From Unity, 19 May 2007

Santa Espina



          I remember a tune that we used to hear in Spain
          And it made the heart beat faster and all of us knew
          Each time as our blood was kindled once again
          Just why Catalunya’s sky above us was so blue.

          I remember a tune like the voice of open sea
          Like the cry of migrant birds, that tune in silence stores
          After its notes a stifled sob
          Revenge of the salt seas on their conquerors.

          I remember a tune that was whistled late at night
          In a sunless time, an age with no wandering knight.
          While children wept for bombs, huddled deep in catacombs
          A noble people dreamt of the tyrant’s doom.

          In that tune’s name—Santa Espina—was borne the sacred thorn
          That pierced the brow of a god, as on his cross he died.
          And all who heard those notes, they felt that song in the flesh
          Like the wound in Jesus’ side, as his sorrows were revived.

          O Catalans, you hummed that tune, but its words you did not sing.
          Before Christ’s name you bowed no more and yet this I do know:
          As Franco ravaged Spain, all in the name of Christ the King
          Santa Espina was your hope and your month of Sundays O.

          How in vain do I still seek that proud yet poignant melody
          But this hard earth on which we live now has but operatic tears.
          And the sound of murmuring waters has been lost to memory:
          That call of stream to stream, in these unhearing years.

          O Holy Thorn, Santa Espina, let me hear your notes again
          Where we fought with pride, yet often cried with your defiance and your pain.
          But no one is left now to intone your proud refrain.
          The woods are so silent and the singers dead in Spain.

          And yet I hope and do believe that such music still
          Lives in the hearts of that proud people, being hummed now underground.
          Yes, the dumb will yet sing, and the paralytics will
          March in triumph one fine day to Catalunya’s noble sound!

          And that piercing crown of blood, so full of anguish and sorrow
          Will fall from the brow of the Son of Man that hour!
          And man will sing proudly in that new tomorrow
          Of Catalunya, Santa Espina, and the hawthorn tree in flower!
          Yes, man will sing loudly in that sweet tomorrow
          Of the beauty of life and the hawthorn tree in flower!

This is a song based on part of the melody of Catalunya’s national hymn, “Santa Espina,” with words based on the March 1940 poem of the same name by the French communist poet Louis Aragon. It was arranged and sung by Manus O’Riordan on the occasion of the scattering of the ashes of his father—the Irish International Brigader Michael O’Riordan (1917–2006)—in the river Ebro, close to Ascó, Catalunya, by all the members of Michael’s family on 12 May 2007.
     It was at Ascó that, in an act of internationalist solidarity, the commander of the British Battalion of the Fifteenth International Brigade, Sam Wild, had chosen the Irish volunteer for liberty Michael O’Riordan to carry the flag of Catalunya across the river Ebro on 25 July 1938 on the commencement of the final military offensive of the Spanish Republic.

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