This piece was originally published in the first issue of The Incubator Journal, June 2014.
They walked hand in hand across the Ha’Penny Bridge, stopping at the top to look down at its graceful white arches and the life and bustle of Dublin reflected in the black river that was their city’s namesake. They dropped a coin into the Liffey and each made a wish. He wished for Ireland’s freedom. She had only been able to think of how her child sister had spent the whole morning coughing into a white handkerchief, and how when that handkerchief had come away from her mouth it had been stained with red. He said her wish was selfish. She thought the same about his, but she was the kind of woman who kept her opinions to herself. When they kissed goodbye, she didn’t realise it would be their last goodbye. They thought their love could survive anything.
She had heard their leader talk. He was no military strategist, this poet who kept a school. He would often talk of “the ultimate sacrifice,” breathing those words with a respect the devout save for the name of Jesus. He set out for battle not to win victory, but to make martyrs. Perhaps there was honour in the sacrifice of one’s own blood for a cause, but to lead a group of foolish young men to certain death for an ideal, an ideal that would still leave her hungry and her sister coughing red death into a white handkerchief and improve no one’s lot – there was no nobility in that. Padraig Pearse was no hero to her.
She would live to see Great Brunswick Street, where the poet was born, renamed in his memory. She watched as the rebels became heroes, and as the Irish people rewrote history. She wept when she heard that her daughter’s schoolteacher had sang the praises of the poem that Pearse had written while he awaited execution in Kilmainham Jail. The poem was called “The Mother.”
“I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die”
Any mother who has ever loved a child would know that poem for the lie it was. No mother celebrated the sacrifice of her sons in the Easter of 1916, not even Margaret Pearse.
Every year a few days before Easter she would leave her husband and children and cross the Ha’Penny Bridge. She would drop a coin into the Liffey and remember her dead martyr. Then she would make a wish.
She would wish for food for her children, a neighbour’s return to good health, an end to a friend’s troubles. If he had been alive he would have told her she was selfish. But she knew her wishes were worth fighting for.
The Incubator is an excellent journal publishing fiction, memoir, essays, poetry and drama. Check it out here. The Incubator’s editor Kelly Creighton recently published her intelligent and intriguing début novel, The Bones of It. Read about it or get your copy here.