A Wee Mermaid in Helen's Bay

This blog entry has been written by William Ennis, a writer who attends the Yard Sessions every month in EastSide Visitor Centre. The Yard Sessions were launched by the Thomas Carnduff Society. In this piece, Willliam explains the importance of Carnduff as a poet from a working class Belfast background and how is legacy is not ony his verse but the space he created for others from a similar background to write.

A Wee Mermaid in Helen's Bay

It was a glorious day, almost a year ago.  The heat was perfect as I dug a more even seat out of the sand.  The blue sky had not a cloud and my pencil, notebook and meatball 'sub’ were all I needed.  Between the water and I lay a wee girl, laughing hysterically at her dad as he tried to cover her legs with scoops from her bucket and spade.  The most fun game I’d seen in a long time.  It was time for me to open the notebook and see if some verse would grow.  A bit of R & R.  

She is my land and I love her,
And the stars that shine above her,
Love her too…
-Thomas Carnduff

I’d started writing poems again not long before, as a means of dealing with a bereavement.  I say again because in my teenage years I’d gone through the whole Jim Morrison phase and had pencilled much nonsense in the hope of appearing dark and sexy.  It didn’t work.  By now however writing served a much more honest function. It’s the most direct therapy and, for me, the only one which seemed to work. I dread to think what I’d have done without it.   I’m no Shakespeare, but I still love to write, just as my not being George Best never stopped me playing football.  It’s the only thing which has ever de-stressed me.  The one piece of advice I have to give to anyone not feeling entirely themselves, to anyone who is depressed; treat yourself to an hour’s solitude and dip your brush in the English language.

I want to live outside mere words,
To hear the song of tiny birds…
-Thomas Carnduff

Founded by three amateur writers The Thomas Carnduff Society had made its much needed presence felt by launching the Yard Sessions, a monthly open mic poetry night in East Belfast.  

She came struggling into harbour with her star-board boiler burst
And her cylinders a-creaking with a most peculiar thirst
-Thomas Carnduff

The founders of the TCS, as the name would suggest, were all admirers of the man they called the shipyard poet.  Carnduff was from Sandy Row.  He was an advocate of justice and hope, a soldier, socialist, an Orangeman, a poet, a labourer, and a playwright.  Educated in Dublin his writing was fired by the painful strains of being a working man and yet also gives the reader what is almost universally needed, optimism and beauty.  

Tomorrow I will climb
The aftermast and see
The sun’s bright rays incline
Their golden light on me
-Thomas Carnduff

He penned poems which could only have been written by - and consequentially, especially appreciated by – working people.  When he writes of how “We felt like kicking the gaffer, but we tackled the job instead…” every worker whose anger at underappreciation was checked by the pride they took in their work can take ownership of Carnduff, and carry his words in their heart.  When Carnduff writes, “as she glides with stately grace, to her ever hungry lover, and the lapping tides embrace…” The reader shares a beauty Carnduff saw not just in the yard, but because of it.  

You may love in the city of shadows
In the arbour of broken hearts
With your pent-up passions unbridled
Before the spirit departs
-Thomas Carnduff

I truly adore the Yard Sessions and the friendships that have grown amongst the regular readers and writers, the poets and yarn tellers.  I look forward each month to Cathy’s unscripted, captivating, and quite soul-bearing performances.  I love Stephen’s clever wordplay about football, MOT tests, American soldiers and much besides.  I enjoy Beeno’s poems, inspired from his experiences of conflict, and prison.  I love to hear Chris’s writings of a protestant Dublin childhood.   And I can’t help but smile as Tim performs his writings, he doesn’t merely read them.  There are others worthy of mention too, and new faces arrive each month to grace the mic.  It’s something I need.  It’s something I love.

A mermaid laughs on a lovely day
On a lovely piece of Helens Bay
Then something fun happens as the water laps near
As the wee mermaid giggles, her legs appear
She’s pleased with herself, she surveys her land
Sure, her daddy can build her a new tail of sand
-William Ennis

In one of his final letters to a dear friend Carnduff wrote, “Never be beaten by the barbs of snobbery John.  Bombard them rather with a salvo of tolerance.”

William Ennis

William Ennis is 40 years old and works in Electrical Wholesale.  He is also currently working toward a degree in Psychology (with counselling) with the Open University. 


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