I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Hidden Irelands

Lia Mills
Blood Debts, by Celia de Fréine, Scotus Press, 110 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-0956096678 A lesson in Can’t, by Celia de Fréine, Scotus Press, 80 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-0956096685 “Give me my children, whatever the cost,” says the unnamed narrator in the opening poem of the remarkable collection Blood Debts. In the poems that follow it quickly becomes apparent that the speaker has to pay a very high price indeed. This extraordinary narrative collection tells a story we all think we know but have never heard told with such skill and intensity. The controlled, fluent anger of a poet is directed against the state and its agents while relating the sorry saga of the Anti-D scandal as experienced firsthand. (Anti-D immunoglobulin is administered to women with a Rhesus negative blood-type after the birth of a Rhesus positive baby, to prevent Rhesus disease developing in subsequent pregnancies – so-called “blue babies”. In the 1970s more than 1,600 Irish citizens, most of them women, contracted Hepatitis C through the administration of infected Anti-D.) Early in the sequence we have a poem about a young couple on their first date, a night rich with portents. It progresses quickly through the birth of their first two children and a first – lethal, as it would prove to be – injection. Neither complaint nor plea for pity, the poems issue a challenge to the secrecy and ineptitude of state agencies who should have known – and performed – better. you never imagined this nightmare – you lived in a democracy, yourself and your care, under an elected government, who cherished each citizen far from the laboratories of jackbooted men. (“the worst nightmare”) The poems in this collection spread a wide net across new ground in Irish poetry, telling as they do of years of poor health, symptoms dismissed by medical practitioners: jaundice, pain, devastating rashes put down to washing powder by a nurse, denied or blamed on “the primroses in my flowerbed” by doctors, until the narrator is – wrongly – diagnosed as having Lupus, an auto-immune disease, as though to say, you’re doing it to yourself. One exhausted morning she hears her own story break on the news (“morning ireland”) with an announcement that clusters of women had developed jaundice after being given contaminated immunoglobulin. Her life changes course in a fog of disinformation and misinformation; months of testing, retesting and delays that eventually lead to…

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