Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Duffs of Beechfield Street -- a poem by Sheena Wilkinson

Like many History Girls I love watching Who Do You Think You Are? and am always struck by how little I know about my own antecedents. This poem pieces together snippets from things my gran told me about growing up in Belfast. She was born in 1908 and must have had memories of the Great War, the Great Flu, the Home Rule Crisis, Civil War, and the Belfast Blitz, but she always spoke about the domestic: home and church, work and leisure. 

There was nothing remarkable about her family. Except of course to her. 

The Duffs of Beechfield Street

The Duffs built the Titanic.
In 1913 James Duff moved his family
two streets further up the Newtownards Road
To save on the tram fare to the Yard.

The Duffs all worked at the Yard

The Duffs  were stalwarts of the Christian Endeavour
At Albertbridge Congregational Church.
They won prizes for Attendance and Bible Knowledge.
If you didn’t eat your dinner, James would say,
Put it in the oven, she’ll eat it when she’s hungry.

A Belfast street

 The Duffs loved animals, Annie a smuggler of kittens
Upstairs, hidden in her pinny, Frances never tiring
of the story of the wee Pomereen pup
found sleeping in her daddy’s boot.

The Duffs did as things did with them.
When James died Fanny took in sewing
And made sure the children had good clothes for Sundays.
The girls left school at thirteen, sewed shirts,
and hoped to marry. Sadie died at sixteen.
Annie, the kitten smuggler, Sadie who died, Frances, my gran

Alexander loved dancing. He always got Sandy.
Frances married Charles from a semi-detached
With a garden up the Castlereagh Road.
Jim went to Australia.

Annie dreamed of Australia
But when her mother died in 1936 she stayed
In Beechfield Street with her brother John,
And a cat called Dinky who was allowed upstairs.

Fanny Duff's death notice in The Belfast News Letter, 1936


Joan Lennon said...

Thank you Sheena - you made them real to me. Of course they were already real, but you know what I mean?

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Thanks both! I am sure I have some details wrong, as they are based on my memories of Gran's memories, if that makes sense. And for example, she always called a Pomeranian dog a 'Pomereen', which isn't correct but seemed like the right word.