Thursday, February 13, 2020

Launch of Belmullet Heritage and Historical Society

When my poetry collection Bone Road was published by Arlen House last year, my greatest wish was to read in Belmullet. This was where the story started of my great-grandparents  who emigrated from Elly Bay to the US in 1883 with their six children as part of the Tuke Emigration Scheme. This verse memoir charts the course of their leavetaking and homecoming  and I wanted to acknowledge where my ancestors left from.

I couldn't have been more delighted when an invitation came from the Belmullet Heritage and Historical Society (Coiste Oidreachta Iorrais) to be part of their launch night with researcher Rosemarie Geraghty on 18 January. Rosemarie is an expert in this field and has done tremendous work bringing the past and the present together through recording the passenger lists of all the ships and  and contacting as many of the descendants as possible.

Ian McAndrew Photo: Peter Moore
Belmullet will be 200 years old in 2024 and the launch of the society was a very positive  and successful step towards  its celebrations.  I would like to thank the committee,
Ian McAndrew, Katherine Mangan, Mary Barrett, and Rosemarie Geraghty for their wonderful hospitality. Check out Blacksod Bay emigration for more information on this great work.

Here are three poems from the collection
Hunger for Somewhere Else

They’re glad to see the back of
all the wind-crippled whins,
turn their heads from
the rain over Achill head,
smoor the final fire.

They’ve had their bellyful
of stinking haulms,
grateful now to hand back
their hungry piece of grass to the landlord

and watch the dog on a scatter of stone,
a fetch in the tumbled-down scailp,
a fling of dunlins on sand
waiting for the boat to sail.
Rosemarie Geraghty Photo: Peter Moore


The longest day still lighting up their dawn,
they follow the carts of hopefuls,
along the famished track
down to the sea.

Beyond the calm waters of Elly Bay,
the S.S. Waldensian lies anchored,
brighter than any golden hoard
offered to ManannĂ¡n, the sea god.

There are scant tears,
for their passage is paid;
new clothes on their backs,
landing money promised.

The whole family going:
my great-grandparents, six children,
ten-year-old Brigid, my grandmother
– that’s Tuke’s deal –
Geraldine Mills Photo: Peter Moore

Waiting for high-water
the chosen clusters
are ferried by the blue jackets
on the Seahorse gunboat.

They leave the bay

then out through
the Narrows of Achill,
where the water runs
with unmerciful force.

They climb aboard the steamer,
men in forward, women aft.

Outfitted with a straw bed,
a pillow to lay their heads,
enough marine soap
to wash the whole of Erris
out of them.

A swell builds mid-Atlantic.
Through spume and spindrift they sail,
fog too thick for soupers,
they sight an iceberg.

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