The Betrothal of Cavehill

A wedding is about to be celebrated; ordinary folk get on with their lives against the backdrop of a divided Ulster.

In the troubled Belfast of the 1960s, hostile Gunfire barks its questions (of sectarian ownership) off Cavehill. The hill’s geographical features reflect the religious and political make-up of its immediate area: Cavehill is as hard and uncompromising as basalt; as defiant as its south-facing stare into Catholic areas; a stone projecting non-catholic traits: proud, protestant and northern and male.

A good natured poke at the perceived naivety of bridegroom compares those taking their wedding vows with the artless innocence of Adam untouched before he was taken over by Eve and suffered joint expulsion from Eden (before the shock of gender).

As if to confirm that grooms needed good fortune to be on their side a tradition survives: they still shoot over their heads on their wedding day for luck.

Such was Heaney’s experience on his wedding-day as he left to join his bride in her own version of Eden in Ulster: to bed me down/ Among my love’s hideouts, her pods and brooms.

In celebration, therefore, rather than as a sectarian statement They fired/ the ritual gun.

  • Cavehill: a hill overlooking Belfast; a place to walk and from which listen to the sounds of the city; also an electoral ward at the north end of Belfast with a Protestant majority;

  • sounds heard will include detonations and gunfire from across the city during the so-called Troubles;

  • basalt: Latin derivation; put simply, ‘very hard stone’;

  • South: both the Catholic wards of south west Belfast and the Catholic Irish Republic over the border are literally south of the northern city ward of Cavehill;

  • the choice of betrothal is subtle: it refers to the binding promise of marriage and by extension to the commitment of those who are politically ‘wedded’ to sectarian causes;

  • pods and brooms: natural vegetation of seed husks and spiky plants;

  • 2 quatrains; loose rhyme scheme abab cdcd; line length based on 10 syllables;

  • 4 sentence construction with 3 enjambed lines;

  • sound effects of stanza (1): [ei] Cavehill/ basalt maintains/male; [au] South: proud;[ʌ] off/ protestant/ shock; alliterative effects: profiled/ proud, protestant; prominent alveolar nasal [n]and sibilant [s];

  • In (2) interplay of 6 variant vowel (o) sounds: shoot/ to/ broom; over/ drove; morning; out/ down; pods; above; the plethora of voiced and voiceless plosives [d] [t] and [b] [p] made at the front of the mouth contrast sharply with the velar [g] of the final gun echoing the first word of the piece: Gunfire.