Carrickfergus is my hometown. It is hard to take a bad photograph of the castle, around which the town took its shape and by it, it is defined! Originally built in 1177 it has stood tall and proud for many centuries with some significant updates! In 1182, the Anglo Norman, John de Courcy who had the castle built, turned his attention to the building of a church, which today along with the castle dominate the town’s landscape. Some of you may know the Irish ballad, I wish I was in Carrickfergus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrickfergus_(song) which has been recorded by many including Celtic Woman, Van Morrison, Joan Baez, and Brian Ferry to name only a few.
The rectory of St. Nicholas Church https://www.belfastentries.com/places/places-to-see/st-nicholas-church-carrickfergus/was in the early 1900s the childhood home of the poet Louis MacNeice, and I walked past the rectory almost daily and a commemorative stone at the entrance reminded all who passed, that the poet lived here as a child.
Few though, know the poem he wrote remembering his childhood home and events observed there at the beginning of WWI. Take a moment to remember where you grew up – what aspect of its place would feature in your poem? What story would you tell?
I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries
To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams:
Thence to Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams
The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scotch Quarter was a line of residential houses
But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt.
The brook ran yellow from the factory stinking of chlorine,
The yarn-milled called its funeral cry at noon;
Our lights looked over the Lough to the lights of Bangor
Under the peacock aura of a drowning moon.
The Norman walled this town against the country
To stop his ears to the yelping of his slave
And built a church in the form of a cross but denoting
The List of Christ on the cross, in the angle of the nave.
I was the rector’s son, born to the Anglican order,
Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.
The war came and a huge camp of soldiers
Grew from the ground in sight of our house with long
Dummies hanging from gibbets for bayonet practice
And the sentry’s challenge echoing all day long.
I went to school in Dorset, the world of parents
Contracted into a puppet world of sons
Far from the mill girls, the smell of porter, the salt mines
And the soldiers with their guns
so often we take for granted
the place of our birth.
Some are “stayers” never thinking ever to leave,
while others are “leavers” who journey far.
Today, O Lord,
we pray for those who out of fear and desperation
can no longer be “stayers” and must become “leavers”.
Their journey treacherous, uncertain and sadly all too
often they are offered no welcome, little hope, and
least of all no dignity or charity as they seek a place
to lay their head and rest their soul.
Help us O Lord as individuals, as communities
and as nations to do better, much better,
remembering that we are all temporary sojourners
in this place we share, called planet earth. Amen.