I’m thrilled to be posting a long out of print poem of Ian Duhig’s on my poetry blog today. You can read The Irish Slave here. I am so grateful to Ian for his generosity in sharing this and for sending the following notes, with fascinating links, which help to unravel the poem’s mesmerising story.
Footnote to The Irish Slave by Ian Duhig
The Night of Power (Lailet al Qadr, which marks the night in which the Qur’an was first revealed) is explained here.
The Sack of Baltimore, a raid by North African pirates on the village of Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland, in 1631, and also described in Irish folk songs, is explained here.
Ian writes that the story of Baltimore is well known in the part of Ireland his family came from and that he first heard it from an uncle.
“…although I imagined what would happen after, it was a local man I think who guided the pirates, the traitor in question.
A caique is a small boat and Janissaries are the Sultan’s bodyguard and elite troops – like the poem’s speaker, originally Christian. He’s castrated to be a court functionary – for them to do this was an investment and meant a good job. The speaker, apart from being castrated, has a luxurious life in wealth undreamable by Irish country people, epitomised by the contrast between tea and sherbet. The Qur’an quote refers to the sort of dangers he’s no longer much at risk of, also having a rude pun on ‘stones’, and the quote goes on to mention the guarding angels that his new job is, more or less. Not unlike the priest’s job in Ireland, equally celibate and sexually ambiguous – I got the bit about men playing dice on the church porch from my Father, who with his friends did this and counted it as attending mass.”