PITY FOR THE WICKED
With a Preface by
Conor Cruise O’Brien
The Duras Press
The Peace Process time for poetic justice
by Dennis Kennedy
The Belfast Telegraph, 5 December 2005
One of the most devastating critiques of the savagery of the Troubles and of the hypocrisy of the ‘peace process’ has come in an unlikely form from an unexpected quarter.
‘Pity for the Wicked’ is a forty-page aisling poem written by a former Government Information Officer in Dublin. The aisling is a long narrative form developed by Gaelic poets in the late 17th century, in which the poet is visited by a female vision, personifying Ireland and bewailing the misfortunes of the land. The author is Brian Lynch, both of whose parents were Fianna Fail TDs in the 1930s, and who himself was a journalist on the Fianna Fail Irish Press before joining the Government Information Service in 1973. He was a member of the Irish delegation at Sunningdale.
Today he is a distinguished writer – of poetry, plays, fiction, film scripts and art history – and has been a member of Aosdana, the south’s equivalent of the Academie Francaise, since 1988. In Pity for the Wicked the vision challenges the poet to write what he really feels about the Troubles. He is told to –
the lukewarm certainties of doubt:
You’re sick with rage, so swallow hard,
Then cough it up and spit it out.
The poet replies that that’s what he wants to do, but cannot;
The chaos we’ve been living through
This quarter of a century –
The Northern thing that makes us
Turn the TV off or skip the page,
Or, if it doesn’t, makes us burn
With horrors at the facts and rage
Against the news -has struck me dumb.
To write, he says, of so much death would stifle any poet’s breath. The poem was written between 1993 and 1996, and was included in 1998, under the title ‘An Angry Heart; an Empty House’ in an anthology of entries in a Daily Telegraph poetry competition. This new 2005 edition comes with a preface by Conor Cruise O’Brien, and a lengthy introduction by the author which in itself is a powerful indictment of the Peace Process and of southern policy towards the Troubles. The Troubles were, he writes, a political and moral catastrophe for Ireland – ‘ů..in our efforts to conciliate the murderers, we were tainted by their shame’.
It is the excusing of murder and the embracing of the murderers, particularly in the rewriting of history which is central to the Peace Process, that lies at the heart of the poet’s guilt and rage. And it is the graphic depiction of appalling acts of savagery in language that is totally uncompromising – sometimes brutal, sometimes funny, often ironic – which mercilessly exposes that sanitizing of the past.
The poem concentrates on three atrocities – ‘three crimes to carry all the weight’ the poet explains. These are Bloody Sunday and the ensuing burning of the British Embassy in Dublin, the pitiless beating and shooting of Margaret Wright by Loyalists in a band hall off the Donegall Road, and the murder of Patsy Gillespie in Derry when the Provos used him as a human bomb. The accounts are harrowing, particularly so when the vision takes on the persona of Margaret Wright and recounts the awful event from the viewpoint of the victim.
There is humour too; Tim Pat Coogan appears as Tin Pot, a man who had a canny way with words:
Like Popeye scoffing spinach, tin
And all, he’d swallow with a gulp
Whatever was Republican
And vomit up its greenish pulp
Or fart it out in clouds of gas.
Gerry Adams features as Gerry-Very-Much-Alive, not to be confused with Jerry-Dead – Garda Jerry McCabe, killed by the Provos. In the humour, the vulgarity and the burning indignation there is more than a hint of Swift, Pope and Dryden.
For the poet, the reality of the Troubles is the barbarity, the sheer wickedness of the acts. This is the touchstone by which they must be judged, and the chief culprits are the Republicans, and associated with them the southern State and architects of the ‘peace process’ like Garret FitzGerald and John Hume, and all who saw ‘the underlying wrong’ and made allowances for the violence:
‘But would we have the IRA
Without the evils of Partition?
Our islands shared the same distress,
And yet the cause of this disorder,
According to the Irish Press,
Was not the bombers, but the Border.
The poet shares the guilt. He was in the crowd that cheered the burning of the Embassy;
That marched a huge and stupid crowd
Upon the British Embassy
Was one that I shared, alas.
As the northern poet Gerald Dawe has written, this is a powerful poetic testament. It is also a compelling commentary on political violence and on a peace which rewards the remorseless violent.
The poem was finished in 1996; one wonders what words the poet would have found to describe the tide of appeasement and betrayal since then.
Pity for the Wicked is published by the Duras Press, Dublin. Copies can be obtained by post (euro 15) from the author at Ounavarra, Seafield Rd, Killiney, Co Dublin.
Dennis Kennedy is a former Diplomatic Correspondent of The Irish Times and a founding member of the Cadogan Group