Sunday, January 31, 2016

Stone Art

                            Stone at Newgrange photo by Johnbod.
A man is carving shapes:
spirals, lozenges, chevrons;
the sun is looking over his shoulder.
Below, in the valley, the Boyne passes
 with a glint from its teeth,
the whitethorn is in full bloom,
the daylight hours are long. 
His hands are leather from handling flint;
a wave traverses the stone,
arcs toss on the crests,
they tip left then right;
tonight the moon is tipping left;
in three weeks daytime will be at its longest.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Words of Undiminished Relevance

The following passage features in a new show, 1916: Visionaries and Their Words, which was devised by Lorcán Mac Mathúna and which will be performed this weekend as part of Tradfest. Follow the link for details
“I put it that what education in Ireland needs is less a construction of its machinery than a regeneration in spirit. The machinery has doubtless its defects, but what is chiefly wrong with it is it is mere machinery, a lifeless thing without a soul. A soulless thing cannot teach; but it can destroy. A machine cannot make men, but it can break men.
Education has not to do with the manufacture of things, but with fostering the growth of things. And the conditions we should strive to bring about in our education system are not the conditions favourable to the rapid and cheap manufacture of ready-mades, but the conditions available to the growth of living organisms………………..”
“……………I knew one boy of whom his father said to me: ‘He is no good at books, he is no good at work. He is good at nothing but playing a tin whistle. What am I to do with him?' I shocked the worthy man by replying (though really it was the obvious thing to reply): ‘Buy a tin whistle for him.'”
Patrick Pearse in ‘The Irish Review’ January 1913 

Pearse’s words seem to me to be particularly relevant today. My experience is that, in the interests of satisfying the requirements of the marketplace, accountability, transparency, point-scoring, and being  politically correct, we are replacing the heart and passion that is required for real education (education that inspires) with a process that has more to do with commercial production and the maintenance of the attendant statistics.
The relationship of teacher and learner is a human one. Its success is based on the teacher’s ability to engage, with warmth and passion, the student’s interest.  A committee-horse system of education, over- prescribed and requiring a stifling degree of regulation leans more to the requirements of its own over-bearing institutions than it does to the people it is supposed to serve.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Famine Memory

November, month of charcoal cloud
slung low to the earth;
labourers hunched double,
grubbing for the bright potatoes
  that scuttle like mice back into the sodden soil.
Scrabbling fingers chase each fugitive light
with the desperation of the starving.
I rest a moment on the spade,
my hands, around the shaft, 
rough with working that same soil;
fingers with the same DNA inside them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Joseph Mary Plunkett's 'A Wave of the Sea'

Joseph Mary Plunkett’s  beautiful lilt in   
“I see his blood upon the rose 
And in the stars the glory of his eyes, 
His body gleams amid eternal snows, 
His tears fall from the skies.” Etc.
is, itself, enough to make the poem exceptional. The words skip over the page like the lightest feet. The lightness is as admirable here as in the most polished dance.
The following poem has the same quality. To speak out the words is to surf the wave; to feel, as close as one can, propulsion on a crest of words.  
A Wave of the Sea 
I am a wave of the sea
And the foam of the wave
And the wind of the foam
And the wings of the wind.
My soul’s in the salt of the sea
In the weight of the wave
In the bubbles of foam
In the ways of the wind.
My gift is the depth of the sea
The strength of the wave
The lightness of foam
The speed of the wind.

Saturday, January 16, 2016



She loves me,

loves me not,

loves me,

loves me not;
and there the flower bald.

Now I must go to the wrong end

of the telescope

like someone never loved at all.


I want to be away, far away;

but no, I’m close,
far too much so 

for all this distance.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Three scenes from a sixties town


In Mc Stay’s window

there are four turkeys and two legs of lamb

hanging behind signs:


There is a side of lamb and a cut of round,                       

and Mary Hopkin is singing

‘Those Were The Days My Friend’.


Market day, a scatter of clothes in Emily square.

Scarved women are gulls

picking, pecking, digging. 

Shoes higgledy-piggledy,

their uppers and stitch-work bent this way and that,

fingers inserted to the toe.

For they have more coins than notes,

more copper than silver,

and always far less than plenty.


The old men are sitting, hunched against the wall,

replaying, over and over, in the half-light of the dayroom,

the footage of their lives.

A ray of sunlight is a projector beam that falls dead-
centre of the room. It seems to say, not only heat
but life itself is to be found somewhere else.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Country Child

The country child
runs in and out of rain showers
like rooms; 

sees the snake-patterns in trains,
the sun's sword-play in the hedges
and the confetti in falling elder blossoms; 

knows the humming in the telegraph poles
as the hedgerow's voice
when tar bubbles are ripe for bursting; 

watches bees emerge from the caverns
at the centres of buttercups,
feels no end to a daisy chain, 

feels no end to an afternoon;
walks on ice though it creaks;
sees fish among ripples and names them; 

is conversant with berries
and hides behind thorns;
slips down leaves, behind stones; 

fills his hands with the stream
and his hair with the smell of hay;
recognizes the chalkiness  

of the weathered bones of sheep,
the humour in a rusted fence,
the feel of the white beards that hang there.  

The country child
sees a mountain range where blue clouds
are heaped above the horizon, 

sees a garden of diamonds
through a hole scraped
in the frost patterns of his bedroom window  

and sees yet another world
when tints of cerise and ochre
streak the evening sky. 

He knows no end, at night
he sneaks glimpses of Heaven
through the moth-eaten carpet of the sky.