Mothers of Many Nations


Mothers of  Many Nations.

Mothers are mothers, white, brown, yellow, black.
no divide amongst the races by colour, creed or social status,
each mother cradles two generations inside her during gestation,
endless cord to the dawn of time,
when your mother’s mother was also mine.

The abuse and danger a mother will endure,
as she sets out unsure – to flee
fetching up on a Libyan shore,
with the precious child, her world.

Dead heat, the hold is suffocating,
bravely trying not to show any fear,
as waves rock the barque setting out into the night.
the two penned within a wooden dungeon,
no porthole breeze or starlight pierces beneath the deck,
shelved top to tail, on slatted bars with walls that,
feet trailing in latrine bilge, where dignity is stripped,
modern holocaust inshipped.

Far off the coast, the jackals cut them loose,
three hundred and forty-five cattle,
would be more carefully protected,
but businessman will cash their cheques,
their loathsome profit has been extracted,
the flotsam can now be ejected.

In the early hour’s masked aliens arrive,
robed in white, barking orders in the night,
no understanding of their words,
her gut grips tight and stomach churns,
the terror of return to that wretched shore,
where hope no longer burns,
on scabies ridden warehouse floors.

Finally, from behind the locked door, release,
gulping deep salt-laden air,
looking now into the alien’s eyes,
they’re blue,
thrown two jackets, one red, one black,
the first is put on her daughters back,
there in the pitching, panicking melee.

The grey citadel looms large,
passed hand to hand, tagged and snapped,
not harshly treated, but swift and sure,
a hand invades where no hand should be,
but unlike before, this hand vanishes not wanting more,
as on cardboard mats she sees,
in neat lines of segregation an end to her degradation.

She hides the food behind her refuse sack,
fear in her eyes that I might retrieve it,
no need to horde for there was no lack,
when children are so mistreated,
their stunned faces, your heart cracks, you feel it,
internally you curse the greedy’
who inflict this terror upon the needy,
louder still you spit and roar at cowards who glibly say ‘No More!’

Come and see humanity with me, at sea,
see woman, child and man reduced,
with nothing left, entirely bereft,
sit in Sirte slum or cling to a rubber raft of unknown futures,
see boys stand armed vigil through the night,
silent sentinels, bearing witness to the plight,
of tinfoil blanket forms wrapped tight,
like golden caterpillars packed together on a quivering leaf.

Mothers are mothers, white, brown, yellow, black.
no divide amongst the races by colour, creed or social status
Remember, before you make proud proclamations,
those who never reached their destination,
who rest down deep beneath the waves,
in unmarked ocean graves.

Mothers of so many nations.

By Ruairí de Barra.

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues.  The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

This is the very first poem which I read aloud one evening in the company of my friend, the writer and warrior poet Michael J Whelan, upstairs above the Long Valley Pub, Winthrop St in Cork City. Ó Bhéal is Cork’s weekly poetry event. You can read more about what they do here. I actually wrote this on Mothers Day in 2017, while pacing my kitchen one morning on a day when everyone stops to remember the person who gave them life and in particular is in one’s thoughts when they are no longer here with us.

Published in ‘Live Encounters’ March 2018. You can take read the three poems on the Live Encounters website or download a free .pdf copy just by clicking here.

Live Encounters is a wonderful publication and all of its issues, as well as special editions, may be found on its website at

I would like to thank Mark Ulyseas for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.


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