Missing the Sons of Ulster

Nov 7th, 2008 | By | Category: Ireland

It is ten years since I was last there.

The commemoration had an intensity, an indefinable quality, that lingers in the memory.  The words were to be repeated and repeated.

Eleven o’clock at the War Memorial.

Half past eleven at church.

Three o’clock in the village, with those who had stood in the parade at eleven.

There was something almost hypnotic in the ceremony; the bugle tones cutting through the November chill as if the sounding of reveille would somehow change the script.

It wasn’t about the past; it was about the present.

The ranks of dark-coated men watched as a boy lay a wreath in memory of his father, shot dead on duty.

There were moments when I think I almost understood, but my English conscience would then blur my thoughts.  The English politicians were not bad people; they just saw the world differently.  Had they been schooled in Calvinism, had they some concept of Election, had they understood those Old Testament stories, they might not have made so many mistakes.  They would come with their smug assumptions; with their belief that their view was the ‘normal’ one; that if everyone would be decent chaps and all sit down together, then everything would be tikkity-boo.  They came having no religion and without comprehension of those who had.  They should not have gone back to their shires and their suburbs at the weekend; if they wished to understand, they should have come to this backwater on a cold November’s day.

Frank McGuinness understood.  His drama set on 1st July 1916 captured the intensity, perhaps of 1916, perhaps of more recent times.

(They each begin to put on their Orange sashes. CRAIG watches PYPER, then takes his sash off, goes to MOORE, hands. it to him. MOORE hesitates, then exchanges his sash for CRAIG’s. At this there is an exchange of sashes, CRAWFORD’s for ANDERSON’S, MILLEN’S for MCILWAINE’S. ROULSTON goes to PYPER, who takes ROULSTON’S and gives him his own.)

PYPER: It’s come to this, Roulston?

ROULSTON: What’s decreed passes, Pyper.

PYPER: There’s no fight back?

ROULSTON: There’s just the fight.

PYPER: The good fight?

ROULSTON: The everlasting fight.

PYPER: Inside us?

ROULSTON: And outside us.

PYPER: Preach.

ROULSTON: No. You preach. (Silence. They wait.)

You believe. Believe. (Silence.)

PYPER: God in heaven, if you hear the words of man, I speak to you this day. I do it now to ask we be spared. I do it to ask for strength. Strength for these men around me, strength for myself. If you are a just and merciful God, show your mercy this day. Save us. Save our country. Destroy our enemies at home and on this field of battle. Let this day at the Somme be as glorious in the memory of Ulster as that day at the Boyne, when you scattered our enemies. Lead us back from this exile. To Derry, to the Foyle. To Belfast and the Lagan. To Armagh. To Tyrone. To the Bann and its banks. To Erne and its islands. Protect them. Protect us. Protect me. Let us fight bravely. Let us win gloriously. Lord, look down on us. Spare us. I love – . Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme. I love their lives. I love my own life. I love my home. I love my Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. Ulster. (As the chant of’ Ulster’ commences rifles and bayonets are raised. The chant turns into a battle cry, reaching frenzy).

It’s ten years since I saw those November faces.

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