For Dublin can be heaven
With coffee at eleven
And a stroll in Stephen’s Green
There’s no need to hurry
There’s no need to worry
You’re a king and the lady’s a queen
Grafton Street’s a wonderland
There’s magic in the air
There’s diamonds in the lady’s eyes
And gold-dust in her hair
And if you don’t believe me
Come and meet me there
In Dublin on a sunny Summer morning.
Strange things drift through the mind lying far from home. The dark stillness of an African night and a cocktail of medication bring a longing for the secure and familiar. Strains of an old Noel Purcell song sung by our daughter in primary school days come to mind. A stroll in Stephen’s Green: what a thought. Just to sit on a bench in the pale warmth of an Irish summer amongst the trees and flowers and watch the world pass by.
Standing in Heathrow after an overnight flight from Nairobi, the thought grows that, a day later, a seat in the Green will be more than just an imagined rambling.
Of course, there was no pale warmth of an Irish summer. The day was grey and wet and the Green all but deserted. A downbeat group of teens sat on the floor of the bandstand, staring out at the dampness. A large party of schoolchildren, each with matching backpacks, filed out through the Fusiliers’ Arch, oblivious to the commemoration of boys not much older than themselves who had left the city to die fighting the Boers.
Constance Markievicz stares impassively across the grass. The big house Protestant, a major in the Irish Citizen Army, who had led her men in the heroic futility of the days of Easter 1916. At right angles to her, Tom Kettle looks sombre: the writer, nationalist politician, Irish Volunteer and Catholic, who had joined the British army and died in the heroic futility of the Western Front in September 1916. Markievicz and Kettle, the embodiment of the contradictions of Irish history.
Lines from Kettle’s most famous poem, ‘To my daughter, Betty: The Gift of God’ are inscribed at the foot of Kettle’s monument:
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.
The lines, written in the mud of the Western Front days before his death, seem too mystical an expression of the horror of that place, but such doubt is to deny Kettle the right to express what it was that he felt.
There is no magic in the air, just a persistent drizzle and a cool breeze. But it is Stephen’s Green; it is safe; it is home.