• Morgan Fagg

50 years have passed since Summer 1969

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

As man was walking on the moon and my parents were walking down the isle, people were falling in The Falls and Noble Prize winner Seamus Heaney was writing Summer 1969 from his apartment in Madrid.

Five decades later and another Irish poet picked up the microphone to speak the Noble Laureate’s words in Plaza Margaret Thatcher in Madrid as a million people marched in London calling for a People’s Vote. The decision of a lifetime reflected in a protest vote written on the side of a bus.

John Liddy from Limerick shared Heaney’s poetry with the gathered crowd and some of his own.

Heaney can only be turning in his grave to hear his words, spoken in Spanish at The Brexit event which could see the border returning to his Northern Ireland home.

How have his words, written in a terrible time of a horrible history, come back to haunt us?

A week away from the proposed Brexit deadline, a week is a long time in politics but this debacle has left us all weak as parliament has played pantomime and pitched parliament against the people.

John Liddy has rented the Lava Pies apartment where Heaney penned his poem and knows the smells associated with the Spanish streets, the Prado art discussed in Summer 1969 (photographed at the end) and knows the horrible history that should never be forgotten nor repeated.

The closing line of the poem, “The stained cape of his heart, as history changed”

repeated aloud, as European flags draped over people’s shoulders like superhero capes.

Will Europe save the day when borders are built on the graves of those who died?

And will people in Northern Ireland continue to win poetry and peace prizes?

The history books have been written and walls all over Europe torn down but Brexit brings a border where no poet in Madrid nor poetry verse can cross that line.

Seamus Heaney’s “Summer 1969”

When the Constabulary covered the mob

Firing into the Falls, I was suffering

Only the bullying sun of Madrid. Each afternoon, in the casserole heat

Of the flat, as I sweated my way through The life of Joyce, stinks from the fishmarket

Rose like the reek off a flax-dam. At night on the balcony, gules of wine, A sense of children in their dark corners, Old women in black shawls near open windows,

The air a canyon rivering in Spanish. We talked our way home over starlit plains

Where patent leather of the Guardia Civil

Gleamed like fish-bellies in flax-poisoned waters.

‘Go back,’ one said, ‘try to touch the people.’

Another conjured Lorca from his hill. We sat through death counts and bullfight reports

On the television, celebrities

Arrived from where the real thing still happened.

I retreated to the cool of the Prado. Goya's ‘Shootings of the Third of May’

Covered a wall - the thrown-up arms And spasm of the rebel, the helmeted And knapsacked military, the efficient

Rake of the fusillade. In the next room His nightmares, grafted to the palace wall –

Dark cyclones, hosting, breaking; Saturn

Jewelled in the blood of his own children,

Gigantic Chaos turning his brute hips Over the world. Also, that holmgang Where two berserks club each other to death For honour's sake, greaved in a bog, and sinking.

He painted with his fists and elbows, flourished

The stained cape of his heart as history charged.


"The cool of the Prado" "Where two berserks club each other to death"

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