Sinéad Morrissey was born on 24 April 1972 in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, “and spent my first six years living on Republican housing estates, before moving to Belfast. People were involved in the violence of the early seventies all around me, and yet this was something I was only able to realise years later, and the symptoms I had witnessed became linked to the disease I was gradually beginning to understand. This discrepancy between the blank watching of early childhood and a later, more contextual perception is explored in the poem “Ciara”.
Until I was sixteen, both my parents were active members of the Irish Communist Party, and my brother and I were brought along to party meetings peace rallies, May Day marches, party bazaars. The convictions that were instilled in me of the evils of Capitalism and the dawning of a Socialist Utopia were gradually eroded. Society in Northern Ireland is rigidly divided between the Nationalist and Loyalist communities.
Coming from a Communist household, militantly atheist, was just one factor that contributed to a sense of dislocation, of belonging to neither community. Both my brother and I were given Irish names, attended protestant schools, lived in Catholic areas, knew neither the Hail Mary nor the words of “The Sash”, were terrified by agonised Catholic statues and felt totally excluded from the 12 July celebrations. “Thoughts in a Black Taxi recalls the threat that we often felt from both communities because of assumed allegiance to the enemy. To be nothing - neither Catholic nor Protestant - was too removed from the dominant frame of reference to be believed.
Dislocation is only one side of the coin, and my unorthodox Northern Ireland childhood also left me with a sense of enormous freedom. When my parents got divorced and our house in Belfast was sold, I moved to Germany for a year to try and control the ensuing sense of disorientation. The sequence “Mercury” is a poetic account of that journey. I became fascinated by the fragile reality of places and the role that memory plays in building homes. Another journey that the collection records is a dawning sense of the spiritual. The search for security from loss and the journey from atheism to faith converge in the collection. In the final poem, “Restoration”, emptiness is replaced by light inexplicable. The dashed sense of belonging in the opening poem, Double Vision - You saw somewhere gone into, somewhere gone/Elsewhere, you wish - is healed by a tentative and limited testimony to wonder.
The final poem also returns the reader to the blank witnessing of childhood - suggesting that the journey to adulthood leads back, in some ways, to that earlier state of acceptance and that coming of age involves, to some degree, moving away from questions towards affirmations.