IMAGINATION AND VISIONARY THINKING

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“What’s the news, what’s the news, O me bold Shelmalier
With your long barrel guns from the sea?
Say, what wind from the south brings a messenger here
With this hymn of the dawn for the free?
Goodly news, goodly news do I bring youth of Forth
Goodly news shall I hear Bargy man.
For the boys march at morn from the south to the north
Led by Kelly, the boy from Killane.”
My father used to sing those words in our kitchen when he’d supped a pint or two on a Friday night, at the end of a week’s hard graft.He’d sing “I’ll Take you Home Again Kathleen” too , to my mother, “Mary, Catherine”and she’d flick a tea -towel at his sentimental addle-my questions  head ,in response..As a boy, I’d ask him things like …”what’s a “Shemalier”, da?” I liked the sound of the word…it sounded dashing or swashbuckling , like cavalier or buccaneer; my father was a bright man ,of some knowledge , culture and natural intelligence , but I don’t think he had a clue what that word was supposed to mean .He certainly didn’t explain it to me and was more likely to counter  my question with a request to spell “Czechoslovakia”, to which I would rapidly respond like some well- trained macaw .I’ve since discovered that the word is from the Irish “Síol Maoluír”and it refers to an area in County Wexford, Ireland which comprised of two baronies, East Shelmaliere and West Shelmaliere.Apparently the farmers of east Shelmalier were accustomed to shoot wild fowl on the North “sloblands”, which were sodden, marshy lands.
I liked the sound of the word “Shelmalier”… it still had a pastel softness  to it which appealed  ;it had a romantic ring to it , but what brought it into the conversation? you might ask…..
That tune was played by a piper as Martin McGuinness’s coffin was carried into the chapel in Derry , yesterday ,on his final public appearance. .My grandfather, on my mother’s side was a piper too and he’d have played that same tune with the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Blackwatertown when I was a boy in the 1960s.He died, an old man with a shock of strong white brushed-back hair ,in 1975 , but I still remember him pouring treacle into the bagpipes to season the leather bellows. This worked in much the same way that in days gone by we would crack an egg into the car radiatior to stop it leaking.The black treacle would render the bagpipes airtight.Of such things are memories and personal histories made of.
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The aforementioned John Kelly ….”Kelly of Killanne” died on 22nd of June 1798. He lived in the town of Killanne in the parish of Rathnure and was a United Irish leader who fought in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.there isn’t much known about this man who was the inspiration for this stirring ballad ,but Kelly was obviously well- known in the locality to Irish rebel and Irish loyalist alike ,during the short duration of that Wexford rising. He was one of the leaders of the Irish rebel victory at the Battle of Three Rocks which led to the capture of Wexford town, but was later seriously wounded while leading a rebel column at the Battle of New Ross.He was under orders from the Wexford commander Bagenal Harvey to attack the British outposts around New Ross but on no account to attack the town itself.The rebels outnumbered the British forces so Harvey sent a messenger to give them an opportunity to surrender. Apparently the messenger was shot while carrying a white flag , which angered the Irish rebels who then began the attack without receiving the official order from Harvey.Kelly’s 800 men attacked and broke through Ross’s “Three Bullet Gate” and proceeded into the town itself. After initial success, they were eventually beaten back by British troops and Kelly was wounded in the leg. He was moved to Wexford to recuperate but after the fall of Wexford on 21st June, he was dragged from his bed, tried and sentenced to death. He was then hanged on 25th June 1798 along with seven other Irish rebel leaders on Wexford bridge, after which his body was decapitated, the trunk thrown into the River Slaney and the head kicked through the streets before being set on display on a spike.

 

 

That kind of capital punishment was standard fare in those times of execution, where it was a popular, grisly entertainment to hang, draw and quarter an adversary; that is to stretch his neck , draw him out on a rack by his arms and legs until they popped and then dismember the body and send the pieces to the four points of the compass. People went to great lengths to enjoy their revenges and to instill fear in their perceived enemies. You might say they were very imaginative about killing too..
The famous Irish ballad “Kelly the Boy From Killane” was written with some poetic gusto by Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919 to commemorate the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion, although it was not published in any known book until it appeared in “McCall’s Irish Fireside Songs in 1911”. Other than in song-sessions sung around the hearth, that was probably the first time it was seen in print in the 20th century . The memory had been kept alive by word of mouth. In 1956 the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem released their album “The rising Of The Moon”which the New York Times music critic Robert Shelton, who would later write glowingly of Bob Dylan,wrote that the quality of the album was “somewhat uneven,” but praised the “virile singing” of the group. He picked out “O Donnell Aboo,” “Rising of the Moon,” and “Kelly the Boy from Killane” as the best numbers on the album, which offered, in his words, “a capsule history of the Irish struggle for freedom.”

 

 

The eccentric English busker, Don Partridge ,recorded a solo acoustic version of the song in 1964, and would later regularly play the song during street busking sessions. He was known as one of the very first street musicians to appear on the streets of London since before World War Two broke out. He later wrote some very popular hit records and even appeared on “Top of the Pops ” with songs such as “Rosie”.He performed as a one-man -band , all the while playing several instruments at the same time. The Dubliners also revived the song, so it was very much a part of popular musical culture .
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The Irish really are a people prone to great sentimentaly. It is no real surprise…that many of them also helped create and love our idea of Country and Western music, itself full of sentimental stories of heartbreak , lost romances, little children and home and hearth.Outside of America , country-music is king in the hearts of many of the rural Irish. They love to dive deeply into ballads of loss and remorse.The Irish tradition of struggle has also provided its own ballads of loss ,death and high-dudgeon , which the Irish are masters at creating and singing.

 

 

The Irish are also a very emotionally sensitive people , which is probably another reason why they cleave to religion and the perceived supernature of things. They love the stories of miraculous happenings and ghostly tales of myth and legend. In their DNA they are storytellers in word and deed ; thousands of them flocked across the country to Ballinspittle, County Cork in July 1985 in the hope that they would see statues moving ,as if by a divine hand; they wanted so much for those hard stone creations to take on a miraculous life beyond their own notion of flesh and blood and do something else other than simple stand. The very idea of a statue becoming alive! Of course , the statues never moved, but the imagination certainly did.
The rational mind knows that such a thing is impossible but the Irish are not always a rational people.They have always been incredibly creative,though.
At the time of death we are at the closest point we can ever be to the very primitive side of human nature; the mysteries of our own brain’s inability to face the unimaginable non-life beyond…..like artist, Damien Hirst’s shark suspended in formaldahyde in his “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living “.
When Arlene Foster arrived to applause at Martin McGuinness’s funeral there was a wave of that same Irish sentimentality . They applauded her joining them in the rituals of death.That’s what the Irish do .They embrace the miraculous event and sup on the pleasure of the emotion. They see goodness and balm in the sharing of death’s inevitability….but that can be a transient and non-sustainable emotion beyond the clan of the chapel.

 

 

Not everyone allows sentiment to enter their minds. Some would see her attendance as a purely pragmatic political move, as though aploy on on some celestial chessboard. They will ask how much good this action might do her politically .They will say she had no real choice in the matter .If she did not attend , she would appear small and bitter; if she attended an Irish Republican funeral mass in a Roman Catholic church she would be tainted as Popish -loving by others on the far-reaches of fundamentalist protestantism. This was a choice for her of between a rock and a hard place, but there was much more to be gained by attendance whether or not the action was genuine or not ,than non-attendance. It could best be seen wholly as an act of the imagination.
Some like the Traditional Unionist Voice’s (TUV) Jim Allister or the Demovratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Gregory Campbell will always be mistrustful of any shows of sentimentality or imaginative thinking ; they fear allowing any softness to crack that hard carapace of hatred which appears to sustain their very politics and grass-roots following and appears to be their raison d’etre entirely. Their hatred of Martin McGuinness and the republican ideal might yet consume them, even as the man’s atoms rejoin the rest of the universe in death.He is already gone beyond them in terms of life and imaginative thinking and will probably be remembered long after their own passing and popular memory. Gregory Campbell and Jim Allister ‘s hatred has reconstructed itself into a form of exaggerated street-theatre wherein Mr Allister re-imagines himself as an actor relishing the sound of his own hatred and regurgitating and feeding it back to himself it in new forms of bitter vomit each time he appears on his chosen stage to re-emote his own pain. He, like Gregory Campbell is locked into that prison of his own making and inability to think bigger or beyond a very narrow frame of reference .
In both Jim Allister and Gregory Campbell there is no real sense of a visionary future….only an emotional desert. There is no sense of new ways of forward motion for a splintered society which might bind their wounds with new ideas. It seems that they have reached a dead-end which promises or implies nothing more than a death of idealism for them.A dead-end street. There is a distinct lack of imagination , political or otherwise , which appears to have calcified any ideas they may have had and has left their minds spinning like that computer hard-drive which refuses to re-boot and move forward.It is a dead , cold place in a game of supposed political possibilities.,
That is where the power of imagination might be of more importance than anything else in Irish society and might actually be our eventual saving grace.

 

 

“Kelly The Boy From Killane”

What’s the news, what’s the news, O me bold Shelmalier
With your long barrel guns from the sea?
Say, what wind from the south brings a messenger here
With this hymn of the dawn for the free?
Goodly news, goodly news do I bring youth of Forth
Goodly news shall I hear Bargy man.
For the boys march at morn from the south to the north
Led by Kelly, the boy from Killane.

Tell me who is the giant with the gold curling hair
He who rides at the head of your band.
Seven feet is his height with some inches to spare
And he looks like a king in command.
O me boys that’s the pride of the bold Shelmalier
‘Mongst our greatest of heroes a man
Fling your beavers aloft and give three ringing cheers
For John Kelly, the boy from Killane.

Enniscorthy is in flames and old Wexford is won
And tomorrow the barrow will cross
On the hill o’er the town we have planted a gun
That will batter the gateway to Ross.
All the Forth men and Bargy men will march o’er the heath
With brave Harvey to lead in the van
But the foremost of all in the grim gap of death
Will be Kelly, the boy from Killane.

But the gold sun of freedom grew darkened at Ross
And it set by the Slaney’s red wave…
And poor Wexford stripped naked hung high on a cross
With her heart pierced by traitors and knaves.
Glory-o, Glory-o to her brave men who died
For the cause of long down-trodden man.
Glory-o to Mount-Leinster’s own darling and pride
Dauntless Kelly, the boy from Killane.

(Patrick Joseph McCall 1861–1919).

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