The Ballad of Gerry Kelly: Newsagent

© By James Simmons

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Here’s a song for Gerry Kelly,
Listen carefully and see
what’s the moral of the story.
It makes no sense to me.

Worked ten hours six days a week,
Sundays closed at three.
They say he made a decent living,
rather him than me.

Social centre for the neighbours –
not much cash in that –
buying fags or blades or tissues,
waiting on to chat.

Sixty-nine the nightmare started,
Loyalist anger rose:
sweet shops, butcher shops and pubs
were burned down, forced to close.

Who’d believe who never saw it …
the broken glass, the noise,
voices shouting ‘Fenian bastard’
- little Ulster boys?

Down the hill of lies and horror
Belfast city clipped
Twice the Tartan thugs came for him,
robbed and pistol-whipped.

Standing in his shattered shop
and taking inventory
of loss and damage, Gerry Kelly
longed to get away.

Who would buy the ruined business
that he’d worked to build?
No one, so he waited, hoping
until he was killed.

One dark evening last November –
turn the lights on till we see –
Gerry Kelly still in business,
wife gone back to make the tea.

Sorting out the evening papers
while his son is selling sweets,
in our time, our town, two gunmen
walk in off the streets.

© James Simmons, The Ballad of Gerry Kelly: Newsagent, 1974, complete text, Poems 1956-1986, 1986, The Gallery Press.

James Simmons describes the fate of a catholic newsagent working in a Protestant area, overtaken by the Troubles and virtually doomed by his circumstances.

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