Linda Adair – The pluck of the Irish

Adair LE P&W May 2023

Download PDF Here 
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2023

The pluck of the Irish, poems by Linda Adair

The pluck of the Irish

With only the gift of the gab
to make and remake stories
utter incantations, take talismans
cloaked in protective layers
pieced together
from almost-broken lives
recount half-remembered tales
shredded by the cruel winds
that blew along broken stone roads
built only to ‘earn’
a meagre bowl of thin soup

in the face of a politely orchestrated genocide
wearing only their language
they fled to places where workers were needed
though history demanded silence
of their mother tongue.


In a town called Black
opposite 1871 school rooms
stood a redbrick 1960s library
full of reference books
celebrating Captain Cook’s
east coast voyage to claim
possession on one tiny island
for an entire ‘empty’ continent:
whitewashed ‘settlement’

in a town called Black
inside that redbrick children’s library
The Empty Schoolhouse
sat on the new fiction shelf
five years after publication
one librarian’s quiet resistance
a gift for children like me
desperate for truth telling amid
whitewashed history

in a town called Black
from that redbrick suburban library
I borrowed that book
took it home to read then wept
at the fight for education and equality
that a different colour skin needed
my mother tried to soothe me
racism is much worse in America
whitewashed ‘assimilation’

in a town called Black
thanks to that redbrick local library
I began to notice the gaping holes
in stories served up as objective fact
to colour-blind innocents of nine
children taught to accept
what the history texts told …
whitewashed ‘lies’.

X — ing the lexicon

I trace the family tree
until the documents falter
listen for wails
from stifled mouths
their voices drowned out

by the slap of waves
on dank hulls
clumsily-inked Xs
on convict-ship manifests
beside Irish names
exiled by oceans to Port Jackson

after 1000 years of English occupation
purged for dissent or merely existing
transported to this open-air prison
without even their own ghosts for company

in the undeclared Frontier Wars
emancipist conscripts were authorised
‘in the name of the King’ to fire muskets
on First Nations’ men women and children
– even pre-emptively to protect ‘their’ holdings.

After the blood letting
the lexicon became another rubicon
meaning and history rendered by those
with the power to speak, record or erase.

Proclamations of the Crown
ruled life and sentenced death
forbade the mother tongues
of both the coloniser and the colonised

for so many gone before
a cascade of shame and trauma
in margins they could not annotate
merely survive the order words of Empire

ironic that the King’s English
is the one tongue I have to recall
those shipped here to displace
the sovereign peoples whose ancient languages
are again being spoken.

The first in my family to attend university
unwittingly I colonised myself
taking Honours in English Literature
an older and wiser friend’s query at the time
political economy would have been better?

© Linda Adair

A poet, artist, as well as publisher of Rochford Press/co-editor of Rochford Street Review, Adair grew up on Darug country without knowing whose land she stood on. She now lives on Darug and Gundungarra lands in the Blue Mountains, Australia, and pays her respect to the Traditional Custodians of Country which always was, and always will, be Aboriginal. Her debut book The Unintended Consequences of the Shattering was published in 2020. Her poems have appeared in To End All Wars, Messages from The Embers, Poetry for the Planet, Pure Slush Volume 25 and Work! Lifespan Vol 5 as well as various journals.

As a resident poet at BigCi in 2022, Adair researched the failed shale-oil mining town Newnes and wrote poems and painted canvases to imagine her Aunt Jesse’s childhood. That work was exhibited at DIP (Darlington Installation Project) in September. Adair was invited to read her poetry at a Back to Newnes Weekend to conservationists, historians, rock climbers and adventurers, not poets! During a recent Varuna residency, she began working on a verse memoir of her family’s complex relationship to unceded land. She is a feature at The Poetry of Rethinking at La Mama in May.

One Reply to “Linda Adair – The pluck of the Irish”

  1. These poems are brilliant, so vivid and heartbreaking…
    I love your title too, THE PLUCK OF THE IRISH…
    Yes, they have certainly needed that…
    Congratulations, Linda . Wonderful work here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.