A Poem by Michael J Whelan
(After a visit to the battlefields -2011)
Today I stood above the Aegean Sea
listening for echoes I could not hear.
The silent tempo of the ground
resonates still on unnatural landscapes.
The zig-zag lines where dead men toil
dug deep into blood smeared soil,
buried now with their bones
on beaches and gullies where once
they fought the Turk,
stormed the shores and hills as if thrown
against the wind by Agamemnon himself.
The silence bade me look towards Troy
across the Straits from Helles,
I still could hear no voice, nor thunder in the sky
except the launching waves
pushing ancient pebbles up the beach to rest,
where once they drowned the hearts of men.
Then behind me I could feel it,
the noise of peace and echoes of war
in a thousand monuments to the dead,
stretched out in marching order.
And there, watching me my shadow
took on the spectre of a ghost and spoke,
‘Like Hector I was the defender
brave and virtuous – but of Irish stock,
I am the soldier my country forsook.’
And in response I said
‘I have come at last to pay my respects,
I have come to take you home!’
Michael J. Whelan
(For Tony Roe)
Published in Tallaght Echo April 26, 2012
The ‘1916 Rising’ in Dublin set Ireland on the long painful road to independence. April 25th 1915 was the date of the initial landings of British and Allied troops (which contained many Irish soldiers) on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Dardanelles during World War One. Both events occurred exactly a year to the day apart, both events saw Irish lives lost fighting both for and against the British Empire………such is the story of the Irish!
I have visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Great War in Europe and also in Gallipoli. Their silence is very, very loud to me. This history resonates with me; I remember all those lost on all sides in the conflict.
Until very recently the story of those Irish soldiers who fought and those thousands who perished in the Great War was relatively forgotten, especially in Ireland. Whatever uniform they wore, whether Irish or British I respect them as Irishmen and women who fought for something greater than themselves, who served their country at that time.
The Irish poet Francis Ledwidge fought in Gallipoli after arriving there with the 10th Irish Division in August 1915. Like many soldiers he wrote of his impressions as he sailed past the ancient ruins of the city of Troy while on troopships, en-route to battle and destiny. The peninsula is a beautiful picturesque landscape littered with graves, many of them Irish graves.
Ledwidge was killed in 1917 on the battlefields of Europe but before this he wrote the poem ‘The Irish in Gallipoli.’
In 2011, I wrote this poem in response to my experiences of that place!
Michael J. Whelan
Michael J. Whelan is a soldier-poet, writer & historian (Curator – Irish Air Corps Aviation Museum) living in Tallaght County Dublin. He served as a peacekeeper in South Lebanon and Kosovo during the conflicts in those countries, which inspires much of his work.
He was 2nd Place Winner in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2011, Shortlisted in 2012 with a Special Commendation in 2013. He was 3rd Place Winner in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards 2012, short-listed in the Doire Press and Cork Literary Manuscript Competitions and selected for the Eigse Eireann/Poetry Ireland Introductions 2012.
His work has appeared in the Hennessy New Irish Writing 2013, Poetry Ireland Review, the Red Line Book Festival and other literary magazines and newspapers. His poems were recently published in a new anthology titled ‘The Hundred Years War’ published by Bloodaxe UK in May 2014.
Michael will be in Gallipoli representing the Irish Defence Forces (6 personnel) with President Higgins during The Commonwealth and Ireland Service to Commemorate the Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign at The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Helles Memorial at Cape Helles on 24th April. As a serving soldier (Irish Air Corps) and poet he feels very lucky and privileged to be at Gallipoli one hundred years after another Irish Soldier-Poet, Frances Ledwidge fought there and wrote his poem ‘The Irish at Gallipoli.’