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Houses have always been higgeldy-piggedly

on the Lower Drumcondra Road, shouldering

one another like beefy rugby forwards,

two windows on top and two more below.

There’d be a bit of a garden in the front, not much,

where casual youth threw their empty beer cans,

crisp packets and occasional sneering condoms,

and that’s where my Grandfa’ and Grandma lived.


He’d been in the National Volunteers in 1913,

believed in Redmond, believed in the English Liberals,

and duly went off to fight for Poor Little Belgium.

Well, that was a mistake. He missed Loos, thank God,

but was just in time for the Somme where he got

shot to bits on the first day, July the First, gasped

in pain in No Man’s Land for three days with no water


and was picked up by a night patrol on the Fourth

and was shipped off to a CCS and then to the UK.

And he must have met a Cockney nurse in Bournemouth

for he would always chuckle over “dear little Edith”,

at which Grandma’s lips would purse in grim disapproval.

They sent him back, crocked but patched, for Third Ypres,

which we know today as Passchendaele. Concerning that

his eyes would film over and he would never speak.


There was a family down the road at 43 or 45, they were

the O’Fogarty’s or O’Brennans, I can’t remember which,

and they had a young son who was in Grandfa’s regiment,

a very cheerful and bright young lad, an apprenticed clerk,

and they made him up to be an officer since losses were great,

and me Granfa’ was his sergeant. This much I know.

Something terrible happened, apparently, for the O’Fogarty’s,

or maybe it was O’Brennans, moved away, and nobody speaks.


I was a callow teenager, you know the style, when I asked outright,

“Grandfa’, what’s the story here?” And he looked at me for a long time,

with infinitely sad but still bright eyes, for his mind was still his own,

and he said, “Young fellow, some stories should never be told.”

And that was all he would say. In the late 1970s he passed away.

Years later I came back to this story, for I just couldn’t let it rest,

and I wish to God I had now. In the end I discovered the truth:

the man had been shot for cowardice: Granfa’ was in the firing squad.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Granfa’ was in the firing squad.


Jolting. Never saw it coming.

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I began to draw parallels with "The Kerry Recruit" but as I read on was pleased to be dramatically wrong. Another skilfully told and fascinating tale. B.

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