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19 COVID Thoughts #8

In the songs we sing, in the words we pass on and the ideas we proliferate are small histories; traces and tissues of great pains and societal change.

There have been links to the the children’s song “Ring a ring a rosey…” and epidemics, specifically the bubonic plague or clack death. Not everyone agrees and I’m sure the song has morphed to either make more sense or less sense depending on what you want, who thought you and how good your memory is.

The one I learned or remember goes like:

Ring a ring a rosey

Pocket full of posey

Ashes, ashes

We all fall down

The first line, for the people who draw the links with the plague, conjours the image of the redness around the bubo that would form on the body during the bubonic plague. The second, alludes to the belief that the disease was airborne and carried in foul smelling air (poor sanitation and people dying in the streets) and the methods people tried to protect themselves: people held sweet smelling flowers in front of their faces and carried herbs with them in pockets or stitched into clothing. The same thinking brought about the iconic image of the plague doctors mask; the long beak of the face mask was filled with flowers and herbs. From reading around, the second last line changes a little. Some versions replace “ ashes, ashes, we all fall down” with “a tish-ue, a tish-ue, we all fall down.” Tish-ue sounds more like early symptoms; ashes the need to contain the spread. The final line is quite simple: we all die.

Last Monday, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer and triggered a much needed international outpouring against the endemic institutional racism in America and, closer to home, in Ireland. Songs, chants and statements from “black lives matter” to “I can’t breath” fill the streets, social media feeds and are peppered though the conversations in every household. During these conversations, I think about my own privilege as a white middle-class man. I think about the contenting and grossly unjust policy of direct provision. I think about the voices I am not amplifying. I think about the songs I am not singing.

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