Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Death the leveller"

Poem Beside Your Hospital Bed.                                               


Your face,

that I loved,

has changed so completely

that I already know

our time is gone.


And as dying

like a sandstorm

rearranges your features,

I am useless;

a cripple of words.


So if the winds in your head

will carry the smallest breath

of what I am saying, father:

let it be that

my proud years are tatters here;

I love you.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


We are two scarecrows: rags and string;

what the rain softens the wind picks clean.

We are two scarecrows: sticks and straw;

crows fly out from underneath our jackets.

We are two scarecrows: nails and wire;

each day drowning as the corn grows higher.

We are two scarecrows: sacks and hay;

nodding toward eternity, we tip toward clay.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The ballad of a life he lived too long


We found a pool of sphagnum

glowing in a shaft of sunlight:

an emerald pinned

to the forest's heart.


She stepped onto the moss;

it oozed around her feet;

she danced; her mauve apron dress,

her carnival eyes.


She was humming,

sending her semi-song to me,

and as the sun held her dazzling,

I was in darkness, standing aside.              


I saw how the light loved her hair,

fingered its goldness

while she was spinning down;

and the moss was at her knees.                   


She was laughing,

she was always laughing,

but I could see the cold bursting

spring growth in her face.


And then her hair was spreading out,

the green carpet creeping up to her neck;

she, her young face

on the floor of the forest.


Later, when the sun had left,

left the forest to the circuit-making spiders and me;

still standing by the sphagnum pool

I was repeating " good-bye, good-bye, good-bye".

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Irish Soldier in World War One

On the 9th December 1916, Thomas Kettle was killed at the battle of the Somme in Belgium at the age of 36. He was extraordinarily gifted, here’s a piece from The Work of T.M. Kettle, published by Robert  Lynd in 1919:

To have written books and to have died in battle has been a common enough fate in the last few years. But not many of the young men who have fallen in the war have left us with such a sense of perished genius as Lieutenant T. M. Kettle, who was killed at Ginchy. He was one of those men who have almost too many gifts to succeed. He had the gift of letters and the gift of politics : he was a mathematician, an economist, a barrister, and a philosopher : he was a Bohemian as well as a scholar : as one listened to him, one suspected at times that he must be one of the most brilliant conversationalists of the age. He lived in a blaze of adoration as a student, and, though this adoration was tempered by the abuse of opponents in his later years, he still had a way of going about as a conqueror with his charm. Had he only had a little ordinariness in his composition to harden him, he would almost certainly have ended as the leading Irish statesman of his day.  (from  XXIII. ‘The Work of T.M. Kettle’ in ‘Old and New Masters’, Robert Lynd, 1919)

A  quotation included in this article gives a sense of Kettle’s eloquence:  Meditating on life as " a sustained good-bye," he writes : Life is a cheap table d'hote in a rather dirty restaurant, with Time changing the plates before you have had enough of anything.

Kettle, though a staunch and very active Irish nationalist, (member of the Irish Volunteers and the United Irish League, Irish Parliamentary Party MP), still found it incumbent on him to join the British forces:

For my part, I am fighting for Ireland. Against what are we fighting? The philosophy to which modern Germany has committed herself can be adequately described only as the gospel of the devil. It is a creed in which domination is the one dogma and cruelty the one sacrament.

This quotation encapsulates in just three lines why it is right that, at last, we are giving honour to the patriotism of so many Irishmen who died under a British flag in World War 1.

This view and the spirit in which he fought is beautifully caught his poem To My Daughter Betty, The Gift  Of God

 To My Daughter Betty, The Gift Of God

 In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.  





Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rathmine's New Festival, Canalaphonic

Canalaphonic on May 8th and 9th will be mainly focussed on Portobello Harbour where a flotilla of barges and boats will be moored overnight on Saturday 9th. Cue lights, action: music of all sorts in venues all around Rathmines, music on the water and on the street including an open-air trad session and céilí on Rathmines Square, lots of children's events,  trips up the canal to Harold's Cross where, coincidently, another festival is taking place that weekend.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Random small bits

Your Crying

Your crying:
The silver streams
Of your eyes,
The radiant red cheeks,
The choking on words,
The gullish. 

I think of a voice
Curling up
From inside a hollow oak.



We were a fire;

only our sparks

had direction.



The Viewing.

Dead: the colour of old cream,
his eyes shuttered shut;
so neat, be-suited and slim,
weight he lost dying. 

They made a basket of his fingers
with a rosary spilling down;
everyone said he looked lovely
but when I touched his face,
it wasn’t him at all.


Seeing through this patterned pane
your face,
whole but distorted
like our love.


Beacon lights' eccentric twitches
electrocute the night;
a lighthouse beam swimming round
swallows them in flight.



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In The Park


I met an old man

with seawater eyes


sweeping together

the leaves of his life;          


into a sack

went each golden one.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Two New Books by John F. Deane

This notice arrived by email; I have a great deal of regard for John Deane's work.

“Give Dust a Tongue : A faith and poetry memoir” from Columba Press

 “Semibreve”, a new collection of poems, from Carcanet Press.
Music, a stony, damp and deeply alive landscape (both Ireland and the Holy Land), a passionate and searching engagement with God – specifically with the local and physical God that is the central figure of the gospels – these are poems with all of John Deane’s familiar richness. A deeply welcome collection. – Rowan Williams

 The memoir traces Deane’s progress from childhood on Achill Island, his upbringing in an unquestioned Catholic faith, through schooling and seminary life to a realisation that faith appears to be a matter of will and understanding; after leaving the seminary, Deane goes on to discover poetry, founds Poetry Ireland, the national poetry society, and its journal, Poetry Ireland Review, and makes poetry his life and finds, through it, new approaches to faith. The book includes many of Deane’s best-known poems and a new, major poetry sequence, “According to Lydia”. The title of the book, Give Dust a Tongue, comes from a poem by the 17th century poet, George Herbert.

The blurb on the new collection of poetry reads: “The poems in Semibreve combine lyric grace with a fiercely questing intelligence, pushing against the mysteries of faith in a fractured world, paying tribute to the value of human life and love. Running through the book is a thread of elegy for the poet’s brother, who died of cancer in 2010. The collection concludes with a sequence describing a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Throughout, Deane gives poetic voice to the paradox of human existence as simultaneously ‘blessed and broken’.”

Both books will be presented together at a reading in The Loyola Institute, Trinity College, Dublin on Wednesday 29th April, at 7.30 p.m., introduced by author and abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman O.S.B., and again on Achill Island as part of the Heinrich Böll weekend, on Sunday 3rd May at 2.30 p.m. in the Cyril Grey Hall, Dugort, Achill Island.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Douglas Hyde Conference 2015

For the second year running I'm convening and will be chair the Conference, which will be held on Thursday July 16th 2015 in the BMW Conference Room, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon.  This year it is entitled "Protectors of our Heritage: saving the notes of nationality, our footsteps, language and customs".

After last year's conference, which highlighted  aspects of heritage that are suffering from neglect, this year we are drawing attention to the efforts of individuals or groups who are at forefront of preserving our heritage.

From a spectacular example such as Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, the heart of Belfast's Gaeltacht quarter in Belfast, (surely it's time for Dublin to get the finger out on this one); to, (a favourite of mine), the preservation of holy wells around the country; to story-telling, a centuries-old Irish specialty. I'm especially looking forward to hearing how the local 'Lakes and Legends Tourism Group' are progressing in their drive to bring attention to the extraordinary archaeological and historical sites that are local to Ballaghaderreen itself. (Visit Lough Gara Lakes and Legends website  http://www.loughgaralakesandlegends.ie/}

Clogher Stone Fort near Ballaghaderreen, may be 2,500 years old.

I will post more information on this later, but if you've free time in July, or you're a visitor to Ireland, this is an entertaining, informative day in the unspoilt heart of  the country.



Music is a key to memories, similarly smells, maybe  a voice.   Sometimes it's not just the visuals that return but the whole experience complete with emotions like a particularly vivid dream.
There are some sadnesses I wish I could revisit; I was too self-absorbed, too selfish. Too soon the people involved were gone, a whole world with them.  

And so, a piece of music lands you back in the moment, with all the regret of the years since, and nothing you can do but relive it once again.

     Those Marches


When they play those marches

and the drums tip away,


I think of Brendan,

alone in his sitting room,

flicking channels,

news to news;

dinners collecting on the table.


When they play those marches

and the drums tip away,


I think of Peter

who hated cameras;

his reflection

in the mirror

between the bottles.


When they play those marches

and the drums tip away


I think of Tom

who asked for a present

on his death bed;

we didn’t have one,

no one else came.


When they play those marches

and the drums tip away


I think of John

who asked me to visit,

the gentlest man

I’ve ever known;

I didn’t.


When they play those marches,

when they play those marches,

when they play those marches,

the drums tip away.