Celtic knots

St Audoen’s Church, Dublin, 2005

Temple of history, temple
of short lives long
gone, temple of hundreds
of souls… trod
on me hard as I trod
on its layers
of graves. Quiet
spirits whispered hundreds
of hushes
from the eleventh-
century walls.

If I ever go to church in Dublin this is where.
Not in St Patrick’s with its souvenir stalls.

If I go back to Dublin,
if I take you there,
let me take you to St Audoen’s
on a Sunday when the congregation sit,
sing, kneel and pray
where their people have prayed
for a thousand years.

Used continuously since the Normans built it.
Centuries of extension, of chapels and courtyards.
In the fourteenth century, a square tower
with battlements
and bells.

Centuries of loss. Roofs taken off
to escape the roof tax. Gravestones and monuments
weathering away. Dirt building up, the ground rising
in layers of rubble. The townspeople crowding,
singing, chattering, hanging their washing
wall to wall in the roofless buildings.
Stone turning black in the tower.
Bells ringing.

Ringing bells. Re-roofing. Hanging cables. Excavating.
Discovering a cobbled way, a metre wide.
Leaving a section uncovered. Roped off,
with a sign asking us to imagine the people
who walked on the cobbles hundreds of years ago.

Ghosts projected on the ancient wall
in silverblue light, with ethereal music.
Walking. Going, coming. Living on.

Two tourists; a visiting priest; the guide.

Hush, said the ghosts of St Audoen’s.
Hush. This is not St Patrick’s.
Still your chattering modern mouths.
Listen for us and you will hear us
in the hush.

There was a lucky stone, a four-foot ovoid,
pitted and worn with time and touch,
Celtic symbols just visible.
Once stolen, but soon returned.
(The thief had to bring it back: it got heavier
and heavier.) Older than this oldest church,
made by people at the edge of memory.
People who knew how to make symbols
in the way of the land and the layers,
in the way of the earth and her children.

Writing this I touch the necklace
I bought in a souvenir shop in O’Connell street.
A cheap thing, but its four Celtic knots
are enough.

The other tourist touched the stone. For luck.
I didn’t. Couldn’t.

I am too new, too full of dirty salt,
not clean enough.

Old eyes look at me from my wall.
A print: a painting
in which a face appears like a vision
in a stone.
— What are you writing now? the eyes say.
— I’m writing about St Audoen’s.
Have you been there? Did you hear the hush?
Did you touch the lucky stone?
— Do a good job of it then, the eyes say.
— It’s only a sketch for now. Getting it down — you know.
— That’s the way.

I didn’t touch the stone. But my luck was in.
Arms held me, eyes met me, streets
and stones and the river spoke to me.
I was knotted into the strands of Dublin.
Raw ends joined, a pattern completed,
and the rough, the narrow, the cobbled path
took me home.


p class=”pubcredit”>First published in Blast