Friday, October 23, 2015

Poem on the Last of the Ballymun Towers Coming Down

Ballymun was a high-rise housing estate built in the late sixties, dogged by social problems (drugs, vandalism, delinquency, etc.) and rebuilt in more recent years. All the towers and high-rise apartment blocks were either knocked down, blown up or disassembled. The last of the seven towers was slowly dismantled last month.

A Facebook page called Tribute to the Old Ballymun is filled with memories, nostalgia and laments for the old high-rise Ballymun. I posted this poem on it, written while the last tower was still coming down, and it was very popular. I started it in satiric vein but became more serious as I wrote it.

Remember I am writing it as a pastiche of folk song. If the metre and scansion is hobbledy, that is deliberate.

The red light was a beacon light on top of the towers, which glowed all night and day.

Miss Mary was a newsagents where I used to get my comics, Transformers and Eagle, every Thursday. The Perry's parrot was a clockwork parrot that would give plastic eggs containing gifts in return for coins. Biddy Early was an Irish witch of the twentieth century. (Really. Or, at least, reputedly. Some say she was more a faith healer who got a bad name.)
Written during the Demolition of Plunkett Tower

The last of the towers is coming down, coming down, coming down
The last of the towers is coming down, and there’s an old song ended.
The last of the towers is coming down, the jewel in the Corporation’s crown,
Old Ballymun is coming down and its last lift has ascended.

The last red light has flickered out, flickered out, flickered out,
The last red light had flickered out, that kept the planes from crashing.
I’d stare at its light as I lay in bed, half-hypnotised by its orangey-red,
But the Ballymun beacons are all gone out, as Time’s scythe goes on slashing.

The shopping centre is full of ghosts, full of ghosts, full of ghosts
The shopping centre is full of ghosts—the ghosts of poor Miss Mary
The Perry’s parrot, and all the rest, they wander the lonely malls, distressed,
All things of the past, like the glimmer man and poor old Biddy Early.

The roundabout is long since gone, long since gone, long since gone
The roundabout is long since gone, where the traffic moved forever.
I would gaze at it from the seventh floor, it seemed as eternal as sea and shore,
But the cars go round about no more, and won’t till the first of never.

The games on the hill are over now, over now, over now
The games on the hill are over now, and Time’s called us for dinner.
‘The next goal wins’ we would always cry, but now that the years have all gone by,
Nobody knows who scored that goal or who turned out the winner.

The last of the towers is coming down, coming down, coming down
The last of the towers is coming down, and a world is disappearing.
And between the long-vanished concrete walls, there echoes the decades-old children’s calls,
And long-ago skipping games fill the air, on the faintest edge of hearing.


  1. That is a real keeper! The style lends itself well to poignancy, perhaps because the verses themselves sound like something "on the faintest edge of hearing" (not skipping games, but good old words that have been tumbled about by time, and smoothed over until just the very best bits are left). It seems as fine a tribute as any suburb could wish for--and it seems a shame that few suburbs, with all their generations of living, get any such thing.

    1. Thanks Molly! That's very sweet. I was quite happy with it.

      Sometimes the internet (and even Facebook!) is not so bad. Lots of people read this poem on the Ballymun Facebook page, and commented on it. It fit the bill. I was very pleased.