Clifton Redmond

The Irish Lesson

Clifton Redmond

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I remember fourth-class in Saint Brigid’s, 

lined up like soldiers, rows of navy uniforms, 

baby-blue shirts, elastic neck ties. 

Mrs Duffy, aged as the class room, old 

as the pipes that wrapped around the walls

and rattled. Older than the desks 

with wrought iron frames and timber tops, 

layer upon layer of thick varnish, carved 

out holes for inkwells. Two pictures hung 

on cold wet walls: the Proclamation, its black 

and white circled faces, faded writing, the Virgin

Mary with hands wide, perfect vision 

of forgiveness. Standing at the top a of the class, 

face of scratched clefts and liver spots; 

head of tossed greyed springs, 

bamboo cane in her skeletal hand. 

When she beat the blackboard, shudders 

of chalk dust landed on the lip. 

As she gave us lessons, the stick-slap 

keeping time. Chanting or singing, 

‘tá mé, tá tú, tá sé, tá sí; áris, áris, áris.' 

We sat in our desks, mimicking 

the mad music she was making. 

I closed my eyes and dreamed 

of Anfield, Hillsborough, Wembley, 

drawing football- circles on lined paper, 

a foreigner in her Catholic wasteland. 

She told me I should be ashamed, 

that men were stood against a wall and shot 

so I could speak my native tongue.

'Batty Duffy, beating the blackboard 

like a mad yoke’ chanting or singing, 

‘tá mé, tá tú, tá sé, tá sí; áris, áris, áris.’

Clifton Redmond

Clifton Redmond is an Irish poet, a member of The Carlow Writer's Co-operative. He has had poems published in various literary journals both in Ireland and Internationally.