Monday, December 24, 2012

Dylan Thomas Reads A Child's Christmas in Wales

A beautiful reading by Dylan Thomas; and then listen to him reading my favourite poem, Fern Hill; (follow the link below). 

A Child's Christmas in Wales:
Fern Hill:

Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Almost a year to the day since I visited Pearse Hutchinson in St James Hospital and found him in great form. He talked  about a nurse he met on his ward; I said he should write the poem; he said he was old and needed to rest that I should  write it.That was our last conversation.

A poem
you said I should write. 

An African nurse on your ward,
born the day after her  grandmother died,
called Yesterday. 

She was gone as soon,
nurses from the agency come and go;
good relationships are important
for the patients, you explained. 

And now you are gone;
is this that poem?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Rathmines

A group of students from the Higher National Diploma in Media (Journalism)in Rathmines College are working on a new website to bring together all things Rathmines: businesses, services, clubs, societies, history, events, you name it...........

The website should be up and running by March, but in the meantime they have put in place a facebook page,, a twitter site,, and a blog,, which are already very active. If you have an interest in bringing people into Rathmines for business, leisure or otherwise, you would do well to support these sites.

On a parallel track, Rathmines Community Clubs n Soc's Day, 2013 will take place on 27th April; if you are interested, you know where I am.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paradise Lost in Trinity College Dublin

Reminding you of Paradise Lost read-a-thon, Friday 14th December 2012, starting at 10 a.m. in the GMB, Trinity College and re-locating to College Chapel from 2 p.m. Among the readers are Seamus Heaney (at 10am), Eilean Ní Chuilleanáin, Joseph Woods, Gerard Smyth, Macdara Woods, Leeanne Quinn, Peter Denman, David Norris, Iggy McGovern, Terence Brown, and many others. It will continue through the day till approx. 8.30pm. My halfpence-worth comes somewhere around 5.30pm. It’s all in a good cause, raising funds for the National Council for the Blind. So for a bit of devilment, why not call into Trinity on Friday.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mashed Up Yeats

I have no doubt that Yeats was the greatest poet writing in the twentieth century. He had the complete poet’s palette. I thought it might be interesting to mash up his lines and see what emerged. So with only his own lines recombined, a few changes to punctuation and the position of line endings, this is what I got, (apologies to the purists): 

from the mouths of old men:

I heard the old, old men say,
when you are old and grey
the world is full of magic things:
embroidered cloths
enwrought with golden and silver light,
silver apples of the moon,
golden apples of the sun,
faery vats,
full of berries
and of reddest stolen cherries.

All that's beautiful drifts away
like the waters,
for everything that's lovely is
but a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

On the stuff of dreams:

When sleepers wake and yet still dream,
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come.

All hatred driven hence,
The young in one another’s arms, birds in the trees
 —Those dying generations— at their song.

 O, but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed to afflict mankind,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

If there’s no hatred in a mind,
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

On love:

I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.

Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars
Till the stars had run away.

We taste and feel and see the truth:
A pity beyond all telling is hid in the heart of love:
Beauty passes like a dream,
All true love most die.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Start of It


This is the start of it:
the clay palm hitting the face,
bags packed, colours away;
all my flares quenching into the distance. 

It begins: the spectrum loses a stripe,
the red berries fall,
light leaves;
morning’s a corpse. 

This is the way of it: 
table set and unset, crossed knives and forks:
insignia of the tamed and helpless;
rain dribbling, failed  flames. 

This powder insistence:
stampede of padded hooves,
retreat to reverse;
the days worn thin with walking back and forth

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Digging Potatoes

This first year, the potato plants in the water-logged soil beneath the mountains made a bedraggled- looking crop. They went in late, so we dug them in late October.  

As we uncovered them, I kept thinking how they would have looked to famine-time diggers. Bright nuggets, valuable as gold; each a life-saving package of food. Each clod of earth yielding, or not, its life-saving load. Each decent-sized potato bringing a rush of relief, each marble a disaster. 

How carefully they must have dug with their children’s lives at stake; potatoes rolling away with the loosened soil, disappearing into the ground, fingers scrambling after them. How it must have bound families together in their struggle to survive; how strong must their kinship with the soil have been.
A different life now: my kitchen stocked with oranges from Spain, olive oil from Italy, wine from France; leisure filling the space that was filled with struggle and fertile soil disappearing under concrete.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You Chose This

No one lives with the moon, no one could;
the moon is beautiful, too beautiful;
a sentence to loneliness. 

Night after night, catching glimpses of lovers
through half-pulled curtains, it loiters,
bleaches their bodies with arctic disdain; 

solitude freezes the heart.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Corporal Punishment

Mise Raifteirí an file,
Lán dúchais is grádh,
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan crá. 

The opening quatrain to the famous gaelic poem fairly rolls off the tongue; it is perhaps the easiest few lines to memorise I’ve ever come across. However I had major problems memorising it owing  to the terror of been beaten yet  again by a teacher I encountered during my  schooldays in Roscommon. Over the course of a year, I was slapped numerous times across the face each time I had this teacher. Well learned verses flowed out of my head like sand.   

In my schooldays, primary and secondary, I and most others in my class groups were struck, (usually on the palms, one teacher liked to catch the back of the fingers on the upswing), with a snooker cue, bamboo, an assortment of kitchen-chair legs, leathers. Imagine: even then, (60’s, 70’s), there was an industry making leather straps with hand-grips for beating pupils.

That culture was accepted to the point that there was no point telling your parents; children were wrong. 

On one occasion, in preparation for catholic Confirmation, the class group was being examined on its knowledge of Christian Doctrine. The questioner went around each student in turn asking catechism questions. When a boy failed a question he got four slaps with the leg of a chair. On and on it went till there were just 2 boys standing. One of these failed somewhere in the twenties and got four slaps. The brightest boy in the class went on past the fiftieth question; when he eventually failed he was hit harder than the rest of us. Our guess was that this teacher revelled in his only opportunity ever to hurt this boy.
It was a time of institutionalised cruelty and total disrespect for humans under a particular age. The two examples above show how two people I would credit as basically decent were corrupted by their habitual use of corporal punishment.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Movies, Dreams and Gorgeous Faces

                                                Ace Jackalope YouTube

Movies, Dreams and Gorgeous Faces

Ok, it's your movie house;
you got the doors shut tight;
out here’s ice.


Pacin’ up and down,

collar a chimney;

my cigarette smoke - tension.


Lookin’ at you:

we used t’share the picture house;
you’re gorgeous.


Twelve thirty, not a flicker;

I turn away, take the second left;

I'm in my bedroom.


Neon flashing red in my face -

she loves me, loves me not, loves me.....,

I keep repeating it;


the stammer occupies me.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To the Professors at Trinity

This poem was written a number of years ago in response to a sculpture of a grouping of professors/teachers by Simon O'Donnell. Tongue in cheek, the poem pokes fun at the traditional rituals of universities and "old boy" schools and colleges; it could as easily be directed at the wigged personages officiating in our courts.
  The Circle.

Now dried tobacco leaves, these professors,
whose intellectual travails have scoured them skinny,
are engaged in the Spring ritual on the back lawn at Trinity.

Stripped naked, buttocks slung low over the crew-cut grass,
hands beating mortar boards; they sway on their haunches,
loosening the centuries' compaction of soil grains. 

Some say they are whipping up the aurae of their forebears,
others that they are resonating with the pain of earthworms
as they shift, right to left, on the balls of their feet. 

At the center, standing on a box, a physics-doctor
with plumb-line hanging from between forefinger and thumb
is demonstrating down. 

I have watched them for an age, seen their growth rings
appearing like water-marks, the knowledge in their face-pouches
guarded like genitalia in a bag.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christine Takes To The Air.

Slipped on ice;
prim, haughty
takes to the air.

Wow, what a moment;
the unabridged version,
totally graceless. 

Never on speaking terms;
from now on
I'm gonna greet her,
" hi yer"

Monday, November 5, 2012

trees keening

Another beautiful painting by Elaine Leigh.The trees invested with human features, and life in the their wind-blown hair mirroring the neolitic artwork beneath the earth.

Trees keening winter nights away;
their wails woven into the wind. 

Heads of hair like seaweed from the strand,
knots tailing limply towards the sea.  

Underground, roots twisted toward some source,
shaped by memory. 

Trees like abandoned lovers,
scratching down the marble of night-time.

(Image by and  poem from a collaboration entitled "Above Ground Below Ground")

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The baby in the tree

The baby in the tree
is screaming.

High above the pathway
near the black tips
of the sycamore branches
he is gaping,
white membraned luminous. 

How did he get there? 

He blew there in the wind;
it took him
like a flag from his cot
till he was stretched
across the boughs
like the wings of a bat. 

And who sees him? 

I do;
all his hopeless writhing,
too high for the passerby.
And his screams:
too high,
too high for the passerby.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Two poems from  “Turn Your Head”. They refer to individuals’ defiance in the face of torture and death. The looks on two faces among the photographs from Khmer Rouge’s death camp Tuol Sleng inspired the following two poems.
(I doubt this sort of bravery is on my own list of attributes.)


I will not look up.
I will not allow them look
me in the eye.

The light that shines there
I control;
I will not comply. 

Though freedom be reduced
to the thimble-full,           
I will have it when I die.

Let them flash my hatred,
let it pierce them;
if they dislike it, they can kill me;
they will anyway.

Be sure lens, don’t miss my steady eye
and fixed mouth;
know that every muscle in my body
is a clenched fist.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Treasure Hunt in Madrid

If I had my choice of buildings to walk into tomorrow morning; I might just choose the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
I would walk with purpose through the main entrance of the Villanueva Building, head straight then take a left, the Raphael collection would be before me but I’d be turning right, pass through the Durer Room with reservations but carry on, enter two rooms with Flemish paintings then take a left, and I would be there: Room 56A. Have a look, here is the url:
Rotate the view 180 to see the work on the end wall behind the cam; it is perhaps the artwork I most wish to see anywhere on the planet. 
If you agree with me, and have an hour to spare you will certainly enjoy this BBC programme:

Monday, October 15, 2012


What Happened ?

I can’t remember.
no one thing, no bust up.
All the time talking
about our  love,
we were crumbling,
till one day
the emptiness was complete
as our love had been.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dicing with the Devil

The local men outside the church interested me as a youngster. On a point of doctrine, did it qualify as attendance at mass if you joined them outside the church or was it a matter of being inside the porch door? I suspect it must be the latter. But why did they bother at all? Does God make these sorts of distinctions? One way or the other they had the best time at mass with the exception, probably, of the priest and altar boys who as far as I was concerned always performed to full houses.

The After-mass Men were these men with the addition of a particular strain of ‘inside the door’ man, a type who appeared to me to be taking the same risk as marijuana smokers who hang out with heroin addicts. Anyway, morally,they all constituted a dodgy breed, endangering each Sunday their eternal living conditions.

These clusters of men arranged themselves in ways that would have excited a sculptor. Dark clothes and, I suspected, dark conversations reigned. They were a dangerous influence, to be avoided by such as myself, to be looked down on, to be prayed for like you’d have prayed for the conversion of Russia;and every boy risked joining them at least once.

The After-Mass Men

Remember those figures by the church wall
Sculpted in after-mass conversations:
Blather-tattooed men
That hung there by their jackets;
Museums with pockets,
Pockets full of knives,
pipes and matches.

Stone men:
Pre-Christians defiling Sabbaths
With their Saturday conversations.
Coats would be wrapped against them
As though they were sudden showers of hail.

from Sunfire (Dedalus Press)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Paradise Lost in Dublin

Plans are afoot to have a reading of the whole text of John Milton's great poem Paradise Lost on Friday the 14th of December, 2012, in Trinity College Dublin. The event is being organised to raise funds for the National Council for the Blind (see for further information) and to hear Milton's poem read by many different voices in one continuous reading.
Established poets and writers will feature prominently among the host of voices that will be involved in the day-long reading;a number of well-known poets are already on-board. Dr Philip Coleman and Dr Crawford Gribben of the School of English are the organisers of the event;it sounds great,definitely one of the literary events of the year.

Monday, October 1, 2012


A poem I have come back to many times. Dangerously close to sentimentality, but a challenge to get it right. Normally I'd wait a long time before anyone else would get to see it, but the last draft has been sitting there for ages out-staring me.

Two Lovers Sunbathing

Two lovers sunbathing on the grass
in a weave of meadow sounds;
laughter swishing them
round and around.

falling into the infinite blueness of the sky,
their hands clasped,
grasping eternity in an afternoon.

One sunny afternoon
forty years ago.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Before The End

It is difficult for children to attend a dying relative. The quiet, patient listening does not come easily.The regret returns in adulthood; part of life.

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.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Protect The Innocent, Don't We?

We protect our children. If there is a risk to innocent lives we do not fire. Collateral damage in war our consideration for children based on their race or nationality? Is not the the destruction of their innocent lives the ultimate act of cruelty, of racism?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Contemplating Goya

Plate 36

(referring to plate 36 from THE DISASTERS OF WAR
 by Francisco Goya) 

Contemplating this corpse,
you lean back on your elbow. 

A heart not pumping,
blood not coursing. 

Is that not a corpse?
Is it not dead as a snail's shell? 

Your eyes fixed on his face;

There, that's where you recline;
beneath his composure  

trumping the handiwork
of the hangmen who thought, 

(as they always do),
that death was the final transaction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Upcoming Events

Culture Night 2012 is Friday, 21st Septembers. I’m looking forward to reading poems from Above Ground Below Ground at Cruachán Aí Heritage Centre in Tulsk . Artist Elaine Leigh and I will present images and poems that relate to the Neolithic sites at Lough Crew in Meath, Brewell Hill and Killeen Cormac in Kildare, and the legends and myths associated with these sites. 

A body of work still in the making: the subject matter has fascinated Elaine for a number of years, I’ve only caught the bug this year, but I've been amazed at what it has taught me and at the dam-burst of ideas it has ignited, (those last few words seem to have escaped from a war comic c. 1965).

From  “ Above Ground Below Ground”

The sun enters the passage;
I meet him on my way;
he touches my head
like water. 

I emerge into day;
in the chamber
the sun dwells a moment
on my earlier impressions. 

I return after the day
to elaborate my carving,
my spirals,
my perpetual turning.

On Monday 24th, I’m in Mullingar for the launching of Mullingar Scribblers, Poems and Stories Volume 5.This fantastic writer’s group, the Mullingar Scribblers, who meet on Monday nights in the Annebrook Hotel have produced excellent writing for many years; I hope they get great support from everyone in Mullingar. I might also suggest that, if you are local and half interested in writing, you could do a lot worse than call into one of their sessions.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Explaining Our Madness

A friend, contemplating the various madnesses of humanity during the week, mentioned the irony of governments paying people to save lives and kill simultaneously; only doctors save lives one by one, soldiers kill in thousands.

There is a short period in childhood when these ironies are questioned, I think this is the only time in which we can save our children from what we've perpetuated. From Sunfire...

   Growing Up           

Shortly you will trace lines,
join the herds,
leave a trail among the trails
meandering over the hills. 

We are part of some eccentric’s
I wish I could tell you more,
my little love.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Film of Amazonian Tribe

Loggers threaten the existence of uncontacted Amazonian tribes by removing their living resources and space, introducing diseases and by violence. One of the great problems is convincing governments that these tribes actually exist; the film instances the activities of illegal Peruvian loggers being permitted by the Peruvian government. This moving clip from a BBC Survival documentary, made with the collaboration of the Brazilian Indian Affairs Dept shows the first footage of an uncontacted tribe and was made to convince the world that these tribes do indeed exist. Visit for more.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


In 1919 John Singer Sargent completed a large scale oil painting, Gassed. A line of First World War British soldiers, blinded by mustard gas, is led through a sea of bodies to a first aid station. The scene is appalling, and as convincing an argument for the barbarity of war as any. It is strongly reminiscent of Wilfred Owens’ Dulce Et Decorum Est:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

I found this video of the painting on Youtube. The camera picks out the detail in the painting very well, and helps to convey the horror of it all. Thanks to denise4peace on Youtube  for this.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Emigration - Empty Houses

An upshot of emigration is the aging of the population, particularly in rural parts. Old farmhouses, their young families gone, used to be a much more prevalent feature of the Irish countryside in the sixties and seventies; the  new wave  of departures may, sadly, turn the clock back. In silencing dead summer  heat, the emptiness of these houses is accentuated.   

 A Stranger In The Townland.

In Autumn the farmhouse

with the sun-folded field beneath its chin,

traps the daylight in its spectacles,

then flashes it away.

A swing hangs among the orchard's arthritic trees

without stirring;

without remembering

a frantic liveliness now reduced

to the occasional commotion of a falling fruit.

Once songs of apples filled the farmhouse;

but the children became photographs,

the dust settled on their frames

and soon Autumns were flying uncontrollably by.

Today, between its curiosities, a bluebottle drones.

Now that the conversation with the hillside

is ended, the farmhouse

with the sycamore stole

has become an eccentric;

a stranger in the townland.