My heartfelt thanks to Brendan Kerin, Marrawarra and Barkindji Elder, and cultural educator for the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, for granting me permission to tell this story. This poem was inspired by his Welcome to Country smoke ceremony at Warrung, which is the Dharug name for the area known as Circular Quay in Sydney, and by our shared histories as colonised peoples.

During British colonisation of Ireland, our lands, language and culture were stolen; many of our people were killed; many suffered great violence and hardships. This poem references my own family history. In 1921, my home in west Clare, Ireland was burned to the ground by British soldiers. My 13-year-old paternal grandfather and family barely escaped the blazing house while several neighbours were shot dead. Ten houses in our small town and others in neighbouring villages were destroyed by British troops that night.

I grew up amongst the ghosts of that dark night, in our rebuilt family home. My maternal grandfather told me stories of being beaten as a child for speaking in our native language (Gaeilge, Irish), which had previously been prohibited under British colonial law in Ireland. My paternal grandmother recounted to me many times being held at gunpoint in her home by a British soldier when she was 16 years old.

Through this poem, I seek to acknowledge the kinship between the Irish and Australian First Nations people, as recognised by Brendan in his very moving smoke ceremony. Alongside this, I want to acknowledge that the lands I live and work on are unceded ancestral lands of First Nations Australians, and as an immigrant to Australia, I am an interloper here too.

In this poem, I reference my family history and I use words and phrases in our native language, including my name in Irish. I do this as a form of political resistance, to decolonise our history, to reclaim our mother tongue and to restore lost voices – including the voices of my grandparents and others who suffered under the brutal British regime in our homeland.