Poem of the week: Banagher Fair

… why should we care/ If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted/
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?
from The War Horse by Eavan Boland

On an autumn night, the road is clear,
the fair green seething in its concrete grave.
Nowhere to hitch a horse, nowhere
to pasture the thousand ghostly sheep

that flood the narrow road,
caught in the streetlamp's amber.
Along Church Street, they turn,
horses, sheep, cattle, quick as clouds

passing across the moon,
seeking the green that fed them
through famine, tithes, and civil war –
whinnies echo on St Rynagh's gravestones.


Through years of unpaved roads
and ambushed mail cars they canter,
the jingle of a sulky carried on the breeze,
hooves sparking on vanished cobbles.

We behind our curtains hear only
the passing music of cartwheels, a bridle bell.
We wake in the morning,
expect to find the streets
awash with muck,

farmers and tanglers slapping hands,
an old woman with a piss-pot
walking the throng shouting
Cack in me can, young man!

Instead, an absence ripens
into bitter sloes that dot
the hedgerows we pass
as we pull on masks,
walk aimless circuits,
yearn for the keen
of a single hoof-beat.

Jessica Traynor’s debut collection, Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press, 2014), was shortlisted for the Strong/Shine Award and her second collection, The Quick, was a 2019 Irish Times poetry choice.