May 1974 and the smell of ash hangs over the city.
Not any old bomb, not any old fire. Smithfield Market,
All wood and glass, had burned all night and with it
One more boyhood dream, for when my father dropped me off,
Back then in 1968 or 9, a birthday pound-note in my hand,
I’d bought a pile of paperbacks from Clancy’s
Second-hand bookshop there – the best of all
The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas, a title
That I hid away from when I got back to Mum and Dad.
The Night they burned that market down, they put an end
To centuries of life – the 27 pubs that once were packed
At Lammas Fair, the grain and hay and spuds upon
The weighbridge, recruiting parties playing fife and drum
To get young men to come and fight in the Crimean War.
That morning Joe Kavanagh’s sign ‘I buy anything’,
Padlocks from Hawkins’ famous locksmith shop
And bikes from Jimmy McGarvey’s bicycle store
All lay in tangled ruin. They say in the days before books
That Bridie Farrelly used to walk up Hudson’s Entry,
A wad of ballads over her arm and one week later
They’d be singing them in all the pubs in town.
Four decades on I hear them sing those songs above the wail
Of the fire brigade and the licking sound of flames.
➽Philip Orr is a Carrickfergus writer