Archive for October, 2010

Banshees, Headless Horsemen and Green Ladies

25/10/2010 2 comments


I recently came on this video with a Halloween flavour. The Banshee lives in the Handball Alley was recorded five years ago by artists Micheal Fortune and Aileen Lambert in three Limerick schools as part of Limerick’s CUISLE Poetry and EV+A Festivals in 2004 and 2005.

Sit back and enjoy the ghostly tales of banshees, headless coachmen, fairy trees, devils and green ladies as the children weave their own distinctive versions of old tales handed down through the generations.

Have you a Banshee story to share?

‘The Bog Road’ Auctioned – A Literary Painter Recalled

17/10/2010 2 comments

Paul Henry’s ‘The Bog Road’ was sold at auction during the week to an anonymous bidder a century after the artist arrived on Achill Island, the setting for the painting, and stayed on and off for almost a decade, endlessly absorbed with the colour and variety of the island’s cloud formations.

Henry had a fascination with writing and his autobiography, An Irish Portrait  (published in 1951), is mostly about his experiences of Achill. Sean O’Faolain wrote the introduction and made the provocative statement: ‘Very few painters have written books and few of these are satisfying.’

Henry famously tore up his return ticket to London on the rocky point of Gubalennaun in Achill and between the island points of Keel and Dooagh found inspiration for many of his paintings. ‘The intensity of the emotion I got from a purely Irish landscape always puzzled and disturbed me …’

Paul Henry came to Achill the year after John Millington Synge died, admitting that there was something about Synge that appealed to him deeply and touched a chord, leading him to read Riders to the Sea over and over.

O’Faolain saw the same impulse in the work of the painter and writer: ‘Like his painting Henry’s writing is a sponge of nature …’

Maybe Henry would be pleased that his image of Achill soared through cyberspace this week, a century after he arrived in a place where he struggled to find the right image – and the right words  – to convey the emotions he felt ?

Not too much of a poet: Commandments for writing Dynamic Prose

10/10/2010 Comments off

There are three commandments, James N Frey says,  if you want to write dynamic prose:

  1. Be specific
  2. Appeal to all the senses
  3. Be a poet (but not too much of a poet!)

Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel is one of my well-thumbed books on writing:  ‘A Step-by-step no-nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling.’

You can read a short interview with Frey here.

And now I am off to transform a piece of dead weight prose with these wise commandments and to get ready for a heavy dose of poetry at CUISLE Limerick City International Poetry Festival later in the week.

Man of Achill at Parliament Gate

03/10/2010 Comments off

Christy Moore’s song ‘Lisdoonvarna’ made The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry in a week that was disturbing and surreal. We tried to get our heads and imaginations around 50 billion – the cost of bailing out Irish banks. We said  fifty thousand million very slowly but that didn’t seem to make it any more real, just more frightening.

And then a Man of Achill gave us a startling piece of installation art when he drove his toxic truck right up to the gates of Dail Eireann in Dublin’s Kildare Street on its first day in session after the summer break, with its screaming blood-red paint and bankrupt  number plates.  And we were mesmerized by the  truck stuck outside the Dail for most of that day in a very bleak week.

In Dawson Street – the next street over from where the toxic truck was still stuck – the RIA launched the massive 1,000 page Penguin Book of Irish Poetry that included, among three Nobel Laureates and many many greats, the lyrics of Lisdoonvarna penned by Christy Moore during that other Irish recession of the 1980s: ‘There we are in the County Clare / It’s a long long way from here to there …’ If only words and verse could save us.

The day after all this I was treading the ground among the hills of Ballyhoura, walking on the banks of the River Keale from Ballyorgan to Darragh when a fox appeared on the side of the hill, stopped in its tracks and looked down on us as if to say, you’re a pitiful bunch. For a few moments humans and animal stood still, staring at one another before  the fox ran off into the gorse and we went on our way.

By Sunday the nation was beginning to recover from the massive shock and words of hope were ringing through the Sunday airwaves when I caught the tail end of a discussion with an economist Gerard O’Neill who talked about the bringing creativity  and compassion to bear on our problems. We should dare to be optimistic, he said. Strange to hear the word ‘compassion’ in an economist’s vocabulary.

Christy Moore offers some consoling words in Lisdoonvarna , ‘Everybody needs a break / Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.’

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