Monday, August 22, 2016

The Fire

A passion/a destruction. I am in a fire. I am the fire. 
It is a place. I am within it. 

It is a destruction. That will give.

The fire defines me. I give it coal. 
It gives me.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Brief Note on an Imminent Famine.

Everyone here will starve:
each bone will be a stripe,
each hand a bowl,
each leg a stick.

Then there'll be the gluttony
of cameras:
our threadbare skin 
will be devoured,
our eyes exported
shining like pickles.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Snagging Memory

Before The End.

The bedside lamp shone
in the pool of her eye;
it made her teeth translucent,
runnelled her face.

Daylight and I were reluctant visitors;
the  room smelling of trapped breath,
sickness and decay made me anxious
that I might inhale her disease;

and all I loved gone,
all dwindled down to duty.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fragile Nature


A fish is dreaming,
elbow deep.

With my fingertip
I draw a herring-bone
across his heaven;
he bolts.

Now the lake dreams,

empty like a canyon.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What Does He See?

What does he see where I see only stone?
The man is still, his gaze fixed on the ground
but that gaze compels you to look again;
in such  moments a mind might overreach the stars.

I see my reflection, he says;
I see my hair no longer covers my head,
its silver ring above my ears, he says,
is like gorse cleared from a hill-top.
And, he says, I see the child struggling
in the young branches of childhood,
the school doors fanning him on and on
through corridors of captivity, a whirligig
through years, disremembering his own footsteps.
I see the would-be lover, and he loved his hair;
he put a shine in his eye like I polish a shoe;
and his full bracelet of teeth; my God, he could smile.
I see how time subtracts: aging dreams
till they become hobbled old goats that have outstared you,
till they have become unbelievable.
My young loves reflected back have their young faces still
but I would be afraid to see them now.
My plans and projects are shunted, rusting old carriages;
I don't visit them anymore.

The old man's arms are folded so fingers lie like stripes
on his right arm, forage in the dark woolen sleeve
of his left. His head is slightly forward,
his eyes unblinking as though entranced
by weeds growing on the floor of a pond.

I see too that I never held the reins of a life,
that indifference is a colander, indecision has the grasp
of a hand without fingers. Days are punched down
like receipts onto a nail; named, counted, collected,
they grow into months; life flitting across the pages 
of a calendar, falling  into the holes between Christmases.
And I remember those Christmases
long ago when I was young, the totting up  ̶
over a drink   ̶  of departed faces and the wishes,
the wish-bone skinny wishes for the coming year
that smouldered beside a glass of stout and then went out.

I see those faces whose roots entangled with my own,
how arrogance blinded me so I could not see
it was the carpet of their roots that buoyed me up
until recently, feeling them slip away,
feeling the cold gaps they’ve left around me, I discovered
it wasn’t I that put the colours in my head,
and with that discovery much has toppled
that hindered my view. I see, as though from a height,
my head is indistinguishable from all the others
rushing like froth from this life that we call

Now his face is raised, his eyes red-rimmed
with the racing bobbin that’s in his head:
I saw the ground and the scuffed toe to my shoe;
a lifetime might have no other measure than

its number of worn out shoes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thou shalt not

    from Songs of Experience by William Blake

I went to the Garden of Love,
   And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
   Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
   And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
   That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
   And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
   And binding with briars my joys and desires.

The same theme appearing in the myth of the Piper’s Stones: piper and dancers lithified for having defiled the Sabbath; it refers to the change in culture on the arrival of catholicism in Ireland. A number of neolithic stone circles inside and outside Ireland are referred to as the Piper’s  Stones.

from ‘Above Ground Below Ground’

In those days the piper played the music of streams:
fast flowing runs, sprays that erupted in feet,
blood hitting high C, dancers whirling dizzy with life.       

Then a new order.

That day on Brewel Hill, piper and dancers broke the Sabbath,
angered a god, who having decreed that music-making was subversive;
had gaiety transfigured to stone.

Athgreaney Piper's Stones

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Less Trodden Ireland

Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists travel from Dublin to Galway, a distance of 208km (130 miles). They come for a taste of Ireland: atmosphere, heritage, scenery and fun. Often with the hope of connecting with the authentic Irish experience, they cross from one nest of customized attractions to another. The journey takes two hours and  fifteen minutes.
In  doing so, they pass some of the most unspoiled, most interesting, less crowded and most authentic Irish experiences they could hope to  find. Archaeological sites, ruined monasteries,  castles,  heritage centres, stately houses, grand gardens, not to mention tranquil lakes, winding rivers  and panoramic views across the central plain.
On these two maps I have pin-pointed about 60 attractions across a particular, and less visited swathe of the country (not nearly the full list). All of these places would appeal greatly to me, all are worth the detour and most require no payment. This is not an attempt to provide informed itineraries for visitors to Ireland, but to make the point out  that it will pay the traveller to explore more deeply between the tourism capitals of Ireland.
Sites include Russborough House, Castletown House, Trim Castle, Fore Abbey, Loughcrew, Belvedere House, Leap Castle, Corlea Trackway, Strokestown House, Boyle Abbey, Arigna Minning Experience, Clonalis House, Athlone Castle, Hill of Uisneach, Rath Cruachan, Roscommon Castle, Athenry castle, Carrowmore Archaeological Complex and many more; check them out, it's a wonderful list.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bridge Life

It was, of course, bridge life:
the monk-like garb of old men,
their herring-boned elbows on the parapet,
at home with those ancient lichens
and warmed by their burning pipe fires.

They were limbs of trees left out for the cutting;
softened by rain, hardened by wind,
they were brittle grey grained men
whose conversations flowed in runnels
pocked with their growls and their laughter.

And it was the river flowing, weaving
their childhood and old years into a tweed:
a comfortable cloth, their cloth, the cloth
to warm their bones when the wind comes
that makes old teeth chatter.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Loch Ryan is Pink

Loch Ryan is pink.
Stranraer is curling up in a corner
with its people shrinking inside it.
I'm watching the hills' colour draining away
so they become just shadows of a land.
Only the gulls are real and even they
look more like discarded wrappers.

I am looking back over the stern
with the wind pouring down the port-side,
a wisp of the emigrant's sadness blows over me.
This receding shore to another Irishman
might have been Lough Foyle or Cobh or Sligo
and the light at Malin or Tory might
have been the last twinkle before the ship
buried itself in the Atlantic darkness.
The last beads of land would have been treasure
to be stored but instead they are like water.

As the day funnels even further to the west
Scotland makes itself small; somehow it  seems
to be leaving us; turning away. The ship's trace
is a luminous wake and a highway of smoke;
you, who have left no trace, are already forgotten.
I imagine them homeless on board a Christmas tree
bobbing on an ocean between two continents.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Sad Week

It is the week of the Nice atrocity;
beyond the Gap, I see,
draped over a roadside memorial stone,
a tee-shirt flapping in the wind.

Elsewhere, a man decides
the universes of eighty-four minds
must be obliterated;
eighty-four lives to the wind.

How men assume themselves God:
make plots of hatred
where there were gardens of innocence,
conjecture bullets as seeds.

My most sincere sympathy to the relatives and friends of all those who died this week.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Imagine the countries of Europe erecting fences

Imagine the countries of Europe erecting Auschwitzian barbed-wire fences
with no man’s land between: grassy lanes lush with ragworth, thistle and buttercup.
Imagine, like water released into channels, migrants flowing into these paths,
growing from trickle to torrent, eventually filling them; a teeming mass

constantly jostled onward to no destination.
The season passing into winter, the grassy paths turned muddy with traffic, then frozen under snow;
a metre to either side border guards watching with disinterested expressions.
Imagine these flowing borders across the map of Europe,

serenaded with the music of its civilization from behind the wires of Hungary, Austria,
the Czech Republic: Mozart, Bartok, Mahler…….
The seasons pass, bodies pile up against the fences like layers of insulation;
and the citizens all snug in their European Agreements.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Saturn devouring his son

Even by Game of Thrones standards, Rubens depiction of Saturn devouring his son is grotesque. There is a matter of factness in the way Saturn is going about his business that is chilling. Ramsay Bolton would be reminding us of his jaw-dropping barbarity, but this guy is just doing it. And he has reason, knowing that among the deities, sons usurp their fathers. Then there’s the ripping of the flesh off the chest; it’s not the usual “off with his head” approach, but more the way one might eat chicken (without cutlery, I mean ). Saturn with an old man’s dishevelled grey hair, bushy eye-brows, loss of body-tone so wonderfully achieved; it’s a realistic impression, and it’s an impression that stresses that all is being done with the utmost (albeit depraved) sanity.

Goya’s Saturn , on the other hand is comic-book; he looks completely  ‘out of his tree’; whichever end of the carcass was  topmost would, of course, be the end that got chewed off first. And since the headless body seems to be of adult proportions, this Saturn is a giant. As regards which Saturn I’d prefer to bump into, I suppose I’d take my chances with the first; on the other hand, since he looks like any old man, I might well run him and not recognise anything different in him; and that’s serious menace.

It helps me to use images like these to spur ideas in my own writing. The various different interpretations of Goya’s painting (time devouring the young, Spanish war efforts devouring its youth, deaths of Goya’s own children, relations with his son)  are prime fodder for poetry and the images can prepare the stage. But isn’t it intriguing how completely different the poem would end up if based on one or the other of these two images?  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Imagination and Terror


When sunset was a match put to the western sky,
hell blazed over the Galway Road.
From my bedroom window, I watched the clouds catching fire,
the inferno spreading towards my house.

At the end of the day, hell conquered heaven.
My house so close;
getting into bed, I anticipated apparitions,
knowing that God’s bright sun had fallen into that fire.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Old Truths

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald and sere;
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

I was listening to the radio today, to an item about the proliferation in the use of steroids by young men and the harmful side-effects they cause. The issue of people’s dissatisfaction with what is normal and natural again; how long has the discussion on the links between the role-models in fashion and eating disorders in young women been going on? Surely it is time to demand greater responsibility from the image-makers.
The poem prompts a second thought. A time of wall to wall, ‘crash bang wallop’ entertainments is unlikely to be the time of greatest happiness: every aspect of normal life diminished in scale by digital/celluloid constructs. I wonder to what extent we have lost the ability to recognize the quieter, more subtle beauties nature puts in our way.

 It may be couched in old-fashioned terms, but Ben Jonson’s poem seems as relevant as ever. 

Douglas Hyde Conference 2016

It’ll be my third year in the chair. An outstanding line-up of speakers will address the conference on the theme ‘Telling Tales of Revolution’. But it’s ‘tales’ in a very broad sense. Robert Ballagh will talk on the story-telling in his paintings; Derek Warfield, founder of the Wolfe Tones, on his experience from  a lifetime singing rebel songs; Alan Titley on the references to revolution in Gaelic literature prior to 1916. Frank Allen will tell the story of ‘Twelve Days In May’, a film on James Connolly, which is now in production under the direction of Danny Boyle and is due for international release in the autumn. Gerald Dawe, Luke Gibbons, Vincent Pierse, Niamh Parsons, Liz Gillis and Kevin Hora on a diverse range of topics; the conference takes place in Ballagderreen, Co Roscommon on July 21st.
Information at