Archive for May, 2011

Obama In Ireland: Words to Consider, Reconsider

25/05/2011 Comments off

Controversy has a way of revolving  around words in Ireland in a strange way. Even when Barak Obama,  President of the United States, visits we get caught up in a national debate about Enda Kenny’s welcoming speech in College Green, Dublin, and his use of Barak Obama’s very own words.

But, An Taoiseach’s gift of words to the Obamas was inspired: a copy of Padraic Colum’s Legends of Hawaii for their daughters, Malia and Sasha. In 1922, as a new independent Irish State was taking shape, the Hawaiian legislature commissioned Padraic Colum to collect myths and legends from their State and write them as children’s stories. Dr Padraic Whyte of Trinity College, remarking  during the week about the appropriateness of the gift for the Obamas, said that ‘myths not only explain where we come from, but they can also guide us to where we want to go to.’

I have my own connection with words and Barak Obama and Enda Kenny’s native County Mayo. For, on the day of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, I made a trip to the Erris Peninsula – in the footsteps of John Millington Synge – while I listened on radio to Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

It was the inauguration verse of the Harlem-born poet, Elizabeth Alexander, that caught my imagination on the car radio in Erris that day: ‘We encounter each other in words, words / spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, / words to consider, reconsider.’

Obama – and The Queen – have gone. We are left with the images, and the words,  and the controversy.

Peering At Their Majesties Through An Irish Mist

20/05/2011 Comments off


I caught a glimpse of  Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip this week on O’Connell Bridge. Like many others I was a captive in Dublin’s south side, unable to cross the Liffey and pestering the Gardai about when the bridge would be reopening. Then Their Majesties just passed by in an armoured car, waving through the dark glass at the bystanders. The iPhone cameras went into over-drive. There were excited gasps: ‘I saw the Queen. I saw the Queen.’

The royalists were not so lucky in Achill in 1903 when Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandfather Edward VII visited. I came across this little story recently. Seemingly there was great disappointment that Edward and Queen Alexandra would not take in a visit to the island on their way from Donegal. So His Majesty acceded to a late request that the royal yacht Victoria and Albert should steam slowly between Clare Island and Achill to receive the greetings of the islanders on their way to Killary Bay.

The papers reported that large numbers gathered in the early July morning at Achillbeg. They came by boat and cart from miles around and waited in expectation for the royal yacht until noon. But the sea was running high, a thick mist prevailed, and the yacht could not approach the island shores. When all hope of was given up of seeing the yacht, a bonfire was lit and ‘God Save The King’ was sung with gusto.

I was more lucky. I saw the Queen – while a captive on Dublin’s south side. It was indeed a week of deep symbolism and great hope.

I met him in my sister’s garden ….

15/05/2011 Comments off

I haven’t yet read Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz – only the first chapter that you can read on BBB 4 web site and where you can also hear an interview with the author herself. It was my Kindle e-book reader that first got me into reading first chapters. Reading first chapters for free became my favourite Kindle feature.

My Kindle was a gift from Santa in Christmas 2009 when the snow seemed to stay forever. The Forgotten Waltz works backwards from that snow-bound winter as the narrative is told in retrospect. It is the story of an affair set in the Ireland of the late 2000s when the property-fueled economy was imploding.

‘Love is always deluded,’ Enright says in her interview about the novel. The story is a trope, she says, an image of the delusion that was the Celtic Tiger. And it starts in the late afternoon of a suburban barbecue: ‘I met him in my sister’s garden in Enniskerry.’ There is a moment when she watches him – the man who is to become her lover – through a haze of cigarette smoke before he turns to look at her: ‘For the moment I am just breathing.’

The first chapter is enough to get me hooked. I need to know what happened next. It will be on my winter list for the Kyleglass Book Worms.

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This

08/05/2011 Comments off


Mae Leonard’s new book of poetry makes me think of a patchwork quilt – places, family, history, tragedies and quirky events all woven into a wonderful and seamless whole. I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This has just been published by Doghouse Books and was launched at Limerick’s On the Nail Readings event where Mae read with the intensity of a sean-nos singer.

Listeners to Sunday Miscellany will be familiar with Mae’s home place of ‘The parish’, Limerick, and this collection breathlessly moves between that city and her current home ‘doing ninety, somewhere / between Limerick and Naas’ with an occasional digression into County Clare or Kerry. But it is Limerick that is in her blood as, miles away, elbows leaning on the kitchen table : ‘I cross O’Dwyer Bridge / down into Athlunkard Street / loving the damp smell / of the Abbey River.’

The book is punctuated with images of public violence  and grief: Veronica Guerin’s murder; John O’Grady’s ‘mutilated hand’ and the Curragh search for the missing woman Joyce Quinn at night with ‘a threat of snow / sharpening the breeze’. 

It is the pieces about family that made this reader have many an intake of breath: an elderly mother ‘slipping into a carelessness / in dress and cleanliness’; a man’s early morning shave ‘erasing stubble / from awkward places’; a sixteen-year old heading to a disco ‘in her best mini-dress / an outsize seater / her hair a mess’; emptying out treasures like ‘four dead ants’ from a trouser pocket on wash day.

Delightful story-poems shot through with a poet’s quirky insights.

A Story Has No Beginning Or End

03/05/2011 1 comment


‘A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.’  This is how Graham Greene started his novel The End of the Affair – a book that was published sixty years ago, in 1951.

The event was marked in Achill this weekend at the Heinrich Boll Memorial Weekend where visitors could view the house in Dooagh, at the Atlantic’s edge, where Graham Greene and Catherine Walston carried on the affair that inspired the novel.

William Cash, author of The Third Woman: The Secret Passion that Inspired The End of The Affair was a guest speaker and fascinated the audience with excerpts from a taped interview with Vivien Greene, the author’s former wife, as she popped open a bottle of champagne. William Cash spoke on the evening of the day that Prince William married Kate Middleton in Westminster Cathedral. Intriguingly, he said, it was on the day of Elizabeth’s wedding to Philip in 1947 that Graham Greene told Vivien that he was leaving her for Catherine Walston.

The moment Greene choose to start his story was ‘that black wet January night on the Common,’ when he met Henry Miles, his lover’s husband. It is also the moment that Neil Jordan choose as the starting point for his film adaptation of The End of the Affair. We were treated to the movie in the Cyril Gray Memorial Hall, Dugort, at the foot of Slievemore – Achill’s Black Mountain.

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