when the auntie was a girl

In the 1960s, when she was a young woman, and he was ‘just a cub’, the auntie met Seamus Heaney. Known for keeping things safe and well hidden around the house, she has no idea where the poem is now. The typed poem, the shape of the letters texturing the page, the puncturing force of a full stop. The sheet is signed by the unpublished poet.

We spent part of Friday night on the phone, auntie and I, talking of family things and poetry. Sharing the news, the loss and Heaney’s words. She remembering that night, me remembering previous tellings of it.


Fishermen at Ballyshannon

Netted an infant last night

Along with the salmon.

An illegitimate spawning,


A small one thrown back

To the waters. But I’m sure

As she stood in the shallows

Ducking him tenderly


Till the frozen knobs of her wrists

Were dead as the gravel,

He was a minnow with hooks

Tearing her open.


She waded in under

The sign of her cross.

He was hauled in with the fish.

Now limbo will be


A cold glitter of souls

Through some far briny zone.

Even Christ’s palms, unhealed,

Smart and cannot fish there.


Published in Wintering Out (1972)


6 thoughts on “when the auntie was a girl

  1. A very moving poem. I know of two women, neither still alive, one from the north, the other from the repblic who became pregnant when unmarried. Each travelled to the other end of the island to have her baby. The catholic mother’ s child was brought up as a protestant in the north, The protestant mother’s child as a catholic in the south. One of my colleagues is a child of the baby brought up in the north; my friend’s aunt was reunited with the baby she had had in the republic shortly before she died after she had confided to a carer that she had done ‘a terrible thing’.
    I am glad times have changed.

  2. aw, “just a young cub,” brings me back home instantly.
    Have been on the phone with my mother most of this weekend, Fiona. She and daddy went to Bellaghy this evening, to say goodbye for me.
    I still cannot believe he is gone.

    1. The auntie and I were on the phone for part of the funeral, watching it on RTE- oh, look who it is; Bono needs to stop dying his hair; ah, aren’t those wee flowers in tinfoil just lovely; I might love Paul Muldoon now too; isn’t she Polly Devlin Vogue’s sister; oh, the music; Headtheball; Brahms; Noli timere; *wails and sniffles across the country*
      It was very beautiful and fitting. I’m glad your mum and dad were able to go to Bellaghy to be with his people.

      1. Me too, because his people are theirs.. Paul Muldoon took my breath away. God, but Isn’t it funny the way we are so pass remarkable about funerals -i remember my mother being vexed at the cut of Prince Charles in a navy suit at Princess Diana ‘s funeral.

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