The Artane Band – New Poem in the Irish Times

‘So what did people know about what went on in Artane? What did people talk about?’

My dad tents his fingers at the kitchen table. It’s a Sunday morning and we’ve been talking about the recent discoveries at the site of the former Mother and Baby home at Tuam – 796 children buried in a cistern. For him, having grown up in Finglas in the 1950s and 60s, Artane was closer to home. I wanted to discover what was known – how people lived alongside places like these and normalised it.

‘Oh it was used as a threat,’ he said: “Behave yourself or I’ll send you to Artane.” If you mitched from school, or if you were bold, or anything like that.’

‘And did you know anyone there? Anyone who was sent there?’

‘You didn’t see them really. I think we may have played them at football at few times. But what I really remember of them was seeing the band play at Croke Park. When I was young enough, Noel used to swing me over the turnstile. And they’d play, and you know, they were brilliant. Really good. And there was something glamorous about them to me. Because we were told they were savages, criminals. And there they were making this beautiful music.’

So the normalisation was the usual kind – an othering, the casting of a glamour, the way we look at the high walls of direct provision centres and idly imagine what might go on behind them.

The poem I wrote in response to this conversation is published in today’s Irish Times. I’d like to dedicate it to my dad Anthony, and his dad Noel.

The Saturday poem: The Artane Band

A new work by Jessica Traynor

The Artane Boy’s Band  in action at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Artane Boy’s Band in action at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Da used to swing me over the turnstile,
to see the Dublin matches. I remember
the sight of my own legs, dangling.

I’d never see much of the game;
what’s left is the smell of men,
their coats steaming rain and beer,

being hoisted by my ribs above
the crowd, the pitch spread out
green and vast, the distance of it.

And every half-time the band
playing on the field, their music rising
and falling with the seaweed stink

that rushed in from the bay.
There’s the boys, Da would say
and he’d wag his finger in a warning

that told me these matchstick boys
made music because they were outlaws,
each cymbal clash a cry of mea culpa,

and I imagined myself out there with them
in this rainy coliseum with my Da as emperor
giving the thumbs down,

shaking his head for the loss of his son
to that criminal gang:
The bold boys of the Artane Band.

Jessica Traynor’s debut collection, The Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press) was published in 2014. A verse response to Swift’s A Modest Proposal has just been published by Salvage Press