Ciaran Carson, the poet of ‘Belfast Confetti,’ was born in the year 1948. He is not only a poet but also an amazing novelist, who is cherished by almost all those who love literature. Born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he writes both poetry and prose, which is often heavily influenced by his Irish roots.
He was bestowed with the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize for “The Irish For No” (1987) and has also won the Irish Times’ Irish Literature Prize for Poetry for ‘Belfast Confetti’. Besides being an author and a novelist, he is also a well-known musician and columnist. He has still not left his pen.
In his collection of poems, this poem is one of the most amazing and famous poems that the readers have ever come across.
Explore Belfast Confetti
‘Belfast Confetti’ by Ciaran Carson describes a speaker watching the live scene after the riot between the shipyard workers, who were the Protestants, and the Catholics.
This poem is about the aftermath of the “Troubles” that were an ethnic-nationalist period of conflict in Northern Ireland. The situation lasted for 30 years from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. It is also known as the Northern Ireland conflict. The poet describes the aftermath of the sectarian riot in Belfast. His speaker describes how the confusion outside leads to a chain of internal confusions. He cannot think properly. The events that he observed keep flooding his mind, leaving him only with questions.
You can read the full poem here.
Carson has used past tense to describe the violence held against the Catholic crowd in the place. He has used the same tense to portray the different effects of being in the middle of the conflict.
The poet has also used the present tense to portray a live scene of what he went through during the time he witnessed the violence. He has used this tense to describe his experience and the aftermath of the riot.
Metaphors and extended metaphors are the two most important language techniques used in this poem. The metaphoric language used in this poem, portrays every single effect of violence, on the heart of the poet.
Suddenly as the riot squad moved in it was raining exclamation
All the alleyways and side streets blocked with stops and
Carson has adopted a narrative style in this poem ‘Belfast Confetti’ to depict an entire scene to the readers. They can feel the horrifying scene just like it is depicted by the poet. By reading this poem, one can easily understand the pain that the scene and the riot must have caused to the poet.
He has survived and there is absolutely no doubt about how tough his survival was, from the riot. However, he is still not able to forget the haunting scenes. He has seen everything with his own eyes and heard the fearful screams of those, who lost their lives to the hands of merciless troops. Carson wanted to be there with the ones, who were being discriminated against without any reason; he wanted to help them, but he simply couldn’t, because the scene and the terror had frightened him as much as it had frightened them.
Yet, he is simply unable to forgive himself and whenever he travels back in time, the first thing that comes to his mind is his inability to help people during the riot. But then again, he was petrified with the sight and there was absolutely no move that he could make due to the harshness noticed in the eyes of the humans against those, who were made by the same flesh and blood.
Let’s understand the meaning of this stanza below.
The first line introduces a group of rioters rampaging across the city. It was raining at that time. The beginning quickly paints a horrid picture of the plot. In the first line, “exclamation marks” means the screaming voices of people, who were being ruthlessly killed during the riot.
Carson’s speaker describes the war-like situation in the second line. The speaker can imagine a found of broken images floating in his mind and hear the sound of the explosion. In this line, the phrase, “Nuts, bolts, nails, car-keys” hints at the scrap metals used as weapons by the Protestants during the “Troubles” in Ireland.
The third line contains references to two punctuation marks, asterisk, and hyphen. Here, “an asterisk” depicts the sparkles that were born due to the explosions during the fight. The “hyphenated line” is metaphorically connected with the “burst of rapid fire”. There is an ellipsis at the end of this line referring to the continuation of events.
The fourth line, “I was trying to complete a sentence in my head, but it kept stuttering” means that the speaker finds it difficult to depict in words the terror that his eyes witnessed. He tried finding an escape, but he couldn’t.
The hidden meaning behind his words means that even if he has escaped the riot and survived, he will never be able to get rid of the sight that he witnessed; the violent scene is going to haunt his memories forever.
The word “stuttering” depicts how petrified he was when he saw the roads blocked and the hatred for each other, in the eyes of humans.
The last line contains interesting usages of the punctuation marks. Carson uses “stops and colons” to refer to how all the ways of the city were blocked during the “Troubles”. He compares the barricades to the “stops” and “colons”.
I know this labyrinth so well — Balaklava, Raglan, Inkerman,
Odessa Street —
My name? Where am I coming from? Where am I going?
A fusillade of question-marks.
Ciaran has beautifully used different punctuation in a very carefree and freestyle manner to put the most contemporary effect on the hearts of the readers. When you read ‘Belfast Confetti,’ you, as a reader, feel like you are witnessing the entire scene all by yourself. It is like you are standing right there, in the middle of dead bodies. Every single scene has been presented and depicted just the way it must have happened, way back then. The terror that this poem creates is not something that the other poems, belonging to the same genre, do.
Now, let’s understand what this stanza means.
In the sixth line, the speaker compares the chain of events that occurred in other places such as Balaklava, Raglan, Inkerman, and Odessa Street to a “labyrinth”. According to him, it is just so impossible for him to find an escape because every road has a “Dead end again.” The “Dead end” refers to dead bodies lying at different places. These dead bodies have blocked his ways, due to which he finds it impossible to escape.
Besides, he asks, “Why can’t I escape.” It means the helplessness in the heart of the poet. Even though he wishes to leave and even though he knows that he has survived, he is unable to get rid of his helplessness about being unable to help those who lost their lives in the riot. He has witnessed the death of several people right in front of his eyes, due to which he just can’t forget the violent memories.
In the eighth line, the speaker speaks incoherently. Firstly, he refers to the Saracen tanks and the metal netting used over the tanks that are known as the Kremlin-2 mesh. The police used those things to control the riot. They used “Makrolon face-shields” while the mob only had nuts, bolts, nails, and car keys. To communicate among themselves they used Walkie-talkies.
Carson uses enjambment to internally connect the last two lines. After referring to those things, he feels quite tense. The way he speaks reveals the growing tension in his mind. He cannot even remember his name or where he lives. The situation was so worse that none could say where they were heading towards. In the last line, the phrase “A fusillade of question-marks” depicts the questions raised by the innocent eyes of the Catholics that were slaughtered by the merciless nationalist groups.
During his time, the poet has witnessed the era of Irish nationalist terrorism, which began in the 1960s. This conflict took place when the minority population of Catholics was dominated, discriminated against, and also harassed by the Protestant majority. During the mid-1970s, the groups of Irish nationalists had also started violent attacks to make the UK government build an independent region of Britain.
The poem ‘Belfast Confetti,’ one of the best-known poems of Ciaran Carson, pulls the reader into the aftermath of Belfast’s sectarian riot. He has used punctuation to symbolize missiles that Protestants used during this riot, which was against the Catholic crowd in Belfast.
The poem derives its name from the large ship constructing rivets as well as all the other metals, which were used by the Protestants for the violent attacks against the Catholics.
The poem ‘Belfast Confetti’ was written and published in 1990. It won the Irish Times’ Irish Literature Prize for Poetry.
The poem is about the aftermath of the Troubles (a period of conflict in Northern Ireland ranging for about 30 years) in the capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast. Carson describes how the external tension and conflict influence his mind, making him restless and tense.
‘Belfast Confetti’ shows the theme of conflict through the use of punctuation marks, diction, and narrative technique. The style used by Carson explores how the external conflict impacts his mind while he tries to pen down his thoughts.
The message of this piece is direct and shocking. It tells readers how the conflicts in history (especially the Troubles in Northern Ireland) impacted those who tried to remain detached from the situation. No matter how they tried to avoid the conflict, the events had a greater impact on their mind.
The speaker of the poem is the poet himself. He uses a first-person narrative technique to describe the events during the Troubles in Belfast from the perspective of a person who was there at that time.
The “Saracen” is a reference to the tanks used by the riot police to disperse the mob from the situation. To be specific, Carson talks about the FV603 Saracen or Alvis Saracen tanks used by the British army that became recognizable for their use in the policing of Northern Ireland.
The term “fusillade” came into the English language in the early 19th century from the French term “fusiller”, meaning “to shoot”. It means a series of shots fired all at the same time or in succession. Carson uses this term to metaphorically compare the “question-marks” to a series of bullet shots.
“Kremlin-2 mesh” is a protective metal covering used over the Saracen tanks.
The following poems similarly showcase the themes included in Ciaran Carson’s haunting lyric ‘Belfast Confetti’.
- Summer 1969 by Seamus Heaney – It’s one of the best-known Seamus Heaney poems. This poem was written during the Ulster riots of 1969 and explores the theme of conflict. Read more Seamus Heaney poems.
- Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats – It’s another poem that describes the Easter Rising from the history of Ireland. This poem is regarded as one of the popular poems of W.B. Yeats. Explore more poems from W.B. Yeats.
- Outside History by Eavan Boland – This poem speaks on the larger history of Ireland, the role of women in history, and the life of stars. Read more Eavan Boland poems.
- Ireland, 2002 by Paul Durcan – In this poem, readers can find the themes of change, progress, and Irish identity. Explore more poems of Paul Durcan.