I came across the work of Emer Martin in a copy of Stinging Fly magazine that a friend left in my flat on a winter evening in 2011. Leafing through the contents I was struck by the title “going underground” in the novel extracts section, as I had made a film about the Dublin punk rock scene, “The Stars Are Underground.”
Reading the character’s monologue in my kitchen I realized I was speaking it out loud, caught up in the rhythm. The words felt like an anger cheat sheet for the situation we are in today and I immediately knew I wanted to put it to music.
The words seemed to encapsulate what myself and many of my contemporaries have been trying to express in terms of our place within history at this time and how we might begin to create a route forward. While initially they lent themselves to a full throttle approach, in the end, a considered and deliberate reading was more appropriate.
I had been planning to combine my love of both film and music and felt that this piece was where I should start.
I wanted the visuals to be abstract for the most part yet suggestive of the natural world and an internal world in equal measure.
I wanted the music to be a combination of midi, analogue, and the human voice. I had been exploring Shape Note singing for some time and felt its raw human power would suit the sense of a people’s emotional response to their situation perfectly.
I was going underground.
Under my life. Under the country. Under the barley. Under the potatoes. Under the churches. Under the lunatic asylums. Under the cow shit. Under the wild primroses on the hedges. Under the schools. Under the Brat Bhride. Under the courts that stole my children. Under the chieftains and druids who sliced our son’s nipples and stuck them face down in an Iron Age bog. Under Patrick’s staff that pinned me to the bed where the Doctor held me down and attached electrodes to my head. Under the connivance of monks that stole out stories and twisted them into their own. Under the vikings who plundered out treasures. Under the betrayers, the snitches, the deal makers that welcomed our enemies to the shore. Under the Normans pouring tar at us from their freezing green zone castles. Under the flight of the Earls, who left us to ourselves. As if we stood on the edge of the cliffs waving them off, poor miserable peasants that we were. Come back oh nobility come back and fuck us again. Under Cromwell who scoured the land of us and banished us to stony windy wet mountains where even sheep lost their footing and plunged into the sea. Under the Brits who beat our language out of us. Under the Landlords who put us on the soft side of the road…
Under the world where the fairies are. Where limbo babies’ tiny skeletons still cage their earthstruck souls. Under the tangled roots of imported trees. Under machines that stripped the bogs bare. Under the world where the Fairies are. Under the music that squeaked out of boxes. The air that rushes from flutes. The bang of the drum. Under the low lying ever thickening clouds. Under the blight. Under the boats shipping corn to England. Under the deck of the coffin ships. Under the people of 1916. Children of the starved who crawled out of the West. Under Padraig Pearse. His gammy eye and bad poetry. Under the stone yard in Klimainham where they tied the wounded James Connolly to a chair and shot him. Under the Black and Tans. Under the constant grey sky…
Under failed negotiations of poor leadership. Under each other now. Under the Blue Shirts. Under Beal Na mBlath. Under Bishop McQuaid rasping in DeValera’s ear, in the back of the state car as they made plans for us. Under the poets who ordered us to open the door without giving us the key. Under the Sacred Heart offering his inedible organ pressed with thorns. Under the singers who made us shiver but would not warm us. Under the endless decades of the Rosary. Under the museums that hid the Sheela-na-gigs. Under the pricks of selfloathing men who stuck it into us and condemned as dirty with their juice. Undert the Virgin Mary who will one day show no mercy for that child in Granard. For she is the one and only, the Holy and Immaculate Virgin that renders all our mothers whores. Under the cassocks of the bishops and cardinals and popes with their useless cocks like ticking metronomes marking out time till the chickens come home to roost. Under Ben Bulben. Under the endless verses of rebel songs. Under the drink. The poteen that could turn you raw blind. The Guinness that blackens your shit. The Uisce Beatha that bursts your liver…
Under the fierce watch of bad nuns as starved children in their care collected turf for their parlours. Under the solicitors, the guards, the school principals, the doctors, the bank managers, the decent people of Ireland who you need to sign for your passport. Under the thud and the hum of the laundries. Under the heaps of banned books from exiled scribblers. Under the shoeless bloody feet of slave children in the obscene care of church and state-uncounted. Lives like melted snow off a ditch. Under Fairy Forts in Meath, the hag stones in Beara the dissappeared Georgian buildings. Under the UVF, the IRA, the RUC, the INLA, the SAS. Under the bombs, the assassinations, the murders, the knee-capping, the man who was shot dead outside his house last night. Under the toll-roads, built to slice through the Neolithic they refused to understand. Under the tribunals, the confessions, the recessions the depressions. The brown bags of money under the tables. Under the triple chins of the dazed fat creatures who sold us to the IMF and went creeping off with huge pensions…
Under the heroin, the flats, the dirty canals, the coke come-downs, the cathedral-like shopping centres, the developers, the bankers, the crap ugly buildings standing empty, the blank spaces in the sprawling estates built on flood plains, The Great ONGAR, The unsignposted roundabouts. Which way now? Which way now? Which way now? Under your shrivelled breast that I sucked and sucked, but it was too late to come to you for nourishment so dried out were you with our neglect. And when you cried out in pain it was black crows that squeezed out of your tear ducts and flew at me as I lay in your embrace and all of these crows plucked chunks out of me, until I was taken off inside the black noise of that flock in small separate pieces and squawkingly digested and shat out on to the forest floor. Under the canopy of trees the soil of this land took me for what it could suck out of me. Which wasn’t much by then, was it, oh Ireland?
I was going underground.
from Affection of a Hag
Emer Martin is an Irish novelist and film-maker. Her first novel, Breakfast in Babylon, described the life of a young Irishwoman in the Parisian underworld and won Book of the Year at the 1996 Listowel Writers’ Week. More Bread Or I’ll Appear, her second novel, was published internationally in 1999. Her most recent book is Baby Zero, published in March 2007. Her fourth book, The Affection of a Hag, is currently with her agent in New York and London.
Photo By: Francesca Guadagnini