Fishers of Men

You'll grow no spuds
Fishing in stony Magheramurphy.
The glaciers saw to that,
streaming their roundy droppings
in the brown earth, easing
from Binnian and the Cock and Hen;
so the people of the Kingdom
turned east in sturdy boats
and went to hunt the herring.

Today they're doing it still,
forcing from subsidised harbours,
beating boats through coiled waves,
UVF Mural landing slippery silver at Whitehaven,
foiling the auctioneers' ring,
losing arms to rolling hawsers,
leaving their sons in the sea.

When word pulsed from smoking Belfast,
pounding like lambeg drums,
heartbeat of Carson's covenant,
they brought home a heavier harvest,
oiled in sacking, lugged from decks
and loaded clanking in trucks,
Larne-like in the watchless dark.

And they sit in bars below the slieves,
proudly swap tales of stalked shoals,
pausing to watch in deadpan bulletins
catch-crops of prods and taigs, trawled
in the brass-jacketed nets
woven by their fearful labour.


Notes on the poem:

Maghermurphy (line 2) - a townland around Kilkeel, a fishing village in Co. Down
Binnian/Cock and Hen (line 6) - two peaks in the Mourne Mountains
Kingdom (line 7) - The kingdom of Mourne, which prides irself on being a 'separate' place
Whitehaven (line 13) - a fishing port in Cumbria, England
Carson (line 19) - Edward Carson, Unionist leader who opposed Home Rule for Ireland; in an earlier incarnation, he prosecuted Oscar Wilde
slieves (line 24) - anglicised version of Irish word for 'mountains', e.g. Slieve Binnian'
prods/taigs (line 27) - pejorative terms for Protestants/Catholics

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