The Island

The Island.

Angels voices soaring to roll off the ceilings curves,
numb hands pressed against grieving ones,
roaring winds pulling at the aged stones,
no threat to peace or pain inside the vault,
sharing the seeping warmth of love departed.

The lintels still carry chisel strikes,
left by rough hands that toiled,
a hundred years of rain have yet,
to find their way inside,
each stone as tight together as the families,
who sit in hushed mourning rows beneath,

Their tears may smooth the ambered stone,
before the harbour weather ever breaches,
the final equalising place of rest,
where the trappings of religions,
are swapped according to the guest.

The doors accept the faithful and the poor,
the faithless and the wealthy with all the rest,
there in the still respectful silence,
muttering prayers half-remembered if at all,
offering the strength of common presence.

In the back row of the assembled,
far from the neat chairs beside the younger feet,
as the time draws closer to say goodbye,
know that you are always with us,
beneath this unifying storm cloud sky.

by Ruairí de Barra

In respectful remembrance of the many people who have passed through the Island Crematorium situated on Rocky Island in Cork Harbour.

Since it has opened I have paid my final respects there to a far too many people; to a dear friend, the parents and siblings of other friends as well as to the parents and family members of many of my Irish Naval service colleagues both serving and retired.

We have a tradition in the Naval Service that we will attend such funeral services in uniform, regardless of the length of time since last you served or the length of time the deceased or the grieving person themselves served for.

We do because you are always our comrade, you supported us and in this hour of your need or in the hour of your remembrance we will support you and your family.
‘Blood is thicker than water’ is an oft-repeated phrase, meaning ‘family is always closest or most important’.

I chose to accept the other interpretation of that phrase, that of the blood covenant.

That the ties formed by military training and service transcend the ties of kinship, that it means that ‘those you have shed your blood with, are more close to you than anyone’.

‘…From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother…’

Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii 18–67, William Shakespeare.

Published in ‘Live Encounters’ December 2018. You can read the four poems in this special volume 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 again in the same pages of some truly talented people.

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