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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Memories of Galway

It's a  lifetime ago. I mean I wrote this poem a lifetime ago. My student-life in Galway, well that's two lifetimes ago. But this poem does catch my Galway. 

Do I still have a soft spot for that city: no, I don't think so. Happiest memories so rooted in their time and place, that the place can never live up to them. Best to leave those locations shimmering as they do in your head. 

From Galway


At half past five we cracked dawn on the Salmon Weir,
swished the rose-coloured sky around our eyes,
clinked our voices.
Then on down College Road like circus folk,
past Johnny Ward's, past the university
where the crows were blowing the ears off the trees,
past the Regional and Kelehan's
and on out to Salthill to shine out loud with the ocean.               
I remember Galway's soft drizzle,
each droplet carrying an atom of perfume
from the Glenard garden hedges.
My night-time walks in  that lazy spray:
onto Threadneedle Road,  down to the prom,
out onto the diving board at Blackrock.
Then the palm of mist along my cheek;
the tide repeating
easy, easssssy, easssssssy.

Each evening the flotilla of swans returns to the Claddagh;
they are, through half-closed eyes,
a thousand yachts drifting by like ghosts.
On the far wall a trawler slumps;
sometimes children run to it but it disappoints them. 
Here is the colour of Galway,
that falls from the clouds that mop the spires,
that rises again in the Burren hills across the bay.   

The boats went on the river in May.
Nothing was more beautiful than the wooden thud
of the oars, than the glare into the eyes,
the voices over the water, that slow slow progress
and the gurgling beneath the boat.
And sometimes into the reeds,
where sunlight fell as though a Japanese screen,
its spectrum on the water disturbed
by a thousand dark lines like flamingoes' legs.
That first year my eyes were studded with splinters
 of sunlight, my ears flooded with the ripples' laughter.
It was cosy in the Cellar:
the fire, the bodies, the sunshine that we snared
in our pints of lager,
Gerry Mulholland licking out tunes on the piano,
the whiff of Balkan Sobranie.
All day long heads were coming round the door,
hippies with jester-clothed kids,
long-haired musicians with slaked tongues,
mothers battering through with buggies and shopping.
Sometimes Andy, shambling behind the bar,
undoubled long enough to vent a curse-like greeting,
if he saw you, if he remembered you, if he had no choice.
Then closing time: the wind invited in the opened door
and that god-awful glass scraping down the window-pane.

In Winter the rain made sizzling sounds on Shop Street,
rivulets of shop-lighting rushed along the gutters
with yachting cartons that collected in the grates;
slate-coloured people ran doorway to doorway and
bus queues stood limp and dripping like clothes on a line.
Each footfall splashed a halo of water, soaking shoes;
collars were pinned closed with fingers;
but I remember  that the rain made cables of your hair
and they ran currents down your back.

Out Newcastle Road, down Saint Mary's,
past the Claddagh Palace, the Cottage, the Warwick;
and Salthill still asleep with that blank look
on its doors as though drink had not yet been discovered.
Then down onto the strand where the swish of the sea
filled our ears like shells, where we wrote our names,
where the sun found us and shaded in
that group of shadows it never found again.

There was a house on Nun's Island we fancied
where the water ran almost to the door.
Sometimes we would walk around that way
just to see it, just to say our house is looking well.
I never mention it to anyone;
I’ve passed it and passed without looking;
that moment invisible to everyone but us.

And I don’t see you. I wonder how you are. 


The poem in Sunfire had a stanza edited out that I quite like, it was this:

Do you remember, Martin, that Sunday in May,
you and I were on the river about twelve,
a beautiful Summer morning
and we heard the music of flageolets?
So we stopped and looked, but there was no one.
Fifty yards away the Menlo road ran behind a grassy bank
and a low stone wall. The music kept rising
but there was only ourselves on the water.
A band was playing marches right beside us;
the river was still, there was a rock near the boat
with a smooth round back, 
And then above the wall a child's head appeared,
then two, then four, and maybe fifty more,
only to disappear as soon, dragging their tail of music
behind them.