Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—When my eyes spotted the title ‘Who speaks for Ulster, 1913, 2022?’, I rapidly flipped through the pages of the latest issue (HI 30.5, Sept./Oct. 2022), expecting to find some reference to the writings of Belfast poet John Hewitt.

Author M.C. Rast chronicles critical aspects of this momentous period of Irish history since 1913, but I think it is Ulster poet John Hewitt who best captures the heart and soul of the people who experienced that torturous period of Irish history. Hewitt’s ‘An Irishman in Coventry’ (1958) might be read as an epilogue to ‘Who Speaks for Ulster?’. It looks at the people from the outside but speaks in the first person, as Hewitt paints this portrait of:

a people endlessly betrayed
by our own weakness, by the wrongs we suffered
in that long twilight over bog and glen,
by force, by famine and by glittering fables
which gave us martyrs when we needed men.

While today’s scholars parse the documents and catalogue political debates in the North of Ireland and British parliament, I think that it may be the touch of the poet John Hewitt which speaks best for Ulster:

This is our fate: eight hundred years’ disaster,
crazily tangled as the Book of Kells;
the dream’s distortion and the land’s division,
the midnight raiders and the prison cells.
Yet like Lir’s children, banished to the waters,
our hearts still listen for the landward bells.

—Yours etc.,

Maine, USA


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