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. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Arguments can be hallucinogenic.


The Blue Man.

 There was a manon the white line,
middle of the street;
clasping his shins,
he made a hemisphere
to cage his pain. 

disfiguring agony;
the pain exploding,
he opened:
a carrier bag in a gust;
I saw a man o the white line,
dead of night;
I'd been in an argument,
the street was taking me
further along.

He was blue
and writhing:
carrier bag in the wind.
I threw my argument into it;
his need was greater
than mine.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Places of Literary/Arts Interest in County Roscommon

Myself and three others have just spent the last two days researching, finding and photographing sites relating to personages of literary/arts  interest in Co Roscommon. Among the places seen were John MacGahern’s barracks home in Cootehall, Percy French memorial on site of his family home, Douglas Hyde’s and O’Carolan’s burial places, Goldsmith's birthplace (disputed), William Wilde’s birthplace in Castlerea, Thomas Heazle Parke’s home in Kilmore, Hanna Greally’s cottage at Coolteigue.

Apart from the sites, the two days were spent in glorious weather; the Roscommon countryside looked magnificent. What hidden gems there are in these counties ( Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon): Knockvicar, Cootehall, Highwood, Jamestown, Kilmore. There are so many places to be explored off the main roads all over Ireland. 

Candidate for most beautiful placename I ever come across: Eastersnow on the sign, Eastersnow graveyard.  


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Bliss

I think children gather an appreciation of nature and landscape in a way, and at a rate that is foreign to adults. They don’t appear to dwell on the moment; they don’t seem to have to declare to themselves that a place or a moment is beautiful. The appreciation seems to slip in while they’re busying themselves with something else; yet it gets in and lodges in their subconscious. Later in life it’s still there, a richness in their appreciation of life around them. I wonder how much they pick up when they appear to be otherwise engaged. 

Anyway, this poem recalls lazy childhood days and the awareness of all that’s stirring in the garden.


On an evening
when apple was eating the worm,
tree grating the sun
with some clouds, dusty birds;
the green cloth
was spread to the orchard wall.

I watched bees collecting post
while cat was a tea cosy
with dozey trip-wire eyes.
Suddenly dog alarm in the hedge
comes bursting from the undergrowth:
big game hunter
and cat gone steeplejack.

Then dog winks
and we stretch out,
and I go back to being a microscope
eyeball deep in daisies.

This poem was originally included in an anthology called Real Cool - Poems to grow up with, edited by Niall MacMonagle (Martello 1994).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

There Are Stars All Around

I am sitting on a park bench
 with a pool of sunlight almost on my lap;
 a cosmos of flies,
galaxies in Brownian motion,
 fills it.

I am looking into a park
after midnight;
 moths flitting beneath an unseen lamp
 are sparks streaking
from invisibility to invisibility.

I am lazing by a stream;
 the sun,
reflected in
innumerable scintillations,
 has ordered the universe
 to pulse beside my sleeve.