer, warrior
around the fire
like little boys again
reminded of their place in this busy world.

He has no place in that world
removes himself with fastidious care
away from the noisome press of us
his god is deaf i think
he can only hear him in silence.
I shift and sigh buying time
at my age I thought to have done with war
but now like a distant echo
sound of bone on bodhrán
faintest tone of spear on shield
in some long-disused shadow of my soul
I feel the blood stir
rise against the cool smiles and impatient patience
of these neutered men.

I reach out,
half blind, half lame
reach out across decades
I feel my stories,
how they turn in on themselves
fold, unfold, reveal by hiding
mislead and teach a
dozen lessons
I grope through them,
their secrets laid out
waiting for the words to come
words to blind
words to shine

I think suddenly
of my own grandmother
of how she would tell her favourite story
not of men, nor gods
nor heroes
but of how when she was small
she had in this world one treasure
an string of beads, a bracelet
that she found
in the river
a gift from Suir for rescuing a swan
The fear of losing it, or it being stolen
was upon her
it fretted at her
until she knew no peace
she hid it nine times
and nine times changed its place
until at last she hit upon the one
how she laughed to know
her precious gift was safe
under the muck and shite
of the pig-sty, where no sane person
would ever think to look

I face him
his middle-aged youth
with milk-blind eyes
and smile
I begin to speak and he to write
he the erudite... I,
I have one more war to fight:
one weapon left
at stake a priceless store.

I'll hide it in the murky depths
in plain view in every twisted phrase
Let him pile on the swill
I'll match him word for word
I will,
My treaure will not tarnish
will not fade.
and someday come the people to their own
and seeking hands will grasp the buried loot
My sacred lie will outshine his tawdry

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


really love it