The time for music*

fotocredit picture alliance/CPA Media/Wagner

This is the right time for music

the dead are carried in

a child wrapped in a shawl

this is the right time for music

There is the right time for music

the drone of the pipes begin

a keening cry a prayer a hymn

this is the right time for music

This is the right time for music

a plea for mercy for forgiveness

the burial place sought and dug

a child wrapped in a shawl

this is the right time for music


*A poem in response to Dave Rendle’s poetic response to the Armenian Genocide — “No time for music”.

foto credit unattributable

The New Emptiness.


The New Emptiness

And I also know, that all through this land right now

People are dying. And so many will be left to cope

with the harshness of sudden loss.

Of being left alone. And all that it brings.

As if that isn’t enough. I know too that tomorrow,

I’ll walk out in the rain, make my way through

shining green Hawthorn copses,

heavily festooned with white bloom and I’ll think of you then.

27th April 2020


“The Decree of Ne Temerre.*”

“Under the stone eyes of Mary*”. foto©robcullen110321

“The Decree of Ne Temerre.*”

There is a photograph taken at People’s Park,

my mother, father and sister,

standing in front of the open gates,

I am a child in my mother’s arms.

An uncle had died of TB,

a particularly virulent strain,

his brother he’d infected was in Dublin,

in a TB ward never to return.

His brother had come home,

when the war was done,

his lungs carried the strain,

one brother infected by his brother.

There was no freedom here,

a grandmother of one faith,

married to a grandfather,

of the state recognised religion.

But the freedom was of love,

the way they joshed and laughed,

cocking a snook at cruelties conventions,

in dangerous times for either.

Their love persevered,

in spite of the disconnection,

families estranged, rejection,

and so a lesson was learned.

The love of a church to murder children,

with its smiles, those killing smiles,

the freedom of a church to traffic children,

with closed eyes and the endless miles of lies,

the love of a church to brutalise,

young, single mothers, with nowhere to turn.

The freedom of a church to hide,

its crimes and the deaths of small children.

And in their black clothed piety,

set themselves above all others,

absolve themselves of guilt,

set themselves above Christs teachings.

There was no freedom here,

we watched with open eyes.


“Under the stone eyes of Mary*”. foto©robcullen110321
  • Enunciated in 1907, Ne Temere requires that all children of a mixed marriage be brought up as Catholics. Before 1907 the tradition was that the boys in such a marriage would be brought up in the father’s faith and the girls in that of their mother.
  • Ne Temerre resulted in couples of both faiths being rejected by their families, particularly farming families, where the oldest boys who married a catholic would result in the Catholic children of that family inheriting the land. But the impact of Ne Temerre had much, much wider repercussions than this and its a subject that requires greater study. I would recommend “Different and the same” by Deirdre Nuttall.
  • Ne Temerre to all intents and purposes was a cleansing of Protestants from the Republic of Ireland.
  • “Under the stone eyes of Mary” is the title of a novel I am currently editing.
  • Being second generation Irish was confusing on many levels, returning “Home” raised further confusions.
  • Having a Catholic grandfather excluded by his farming family, and a Protestant grandmother excluded by her family provided a minefield when returning “Home”.


Looking down through dead water.


Looking down through dead water.

On the ferry,

I liked sitting

on the edge,

looking down,

through dead water*.

I was returning

to a place

that was

and was not

my home.

I had never

been away,


on the ferry,

looking down.

The River Suirs’

waters swirling,

muddy grey,

where it meets

the sea.

In the morning,

waiting, waiting.

Nearer now

to the quay,

where he’d be waiting,

with the brake

and horses,

a pair in hand.

Home again.

Looking down through dead water.



Dead water is the nautical term for a phenomenon which can occur when there is strong vertical density stratification due to salinity or temperature or both. It is common where a layer of fresh or brackish water rests on top of denser salt water, without the two layers mixing.

or water eddying beside a moving hull, especially directly astern.

or a part of a stream where there is a slack current.



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Rob CullenFeb 4 · 2 min read

Telephone call came at five,

To tell her he’d died

At four thirty,

Died in his sleep peacefully.

She listened in the darkness,

It was morning,

But it lightness wouldn’t come,

For four more hours.

She made a cup of tea,

Sat in the quiet of the kitchen,

Everything was quiet now,

So she made lists of who to call.

It was two hours before she would call

The three children,

Let them sleep in the quietness,

Let them lie like she used to.

She stopped herself from saying

“when he was alive”

Now she’d have to get used

To thinking of him — dead, not here.

Not here, lifeless, not here

Anymore, no more,

But he lived, he had a life,

I am his wife I am here.

He did good things, but he is not here.

No more, any more. No more.

Not here anymore, no more.

It will be light, it will be morning.

Written for my sister Maeve who is here.

Maeve who is always here.

When the Cadman’s arrived in Northern Ireland in the early 1960’s, the Roman Catholic population did not have political representation. They had the vote but the choice on offer to them was Protestant Unionist parties. The UK Labour Party was not allowed to set up its stall in Northern Ireland and Unionism was all powerful in the six counties. Roman Catholics were exposed to a hate environment extolled by Unionists. Housing conditions were poor, unemployment rife as was poor health.

Neither of the Cadman’s were catholic, or indeed of any religion. But Keith and his friend John Hume set up the SDLP along with other quiet men and women. They saw that political representation would lead to full emancipation for the Catholic population — Keith Cadman was one of those quiet men who worked behind the scenes, but whose quiet work in the end moved mountains. It should be remembered.

Without the SDLP and John Hume the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement wouldn’t have taken place.

We have a reason to be proud of quiet men.

We have a reason to be proud of the women who stood at their backs through it all.


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The last Welshman.


The Last Welshman

He was old then. Or not so very old. I was a child. But I remember him. Poor man. It was said of him he was quite mad. A man driven mad by the jungles of those eastern lands. Of Malaya. Or was it Burma? No Burma. He was the last to come home.

It was in the war when he was young and handsome. A laughing boy of a man whose world lay before him. He was to marry. She was a black haired girl who lived in a house on the other side of the street to his mothers. The black haired girl still lives there in the same house in the same little village in the same valley. But she is married to another man now. He would have married her. It had been planned. And if the war hadn’t come along to alter all that had been planned then that would have been that no doubt. There would have been something else to say. Something quite different. But the war did come. And he left his parents’ home on the other side of the street in the village. He left the black haired girl and promised to return. He promised to marry her.

But instead he had been driven mad half a world away from this place. This small village in a valley in Wales. In the war. In Malaya or some other green jungled land. Where birds cry out in the darkness of the day. Suddenly. Menacingly. Setting the mind into a frenzy and muscles tight. Tight in the eyes.Tight on the trigger. Trying to see in the darkness the little men hiding there. Where? There. There. Don’t you see them. Look. Waiting. And birds cried out in the darkness of night time. When all should have been quiet. When men should be allowed to rest. But there. There in that place. Daytime was the same as night time. Muscles twitched with strain. Muscles twitched involuntarily in the crackling spells of silence of the darkness. Day in. Day out. Night came and all was the same.

He came home. Eventually. They said he was the last to be found. The street was the same. And as with many other men he’d found nothing had really changed. Except of course the minds of those men. And the minds of those women who had waited. The minds of the men had changed. Ruptured by some indescribable maddening. His mind had changed. And he was no longer who he had been. His eyes told another tale. Those blue-blue far away blue eyes. He smiled a lot. A toothless smile. In between a puff of his small black pipe. The pipe my father had given him. While, and in spite of the spittle, which periodically dribbled hanging in a line from a corner of his mouth and down over his bristled chin to dangle and then fall downwards to the bespattered lapel of his tattered olive green jacket.

He had come home. She had waited. The flags and pennants had flown all day. But he did not see them. And she did not see him. He sat with his mother in the darkness of the parlour all chocolate and green painted leatherette walls.  He sipped the dark beer in his glass. He smiled but said little. He smiled. But no one asked. She never came to the door to ask after him. Her mother would never allow her to see him. He would never marry. Some in the village said just as well. He would never leave his mother’s home.

Over the years he constructed a small shed at the top of the garden. A tin hut made of corrugated and galvanised zinc sheets. Other metal objects lost and found themselves part of that gathering enlarging hideaway. Beneath the mossy green barked elderberry tree. Blackbirds built a nest in an old enamel jug jammed into the cleft of two branches. Sparrows flittered amongst the leaves. Starlings visited to gorge themselves on the bright black berries and stained the tin hut with the purple dye of their shit. Gradually the tin hut rusted. A Colemans’ mustard enamel advert appeared to add a bright yellow square to the dull and sombre tones. An orange Typhoo tea advert appeared on another wall. As the man and the shed grew older together the wires and nails holding the metal sheets together wore away. At night when a cold breeze blew in from the grey Atlantic the darkness of our street became filled with the rustlings and scrapings, the tapping and clanging of hundreds of pieces of metal filling the night time air with a discordant cacophony of sound.

It was the hut where our first encounter had taken place. As I chased the orange plastic football which had swerved from its volition and at the same time displayed an almost disgraceful avoidance of its intended destination and decided on another for itself. He did not seem to understand this point. I was to blame for everything and its consequences. Of this he seemed in no doubt. Or if any it was very little and totally unobservable from where I was standing.

He shouted gesturing to the skies as if for divine condemnation on this little hapless fellah who couldn’t for the life of him kick a ball straight. And as he spoke, I could see into his mouth as he turned back to face me, his mouth still agape. Toothless and overflowing with an abundance of spittle that gave a gleam to his pink lips and seemingly erupted volcanic like from his face. To spray the area for a yard or two immediately before him. The skies remained somewhat indifferent while he ranted and raved. It was then I was able to look into his shed for the very first time and see the immaculate green wooden chair.

It was in that wooden chair he sat before the brazier when the days were grey with cloud and it rained horizontally. As it nearly always did then in winter months. And if truth be told still does – horizonytal like not that vertical namsypamsy easy stuff – horizontal and hateful rain! The dark brown empty beer bottles gathered like black pats*at his feet. Brown shiny ale bottles. Discarded ornamentation from those days when he was drunk. Which were often. When he sang. A strange language that had no sense. By this I mean it wasn’t English. So it must be a strange language. A language that made the people who heard him laugh. Madness. It was madness you see. Poor man. Quite obvious they said. When I asked. He was trying to sing in Welsh. But not being able to speak a single word of Welsh. He used to make it up. But I shall say this to you in confidence. I am not so sure that was the case. We could not speak Welsh either. I would like to think that it was some far eastern language. Or even Japanese. Learnt in some tormented place. Leaf green and jungled. But maybe that is my madness.

Ah, you lovely harmless man. Soft and breakable. You were broken. Too quickly. Dirty and lost. Your mother is dead now. Your father gone long ago. And you are unknown and uncared for when I meet you these days.  I bid you good day. And you look at me surprised by this strange and unknown someone calling you by your first name with friendliness. Your bewildered eyes for a moment guided and serious. With purpose in mind you look into my eyes for a few minutes not saying a word. And then your eyes change. A smile of recognition. You say hello. I knew you when you were a boy. About this tall you were then. You were a little buggar. Hells angel they called you. And you ask after my mother and father. How are they keeping? And my sisters? And after all is said and done you shuffle away. The backs of your shoes split. Like the coat you wear. The cap you wear slanted to one side and slouched over one eye. The rim blackened with sweat.


Church Street, Llwynypia.

In the tin rickety shed underneath the whispering

drunk blue black fruit of the Elder tree

old Tom Wall beetle browed listened

to the creak and rattle of bent tin sheets

wrapped about his white tight eyed stare

he drank brown ale sang his thin whiney song

and dreamt of happier long past days

of the black haired girl who’d said she’d wait

for his return from Thailand’s jungle war

but in his overdue unexplained absence

she married another village man instead

her avoidance of his home coming was noted.

And so he sang and cried aloud to the bride

who lived in the same house across the same street

the same place he’d heard the war had started

a house with thick veiled closed net curtains.

Out there on the mountains cliff edged brow

Oakwood’s clenched tight the earth’s fastness

the storm howl sang its desolation song

in the black star speckled moonless night

old Tom Wall pulled his black greased cap

down over his eyes and all that might have been.


“Come days end we are but pebbles, washed back and fore in the tides time.”



*”black pats” – or black clock beatles lived behind the cast iron stoves of kitchens and living rooms in small cottages.

Clearances above Dunkeld


Clearances above Dunkeld

The old house and steadings stood empty

the roof still good after many a long winter

it was a wonder not a slate had shifted loose

sheep mess layered hidden earth floors

A sheltering place when blast killing cold

staggered the withered fields with deep snow.

Upstairs the stripped bare boards echoed

with the sharp sounds our boots made

Empty glass panes of look away windows

finely spun spider webs here and there

a hollowing emptiness where children

were once born and sang in the sunshine of Spring.

It was a place where the grief of leaving

still hung round the stone bared walls

walking away along the burns banks

where so many had walked through before

I came across a small lochen and a waterfall

I stripped bare, dived in and swam to the other shore.

Brown peated water between my fingers

ran along my skin and through my hair

Corbenic the home of the horn of blessed Bran

the maimed Fisher King haunts here too.

I swam deep in cold whisky dark waters

to cleanse my skin, my soul, of all pain.




Corbenic the castle of the golden horn of King Bran the Blessed –  Branwen Ferch Llyr – Second of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.

Corbenic misinterpreted as the Castle of the Holy Grail – the Fisher King’s domain.

Both King Bran and the Fisher King wounded and in need of healing.

Symbols of mankind and the earth.