One man’s field is another man’s prison.
My father died from heart complications, at the age of 52 in Belfast, 1981. He was an architect and a Civil Servant. He was born in Milford, Co. Donegal, a distant field. His father was born in Newry, another field. His father, my great grandfather, was born in Canada in 1864, some fields and a big river away. His father, my great, great grandfather was born in West Meath around 1828. He joined a British Irish regiment, lived in Canada for ten years, then settled in Kilkenny from 1870 on . . . So which field, based on my family’s male line, should I choose to call my own?
Is there only one field or can I choose to seek out other fields beyond the tight restricting boundaries of that one field? This poem is my answer, along with this family collage for, in a way, our ancestors are always with us . . . RSH 8.7.13
The Gate in the Field.
I wandered across the fields that day.
Until I came to what I thought was my own gate.
Two stout Ulster pillars.
White, washed and phallic.
Standing before me and yet
Through the gate, on the other side
In the middle of the field
Stood people I recognised.
Four people, two couples.
Talking with my father.
Past on, these twenty seven years.
Laughing now with Eva, Etta, Alec and Agnes.
Relations all, fresh across the soil to join him.
And though I thought this impossible
I didn’t question reunion’s gift.
“There’s your next gate” they indicated with a smile.
My father gave me a big hug.
A warm embrace, so long needed.
Then let me go, his last Dandy-Lion seed.
To float and grow a little more.
My seed head spinning out in the breeze.
The next gate had no posts.
But hung off two trees.
It rested and beckoned me cross.
To move through time.
I clambered over
And there, on the other side
Was a small crowd of people.
My cold narrow field
Emerged through the morning mist.
Hazy, sun kissed, flowered and green.
Abundant with the seed of my ancestors.
For here they were.
Gathered all, before me.
My narrow field.
Narrow, almost boxed in my lifetime
Broader beyond belief
By seeing their existence.
Through seven fields I walked that day.
Recognising faces I had never known.
For in them I saw my own face.
Clasping the hands of those
Who knew not the custom.
Yet amongst them I stood.
In the late afternoon
I reached the eighth field
Their faces changing all the time to a darker hue.
The colour of their skin, the colour of their eyes.
Darkening as the sun sat lower in the sky.
Darkening, my ancestors.
By now the field was so big
It seemed to have no boundaries.
And my white, freckled, palette
Seemed an improbable canvas.
I felt a mere daub, a wee squirt
Swimming from their ancientness.
Their colours washing over me.
These dark smiling faces
Encircling me with their love.
People welcoming me.
Hugging me as my father had.
I knew I was home now.
For this was my field
My only field.
A field without walls.
“The Gate in the Field.”
By Randall Stephen Hall. © 7.7.06 – 23.8.07
First performed at Glencree 2007.
Citizen Ship Belfast 2013. Nos 28.