PAMELA O'MALLEY - (1929 - 2006)

A tribute by the Irish poet SEAMUS HEANEY,
winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature
read by his brother-in-law Barry Devlin

At her Memorial Service, Irish Labour History Museum, Dublin, 2nd April 2006

Marie and I met Pamela for the first time in the summer of 1969 when we spent three weeks with Marie's sister Anne, who had a flat in the same apartment building. Pamela was then in the full flower of her emotional and physical being, a figure who bore herself with great boldness, a political activist who was the friend of artists and poets, and already something of a legend.

She had great glamour in our eyes because of her past relations with Gaynor and her ongoing relations with the Guardia Civil. But she also had about her the kind of glamour that I imagined must have surrounded Maud Gonne. At that time, she appeared to me the way Gonne appears in Yeats's poem, 'No Second Troy', where he describes her as somebody 'high and solitary and most stern'. And that was true enough of Pamela in one of her aspects, the noble fighter for democracy, the woman ready to go prison for her convictions and to bear witness to the convictions of others.

But there was another aspect, the amicable, intellectually springy, intoxicatingly companionable Irishwoman, capable of banter and laughter but equally capable of passionate argument and advocacy. And those first impressions were duly confirmed as the years went on and our mutual fondness deepened into a cherished friendship.

It was already a source of pride to me that Pamela kept on the wall of her apartment a handwritten copy of a poem of mine that recalls that hot summer of 1969, when we all lived closely and intensely in Arguenzala, the summer when danger brewed at home in Derry and Belfast, and the shape of our future began to be manifested in the brutalities and nightmares depicted in Goya's art. So here, in her memory, is 'Summer 1969'.

Summer 1969
While the Constabulary covered the mob
Firing into the Falls, I was suffering
Only the bullying sun of Madrid.
Each afternoon, in the casserole heat
Of the flat, as I sweated my way through
The life of Joyce, stinks from the fishmarket
Rose like the reek of a flax-dam.
At night on the balcony, gules of wine,
A sense of children in their dark corners,
Old women in black shawls near open windows,
The air a canyon rivering in Spanish.
We talked our way home over starlit plains
Where patent leather of the Guardia Civil
Gleamed like fish-bellies in flax-poisoned waters.

'Go back', one said, 'try to touch the people'.
Another conjured Lorca from his hill.
We sat through death-counts and bullfight reports
On the television, celebrities
Arrived from where the real thing still happened.

I retreated to the cool of the Prado.
Goya's 'Shootings of the Third of May'
Covered a wall - the thrown-up arms
And spasm of the rebel, the helmeted
And knapsacked military, the efficient
Rake of the fusillade. In the next room,
His nightmares, grafted to the palace wall -
Dark cyclones, hosting, breaking; Saturn
Jewelled in the blood of his own children,
Gigantic Chaos turning his brute hips
Over the world. Also that holmgang
Where two berserks club each other to death
For honour's sake, greaved in a bog, and sinking.

He painted with his fists and elbows, flourished
The stained cape of his heart as history charged.

Also available are an obituary in the Irish Times for Pamela O'Malley and the oration by Manus O'Riordan at the Memorial Service.