Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poetry: Kevin Higgins and the Carrickmines Tragedy

Irish Gypsy/Traveler family of the 1950's
When I was young and living in rural England I remember these people coming round in these innately covered wagons drawn by horses. There were different people. One guy I remember had a donkey and cart and he used to sharpen knives and fix your bicycle chain and stuff like that. We called them Tinkers, Gypsies, or travelers. Readers will recall them as "Pikeys" in the movie "Snatch" with Brad Pitt.

They were considered outcasts in many ways and thieves. They were not to be trusted and no one wanted to live near them. There was often controversy as they would set up camps and stay for long periods with their caravans resulting in forced evictions or removals from land.

I have been gone a long time but they are still in Britain and Ireland. These travelers are recognized in British law as an ethnic group but in Ireland they are classified as a social group.  "Some 10% of Traveller children die before their second birthday, compared to just 1% of the general population. In Ireland, 2.6% of all deaths in the total population were for people aged under 25, versus 32% for the Travellers. In addition, 80% of Travellers die before the age of 65. According to the National Traveller Suicide Awareness Project, Traveller men are over six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population." You can read more about them at Wikipedia

There was a tragic fire at a traveler community in Ireland on October 10th that took the lives of ten people. The incident has rocked Ireland and will no doubt raise again the issue of this minority. Read more about this particular incident at the Irish Journal.  Richard Mellor

The poem below is Irish poet Kevin Higgins’ response to this tragedy.

After the Barbecue

People like us,
always been here
and always will,
until we bequeath this land
to the bacteria.
We were fine with
the War of the Spanish Succession,
only thought it not quite long enough.
When the day gets here we’ll happily
bless our great-grand-children as they go guffawing
off to the next officially sanctioned
bloodbath of the nations. But have agreed,
by unanimous vote at tonight’s meeting,
we must build a barricade against this.

Those people’s demise –
Thomas and Sylvia, their children Jim, aged 5;
Christy, aged 2 and Mary, five-months-old.
Willie Lynch and his partner Tara,
their Kelsey aged 4, Jodie aged 9.
And Jimmy Lynch, 39 –
in the Carrickmines
barbecue is a tragedy

made all the worse by how
it contented itself
with half-measures.
We won’t have the gypsy leftovers put
in the field across from us,
to mar our hard earned view
of the surrounding countryside.

We are not the Ku Klux Klan,
in fact are profoundly jealous
of their much better outfits
and all the great movies
they, without fail, get to turn up in.
We but dream of riding horses
sharp as theirs, as we make our stand
in defence of what we see out the window
when we alight of a morning
on our genetically superior
polished, wooden floors.

These people’s Kentucky Fried
relatives are not our issue to solve.
We have scribbled our names
in their book of condolences.
but you, me, and The Evening Herald know
we are what most of the country thinks
when it draws its floral curtains,
shuts its eyelids and tells itself
truths it will never utter in polite company,
or in front of nuns who do great work
in the third world and other parts
of Africa. We realise
we’ll be vilified by people
the majority of whom wouldn’t have them either.

We just don’t want them here,
or, if possible, anywhere else.

After The Barbecue is © KEVIN HIGGINS


Kevin Higgins
is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway City. He has published four collections of poems: Kevin’s most recent collection of poetry, The Ghost In The Lobby, was launched at this year’s Cúirt Festival by Mick Wallace TD. His poems also features in the anthology Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010) and one of his poems is included in the anthology The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Ed Neil Astley, Bloodaxe May 2014).

Higgins’ poetry was recently the subject of a paper titled ‘The Case of Kevin Higgins: Or The Present State of Irish Poetic Satire’ given by David Wheatley at a symposium on satire at the University of Aberdeen; David Wheatley’s paper can be read in full hereMentioning The War, a collection of his essays and reviews, was published by Salmon in April, 2012. Kevin’s blog is and has been described by Dave Lordan as “one of the funniest around” who has also called Kevin “Ireland’s sharpest satirist.”

1 comment:

Sean said...

I was born in rural Ireland. The traveling people, were called "tinkers" they made things out of tin before plastic came and wiped out their market. They slept in old jute or canvas tents or caravans. When they would come to our house my mother would give them tea and bread and jam. She would say you can never let people go from your house with their mouth empty. She was an exception most people would not let the traveling people about their place. But my mother would never ask the traveling people in to eat. They had to sit outside on the window sill with their tea and bread. I wondered why this was so. I worked on a building site in later years. There was one traveling man on the site. I was fired for union activity. He was the only one to support me. I tried to recruit him to the revolution but he had seen too many broken promises. He was banned from a Dublin pub because he was a traveler. I went with him and together we rose a row and got the publican to back down and Tom to be able to have his pint. He was later killed in a road accident. If the traveling people were a different color from the rest of the population the way they are treated would be a world wide racist disgracel. Sean O'Torain.