Here is a traditional Irish poem I first heard in the summer of 1994, from authentic Irish shannakey Jim Nolan in Carlow before the big boom that transformed it. The author’s identity has been lost to time, but the message remains resonant. I think it as a kind of Irish ROMEO AND JULIET.
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THE PAPISHER AND THE PROD
I was born and reared on Sandy Row, a loyal Orange Prod;
I stood for good King William, that noble man of God!
My motto- No Surrender! My flag- The Union Jack!
And every Twelfth I proudly march to Finaghy and back.
A loyal son of Ulster, a true blue, that was me,
Prepared to fight, prepared to die for faith and liberty.
As well as that, a Linfield man as long as I could mind..
And I had no time for Catholics, or any of that kind.
And then one night in Bangor I met wee Rosie Green.
The minute I laid eyes on here I knew she was my queen,
And when I saw she fancied me, my mind was all a-buzz
And I clean forgot to ask her what her religion was.
Next time we met I told her, “I’m a Proddie, staunch and true!”
And she said, “I’m a Catholic, and just as staunch as you”.
The words were harsh and bitter, but suddenly like this…
The centuries of hatred were forgotten with a kiss.
I knew our love would bring us only trouble and distress.
But nothing in this world would make me love wee Rosie less.
I saved a bit of money, as quickly as I could,
And asked her if she’d marry me- and God, she said she would.
Then th e trouble REALLY started! Her folks went ravin’ mad,
And when mine heard about it, they were twice as bad.
My father said from that day on he’d hang his head in shame—
And by a strange coincidence HER father said the same!
My mother cried her eyes out and said I’d rue the day
That I let a Papish hussy steal my loyal heart away.
And Rosie’s mother said, when she recovered from the blow,
That she’d rather have the devil than a man from Sandy Row!
We were married in a Papish church, the other side of town,
That’s how Rosie wanted it and I couldn’t let her down.
But the priest was very nice to me and made me feel at home-
I think he pitied both of us… our families didn’t come.
The rooms we went to live in had nothin’ but the walls,
It was far away from Sandy Row and further from the Falls.
But that’s the way we wanted it, for both of us knew well
That back among the crowd we knew our lives would just be hell.
But life out there for Rosie was lonely, I well knew,
And of course we had our wee religious differences too:
At dinner time on Friday, when Rosie gave me fish,
I looked at it and then at her, and said, “Thon’s not my dish.”
I mind well what she said to me- You’ve got to pay some price, ”
And to eat no meat on Friday is a poor wee sacrifice.
To make for Christ who died for us one Friday long ago,”
Anyway, I ate the fish- and it wasn’t bad, you know.
Then Sunday came and I lay on when she got up at eight.
But Rosie turned to me and said, “Get up or you’ll be late.
You’ve got a church to go to and there’s where you should be,
So up you get this minute- you’ll be part o’ the road with me.”
We left the house together, but we parted down the line.
And she went off to HER church and I went off to mine.
But all throughout the service, although we were apart,
I felt that we were worshipping together in our hearts.
The weeks and months went quickly by and then there came the day
When Rosie upped and told me that a child was on the way.
We went down on our knees that day and asked the Lord above
To give our child TWO gifts alone- tolerance and love.
We wrote and told our families- they never used to call
And we thought the news might soften them, and so it did and all.
My mother, and then Rosie’s said they’d visit us in turn,
And then we marveled at the power of a wee child not yet born.
But I was disillusioned when I found out WHY they came,
It wasn’t to be friendly or to make it up again.
Rosie’s mother came to say the child must be R.C.
And mine said it would have to be a Protestant like me.
The rows before the wedding were surely meek and mild
Compared with all the rumpus that was raised about the child.
From both sides of the family insults and threats were hurled—
Oh, what a way to welcome a wee angel to the world!
The child must be Catholic! The child must be a Prod!
But the last and loudest voice I heard was the mighty voice of God.
And to his awful wisdom I had to bow my head,
An hour after it was born our poor wee child was dead!
That night I sat by Rosie’s side and just before the dawn
I kissed her as she left me to join her angel son.
And my loyal heart was broken within thon lonely walls.
Where the hell’s Shankhill! Where the hell’s The Falls!!
But that was many years ago, long years o’ grief and pain
When I’d have given all I had to see her face again.
But my loneliness is over now; I’ll see her soon I know,
The doctor told me yesterday I haven’t long to go.
And when I go up yonder they’ll let me in, I hope,
But if they ask me who I’m for, King Billy or the Pope,
I’m goin’ to take no chances- I’ll tell them straight and fair,
I’m a Loyal Ulster Protestant who loved a Papisher.
And one way or another, I know they’ll let me through,
And Rosie will be waitin’ there, and our little angel too.
Then the child will lead us, the Papist and the Prod,
Up the steps together, into the arms of God.
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