Burning the Boats: A poem by William Wall, Cork's Poet Laureate 

In the second instalment of his monthly poems, William Wall reflects on the recent fishing protest 
Burning the Boats: A poem by William Wall, Cork's Poet Laureate 

William Wall is a poet from Cork, and was recently appointed the city’s first Poet Laureate.

An initiative of the Munster Literature Centre that is funded by Cork City Council, Wall’s role will writing a poem every month for the next ten months, giving a personal response to issues in the city and county.

The Irish Examiner will publish these poems in the first week of every month, and the works will also be collected into a chapbook to be launched at next year’s Cork World Book Festival.

BURNING THE BOATS

On the fishery protest, Cork Harbour

i

the river is glass today
the big boats come up
steaming at five knots
as slow as a trawl
sounding their horns
the haunting noise
of the dying days
when the great tide
of capital turns
let go your lines
not far from here
six thousand men
worked for Henry Ford
till the tide went out


but you’re the fighting kind
you spend your days
out on the banks
at the landing winch
decks awash
the trawl warp coming in
they want to burn the boats
the Brian Eoin
the Buddy M
Star of The Sea
but boats are villages
families townlands
more than the crew 
they’re whole harbours 


on the Porcupine Bank
you know you’re alive
tracking the mark
along the deepwater edge
ten metre seas
Hy-Brasil on a bad day
twenty tonnes of whiting
in the trawl
if a cable parts
you’re a dead man
quotas the way they are
it’s go or bust
tied to the wall
you catch no fish

ii
everyone is down to see the boats
cars line the quays
like in the old days
when they came to meet the Inisfallen
uncles and aunts
with cardboard suitcases
old Erin sending her youth away
and pulling them home for the two-week spree

and once again I see the boat in people’s eyes
maybe Australia this time
do they need lobstermen or seiners in New South Wales
we sold our seas to save our farms no one ever said old Ireland
could see beyond the next bend
never mind the horizon

we sold our seas and all their fish
and now it seems we’ll sell the boats
we’ll sell the people too
we’ve done it more than once before
they who know every rock in the roadstead
who will buy what they cannot sell
every wreck and every bank and deep
the names of the changing sea
the half-tide rock where the seals sleep
the holding ground

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