A Green Thread Running Through Bristol City Poet Kat Lyons celebrates the WE Irish Festival with a new poem
There is no single emerald-coloured thread
that you can pull from Bristol’s tapestry, hold up and declare, ‘look, this is what it means to be Irish here’.
Instead, there are many, woven into the city’s story
so tightly that to tease them out would leave it moth holed.
Poor and hungry, merchants and entrepreneurs alike
all heard the call of England’s Second City. Stepped hopefully into its wealth and industry. Some slipped on poverty’s traps. Some found firm footing. Some found fame,
their footsteps still echo in our ears.
Go to Broad Quay, pass below the bronze and solemn face of Edmund Burke. Sit in the chapel on Trenchard Street, whisper a greeting
to Patrick Cotter O’Brien, who lies beneath the stones. Our Bristol Giant resting now, and free from the weight
of a lifetime of curious eyes.
MP or Giant, laborer or nurse – for centuries they came carrying dreams folded pocketsize,
ambition carefully rolled in blankets, Sunday best
stored in cardboard suitcases in cheap boardinghouses. So many homesick letters written and received, so many wages hoarded and sent back home, or used to drown the insults swallowed in the week. Some came and left,
some stayed. After war bit holes in the cityscape
isolated cabins filled with Irish workers, Irish muscles
moved brick and mortar, Irish backs bent to rebuild
homes, power stations, motorways.
Hospital wards echoed to the voices of Irish girls
who changed beds and dressings, took temperatures, took charge.
Who stretched out steady nurses’ hands and grasped their independence.
So many years. So many nights of queuing by the phone-box, so many promises ‘not long now love, just one more month, just one more job’. So many visits home to find home changed
the corset of community laced
a little tighter than remembered.
And the pipes, the pipes kept calling. Their music still as sweet but growing fainter every year.
Now The Right Honourable Lord Mayor’s gleaming chain of office rests on Irish shoulders.
Now Irish brains build South West wealth
in tech and aeronautics.
Now each March, England wears a leprechaun’s hat and seeks
another pot of gold. Sells greenwashed replicas of culture
to those who cannot tell the difference.
But immigrants and their children and their children
carry cradled in their bones the knowledge
of how it is to be a stranger in a strange land, to choose between
the villain of the story or the butt of the joke,
to speak with a shuttered tongue and
sugar the sour edges of your lives
to make you easier to swallow.
So this day raise a glass and leave a lantern shining
in the window of your lives, for everyone
who’s ever been a stranger to these streets. For the communities you’ve built
and those you come from. For the green threads running through
the patchwork quilt you’ve sewn
from all your histories. All of you who’ve chosen
for however long
to call the South West ‘home’.