'An anthem for the king' - Article 28, UDHR

Award-winning Limerick-born writer Kevin Barry will be taking part in the Amnesty International event 'Human Rights, Poetic Redress' at the Belfast Festival at Queen's next Thursday (23rd October) at 6:30pm in The Baby Grand.

He will be joined by three other writers (Eilís Ní Dhuibne, Carlo Gébler and Glen Patterson) who have also contributed to the Amnesty / Irish Times series celebrating and responding to the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here's his contribution to the series, a short story first published in the Irish Times on May 3rd this year, responding to Article 28 of the Declaration. More information about and tickets for the event available here. Don't miss it.

An anthem for the king

In a new short story, Kevin Barry responds to Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as part of a continuing series in association with Amnesty International to mark the 60th anniversary of the declaration. Then the old king died, and the TV played sombre martial music, and we all wailed and beat our fists off the walls, and we ate buttery, potato-based dishes for comfort. But then the king-to-be was named, and he seemed pretty laidback and easy-going, so everybody on the island was cool with the situation. There was massive excitement above in the shack, of course – the king-to-be was due to call around. We were the island's foremost family of musicians, and as was the custom, a new king meant a new anthem, and we had always written the island's anthems. An ear for a tune and a way with sentimental words: that old stuff is in the blood. It was a crazy scene. Grandma swept the dirt floor with her hardwire brush and she almost hovered she was back and forth across that floor so fast, her full skirts twirling as she went. Cousin Ely restrung his banjo and gave the drum machine an overhaul. The twins, Dodo and Bess, hung from the rafters small coloured lights they'd fashioned from hand-caught fireflies. Uncle Joe roused himself from his maudlin nature to practise hot licks on the electric geetar. Sis, our ace wordsmith, made notes for the new anthem's lyric, while Grandpa rinsed his throat with raw alcohol to prepare those mighty vocal cords. I tried out some weird new dance moves and Wee Frankie yodelled his in-fill harmonies. We had all washed our hair and put on fresh-pressed dungarees. "Now I'm just thinkin' out loud here," said Sis, looking up from her notes. "See what y'all reckon . . ." We gathered in. "Way I'm thinkin'," she said, "we open with a fairly vague verse about general principles. About how we like things on the island to be mellow and relaxed, with lots of impromptu hugs and unguarded laughter." "Absolutely," said Grandpa. "We keep it fluffy. "Then we go into a feel-good chorus, with more of the peace-and-love hoopla, and then we slide in a second verse that has a go at the crowd over." 'Over' meant the closest of our neighbour islands in the archipelago. "About how they tried to pass off their filthy slattern morals on us?" suggested Uncle Joe. "Ad lib to fade," said Sis. "Now we'll need a tune that's instantly memorable and capable of being whistled by even the magnificently deranged." "I'm on it," said Grandpa, and he started rifling through his Carpenters songbook. Bugles sounded, then the clatter of donkey hooves: the king-to-be had arrived. Announced by drooling flunkies, he was soon among us, and we instantly liked the cut of his jib. He was wry, open-faced and jaunty, with a featherweight's spring in his nimble step, and also he was charmingly myopic, he kept walking into the walls of the shack and tripping over our little sugán chairs. The greetings eventually done with (these took several hours) he sprawled out humbly on the dirt floor and listened to our ideas for the new anthem. Uncle Joe essayed some Valiumy, Carpenters-type riffs on the geetar, while Sis warbled a bunch of fresh lyrics about hand-holding, meadows full of buttercups, and knock-kneed little fauns. "I'm lovin' it," said the king-to-be. "Kind of an easy-listenin' feel?" "Fluffy," said Grandpa. "I'm totally down with fluffy," said the king-to-be. Then Sis improvised a verse about the crowd over, about how they were sly and intemperate and unusually prone to venereal diseases. "Time-out!" cried the king-to-be. "Jesus, people, I'm tryin' to open up a diplomatic channel there! We're gonna have to lay off the crowd over." "So we go with fluffy all the way through?" said Grandma. "Not at all," said the king-to-be. "Actually, I think we could use the anthem to lay down some new ground rules for the island." "Oh?" "For example," he said, "it'd be nice to let the gingers know where they can go sling it." With a deft scoop of her arm, Grandma swept up Wee Frankie, who was ginger as the day was long, and concealed him beneath her full skirts. Our short-sighted new royal luckily hadn't made Frankie for a carrot-top. "Oh I don't like them redheads one bit!" snarled the king-to-be. "They have dreadful complexions and they can't take a tan! They take the look off the place something rotten. Gingers will ne'er again walk the villages of this island so long as I'm suckin' air! We can work this in, yes?" "See what I can do," mumbled Sis. "Also, citogs," said the king-to-be. "Huh?" "Citogs!" he cried. "Left-handed folks! I hate them big! The citogs are going to be rounded up and driven to the swamp with the gingers." We shuddered. The swamp of the island was a bad-mood swamp, bleak and desolate, and prone to easterly winds, big rats, and dark magic. It was where we kept the gypsies. "Citogs," said the king-to-be, "are unpleasantly arty and bohemian. They always strike me as a bit superior." At this moment, under Grandma's skirts, Wee Frankie had a crayon clamped in his wee left mitt and he was scrawling free verse on the floor. Poems about love and consciousness. In Latin. "And while we're at it," said the king-to-be, "there's the letter R. People who can't say their Rs make my skin crawl! Anyone who calls a rabbit a wabbit? They're going to the swamp!" Small consolation here, for Wee Frankie, thanks be to Jesus, had no problem with his Rs. The king-to-be departed then – he had an appointment to try out some new robes and harlots – and he left us to compose the hateful new anthem. It was to be debuted at the coronation ceremony next day. The shack fell into a sulk. We paced the dirt floor. Night fell. We moved out to the porch, as was our moon-gazing habit, and we chewed disconsolately on our corncob pipes. Grandpa stared out to the immensity of the night – it's Big Sky up here in the hill country of the interior, the sky was hung with strings of stars, and clouds passed over the moon, like moods across a fat man's face. Grandpa gazed with great sorrow then at Wee Frankie, who was squatting on the floor of the porch, skulling rough wine straight from the bottle and working on a libretto for an opera of his own composing. About astrophysics. "We can't do it," said Grandpa. "Ah we haven't a choice," said Grandma. "We do the anthem. Then we dye Frankie's hair and we bate him right-handed!" "No," said Grandpa. "I just won't be a party to it." But we were against the tide. All over the archipelago, it had become fashionable to deride gingers. Citogs, too, had taken a bad press. And people who had trouble with their Rs were routinely made fun of on the cable talkshows. "Look it," said Grandma. "We'd all like to live in an archipelago where gingers, citogs and people who can't say their Rs live freely and openly. It's a very pretty idea. But that archipelago is a fantasy, Gramps! It don't exist." "Then we make it exist," said Grandpa, huskily, and we all teared up some. "But how?" cried Grandma. "One island at a time," said Grandpa, and there wasn't a dry eye on the porch. It was at this point Wee Frankie hopped up on the porch rail and expressed himself through the language of dance. The morning of the coronation dawned hot and misty. From everywhere on the island (except the swamp) the people thronged down to the Great Glen: they were shitfaced on moonshine and patriotism. We took to the stage just before noon. We launched into some slow-building power chords and percussion riffs to get the vast crowd a-swayin' and a- hollerin'. We let it build and build and build until the crowd was ready to be wrung out like a dishcloth. Okay, so it was a direct lift from the intro to Gloria by Van Morrison's Them, but who was gonna sue? The new king was up out of his throne, jiggin' like a fool, eating chicken wings, and snogging harlots. I did some of the weird dance moves and the crowd went loolah altogether. Then Grandma put down her bodhrán and took centre stage. She raised her hands to hush the crowd, and she leaned back, and Dodo and Bess went all spooky and rattly with the tambourines – kssss-kssss-kssss! kssss-kssss-kssss! – and then Grandma lifted high her full skirts, and everybody gasped: out strode Wee Frankie. With his ginger locks glistening in the noonday sun, Wee Frankie swaggered forward, and though he was only three years of age and three foot tall, he had the walk and carry of a pure man. He went to the front of the stage, and he grabbed the mic in his wee left mitt, and he looked up to the throne, and he eyeballed the new king, and he cried out: "Awight! Awe we weady to wock'n'woll?" A great roar built, and a strange, powerful surge moved through the crowd, it rippled and throbbed like a python loosed, and there was no way it could be held back or arrested – it had the feel of a muscle flexing.---------------------------------------------------------------------- Article 28No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

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