Seamus Heaney – on his 80th birthday

Two Seamuses – photo taken at the Home Place – Karen J McDonnell

A dear man.

A fine poet.

Much missed.

Heaney MS. The Home Place, Bellaghy
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Sunday Miscellany: alive, alive – Oh!

A couple of posts back, I scribbled a quick note before I headed into the Ennis Book Club Festival.

Well, I’m happy to report that it was a lovely weekend. The visitors to Ennis really seemed to enjoy themselves. As I grew up in the place, I feel proud that the whole town takes the Festival and visitors to heart. Local businesses had some fantastic book-themed window displays.

Our ‘Seven Sisters’  poetry reading at the Record Break Café was standing room only – we were delighted with the turnout and the audience response. It was lovely to welcome EBCF attendees to Sinéad’s venue, as well as our usual faithful supporters. This year’s readers were Sinéad Ní Síoda, Deirdre Devally, Nicki Griffin, Ruth Marshall, Mary-Ellen Fean, Deborah Ryan, and yours truly.

The Seven Sisters after our EBCF reading at the Record Break Café Photo. Ruth Marshall

I also managed to get to hear Thomas Lynch, in the lovely setting of  St Columba’s Church. By the way: If any of you are around this evening at 6.30pm, Tom will be reading at a Salmon Bookshop gig in Oh La La café in Ennistymon with Stephen Powers and Rain Leon.  I’d already committed to something else and am really sad I can’t be there. It will be a stonkin’ reading.

Ennis Book Club Festival 2019. Photograph by Eamon Ward

The biggie for me was the live recording of RTÉ Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany, which happened on Sunday morning. I was excited and nervous in equal measure. It was a trio of firsts for me:  first time I appeared on the stage in Glór, first live recording, and also my first ‘essay’ for Sunday Miscellany. There was some fine writing, and wonderful music. My thanks to producer Sarah Binchy, and to Carolyn Dempsey for making it all so easy. Also to Cora Gunter of EBCF whose enthusiasm was infectious. Most of the contributions were broadcast last Sunday the 10th of March, including The Hanging Sheriff by Mae Leonard; My First Pint by Joe Ó Muircheartaigh; Preventive Measures, a poem by Caoilinn Hughes; Growing up in Miltown by John Hurley; and Joe Ninety, by Dee Collins    – here’s a link to the podcast https://www.rte.ie/radio1/sunday-miscellany/#103062434

Sunday Miscellany at Glor during the Ennis Book Club Festival. Photograph by Eamon Ward

My own radio essay will be broadcast this coming Sunday, St Patrick’s Day, so keep an ear out for it! I’ll put up a link here, when the podcast is up on the RTÉ website: https://www.rte.ie/radio1/sunday-miscellany/#103067788

Sunday Miscellany at Glor during the Ennis Book Club Festival. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Do listen out for Niall Allsop’s essay on the 24th, and a lovely tribute to her grandmother by Margaret Hickey on Mother’s Day, the 31st March.

The Western Skyline Podcast – 09 March 2019

Here, I’m joined on The Western Skyline by Aoife Reilly, a writer living and working in Co. Galway. Aoife chats about her writing process and reads poems from her pamphlet ‘Lilac & Gooseberries’, which is published by Lapwing Press.  You can read more about her here: https://aoifereilly.com/ It was great to have a live reading in the studio!

Some Arts news also on the show, and music from Coldplay, Keith, The Monkees, Bruce Hornsby & the Range, Carole King, and Bob Dylan.

A Festival of Writing; A Festival of Reading

Image result for ennis book club festival 2019

If it’s the first weekend in March, it can only mean one thing – it’s time for the Ennis Book Club Festival.

And this year, thank goodness, there’s no Storm Emma dumping tons of snow on the country to cancel the whole thing.  Storm Freya is approaching from the south though, but so far all we have had to deal with is LOTS of rain. And hey! – a book festival is mostly indoors anyhoo!

Yesterday, I joined my companeros in the Poetry Collective, and other poetry lovers, for the monthly First Friday in the library in Ennis. We had a great crowd – the interest is growing for this monthly event. Thanks to Martin Vernon who is such a good host, and who read a lovely poem in memory of his sister. AND who brought a lovely vase of daffodils and treated us to Wordsworth’s poem. A lovely Spring reading.

Then to St Columba’s church to hear Thomas Lynch speak on death and grief and memory. He got a wonderful introduction from writer Grace Wells. Then he mused on the loss of writers Philip Casey, Macdara Woods, Dennis O’Driscoll, Seamus Heaney and Matthew Sweeney – such a rollcall of the lost.  But the work remains.  Thank you, Tom, for your company and gracious words.

And now, I must sign off and head into Ennis again. This morning it’s the tradition to go to ’10 Books You Should Read’  with my mother.  In the afternoon, I join my sister poets for a #Fired inspired reading in the Record Break Café –  The Seven Sisters.  As with last year, we will read some of our own work, but also work by Irish poets who have been neglected in the last hundred years or so.  This year I’m reading work by Helen Waddell.

After last year’s cancellation, it’s a joy to be joining in the live recording of RTÉ radio’s live recording of Sunday Miscellany. That takes place in Glór at 11.30am. There may be a few tickets left for the early birds!

And so – to the Festival!

The Western Skyline Podcast – 09 February 2019

Mags Brehony came into studio to chat to me on The Western Skyline about Kinvara’s mini festival in solidarity with the poets and people of Nicaragua. Also on the show: music by Anastacia, Big Country, Destiny’s Child, Sigrid and others. Plus some arts news. Keep informed – check out what’s happening in Nicaragua; what caused the cancellation of their poetry festival for the first time in its history.

 

Writers’ Christmas Party in Capital City

. . . at least that’s what I’m calling it!

I’m off to Capital City in the morning to take part in this rather fab Christmas Staccato session. And I’m look forward to sitting back and listening to others as much as having the chance to read some of my own work.

I may bring along a Christmassy poem by someone else . . .

If you’re in town tomorrow, come along to Toner’s in Baggot Street. This promises to be a mighty evening!

Mine’s a hot port; I’m fighting the dreaded lurgy.

The Story of a Poem #Armistice2018

Great Gran-Uncle Bill Collier

PLEASE NOTE:  All photos are copyright and may not be used without permission

Limerick in Spring, 1918

Seated quietly by the April fireside,
Lucy May Fitzell reads Rupert Brooke’s poems.
Joshua, whose first gift to her was a pair of gloves,
offers titbits of news: Ottoman gains in the East;
butter prices; rumours of a general strike.
He rises and riddles the failing embers.

In the Methodist Sunday morning
Lucy May’s hymnal is bookmarked
with a photograph of her brother Bill –
away with the Seaforths in Palestine.
Her gloved hand touches his sepia face.
She remembers picnics in Kilkee and sings
‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’.

Lucy May watches Royal Welch Fusiliers
playing with her children in the garden.
Mr. Sassoon has returned to the front; Mr. Graves
remains. Her affection lies with the parade of boys
who sprawl on the lawn, on scratchy rugs, firing bullets
of Manchester vowels and Welsh consonants.

She calls Eileen from the piano in the drawing room
and Amy from the flowerbed where worms are.
Private Davies lifts Louie high on his shoulder.
Captain Swales walks with bent knees as he
holds Joan’s hand. Lucy May shepherds them
in to the dining room where there is
honey still for tea.

I wrote about this poem in my  writer’s blog a few years ago – when it was first published in the Stony Thursday Book. (It’s also in my collection This Little World.) I had the joy of reading it in Limerick when the journal was launched; bringing the poem home, so to speak. When I began to research this poem about my family’s connection to the first World War, I didn’t realise I’d find Limerick connections to some of the most famous war poets of that era.

In autumn 2011, I was writing a series of poems about women on the edges, the margins, of history. I wanted to explore the Irish domestic experience of World War l.  I was able to do that through my great-grandmother, using stories my grandmother told me about that time:

Limerick was a garrison town. My great- grandmother used to give Sunday teas for some of the soldiers in the barracks. I suspect they met at Church. My granny remembered the soldiers marching through Limerick every Sunday, on their way to religious services.
Grannie had a box of photos of some of those visitors to the house. Over the years, I’d ask her to take out the photos and tell me about them. The soldiers mentioned in my poem are the men in those old photographs.

Did Sassoon and Graves come to tea?
Well, I took a bit of poetic licence – telescoping events.  In ‘Goodbye to All That’, Graves mentions being posted to Limerick at the end of the war. And, the Graves family had a long association with Limerick – Robert’s grandfather was a Bishop of Limerick. Though I think Graves had mixed feelings about his Irish ancestry! An email I have from the curator of the RWF Museum states that Graves was in Limerick from 1917 until he was demobbed in 1919.
Since writing the poem I’ve discovered that the poet and artist David Jones (‘In Parenthesis’) was also stationed in Limerick. He moved there from the Western Front after a severe bout of trench fever. There’s more of a chance that he  could have sat at Lucy May’s tea table.
As for Sassoon visiting my family? Well, I don’t think Sassoon was a ‘chapel’ sort of chap. While he wrote several poems during his stay in Limerick, there’s also an account of his going to a hunt in County Limerick. On that occasion, he got ‘high tea’ from a Mrs. McDonnell of Ballinacurra House. There would be a lovely symmetry to the episode, but I don’t think I’m related to her!

Sassoon was in Limerick with the Third Battalion for less than two months – early in 1918. Like Graves and Jones, he was in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I’m not a military historian, but the best way I can describe the Third Battalion is as a feeder unit, or a posting for soldiers as respite before going back to the Front. Sassoon wasn’t long out of Craiglockhart War Hospital when he was posted to Ireland. He was impatient to get back to the war.

There are seven, possibly eight, poems from his time in Limerick – including one called ‘In Barracks’. (Another interesting poem is from in July 1918 – ‘Letter to Robert Graves’.)
‘Remorse’, was written in Limerick on 4 February 1918, just four days before he left for Palestine. He was there until May 1918, when he returned to the Western Front.

REMORSE                                                                                                                                           Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
“Could anything be worse than this?”–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees. . .
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs . . . “O hell!”
He thought–“there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.”

As for my great-granduncle, and the other soldiers who came to tea . . .

After I’d written the poem, my mother told me another story: my gran-aunts used to sing for the soldiers. Seemingly there was one song they hadn’t heard before, and one of the children copied it out for a soldier. His family later wrote to my great-grandmother;  he had been killed and the sheet of paper with the song on it was among his belongings when he died. One soldier wrote to Lucy May until the 1950s. We also have a Christmas card that was sent to her in December 1918. It’s printed in Welsh & English. I’ll post a copy of of it in December.

Bill survived, but he didn’t remain in Ireland. Family connections were lost, and I never met him although he died when I was a teenager. I believe he is buried in Cheltenham. So, there’s more research to be done.

A few years ago, I found Bill’s original WWI photos and digitised them with the help of a friend who’s a photographer. There are photos from Egypt, the Sudan, Palestine and, I think, Salonika.

How many of the pals in these photos came home?

© Karen J McDonnell
© Karen J McDonnell
© Karen J McDonnell

 

I started writing this post at dawn.  The sky-chill lifted gradually as the clouds pinkened from the east. There was rain during the night, but the sky is fairly clear now: the bare branches fan out against the increasing blue. The harbour is still. The tide is going out.

Impossible to imagine, truly, the last few hours before eleven o’ clock one hundred years ago.

Another Month, Another Adventure!

I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and connecting with writers this weekend, at the Wexford Literary Festival.

I’ll be reading from my collection This Little World in one of the New Voices slots on Saturday afternoon, at the Riverside Hotel in Enniscorthy.

There are some fab events, for readers and writers alike.  You can check out the whole programme by clicking here.

The trip ‘East’ is also giving me a chance to stay with a dear friend. So, after ‘work’ there’ll be time for a nice meal, drinkies, and a catch-up!

Books, poetry, writing, and friends.

What more could a gal ask for?

 

The Western Skyline Podcast – 08 September 2018

The Western Skyline was delighted to welcome back writer Marion Cox to the show – this time as the administrator of the Lady Gregory-Yeats Autumn Gathering at Coole Park. Lots of info about this year’s programme, plus a lovely reading by Marion of one of Yeats’s poems about Major Robert Gregory. The Gathering takes place from 28-30 September, in Gort, Coole Park, Kiltartan, and Thoor Ballylee.

Plus a quick look at local events on Culture Night which takes place on Friday 21st. And great music – of course! Hope you enjoy the show.
Photo: Autumn Leaves (c) Karen J McDonnell

Seamus Heaney – a home visit

Here at the Tyrone Centre, the work continues apace: new poems have been drafted; research and notes are ongoing for a radio segment; and, if you’re interested, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words are on the iPod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, a short break in the work to give you a link to an article I had published today in the online issue of the Irish Times – marking the fifth anniversary of the death of Seamus Heaney:

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/five-years-on-remembering-seamus-heaney-remembering-loss-1.3612408

I visited Bellaghy at the weekend, staying in a lovely B&B – Dew Hamill. I’d recommend it to you as a lovely place to base yourself if you want to visit the Seamus Heaney Home Place, the local area, and nearby Lough Neagh.

After a lovely brekkie and chat with Margaret & Patrick, I drove to Heaney’s grave to pay my respects. I brought another shell from the Flaggy Shore.

It was the first time that I’d been there since the Home Place was built. I’ll write more about that visit another time.

Reader, I made a show of myself! Tears all ’round. But, a wonderful experience.

Whatever you do today, if you love poetry seek out recordings of Heaney reading his work.

The best way to remember him.

Two Seamuses – photo taken at the Home Place – Karen J McDonnell