Micheal O’Siadhail

Micheal O'Siadhail

I just wanted to share the link that I mentioned in class with everyone.

Click here for a video of O’Siadhail reading two of his poems, a copy of his 2008 interview with the Irish Book Review, a recording of his work set to music, and, lastly, the interview with Dick Staub.

Michael Longley: Haiku-like moments and Classical Allusion

The work of contemporary Irish poet Michael Longley serves as a very interesting way to tie together the varying themes and forms of Derek Mahon that we discussed on Thursday in class. Longley was born in 1939 in Belfast, very much a peer of Mahon. He is a member of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and founder of Literary Programme. Having studied Classics at Trinity College, Longley’s love of Greek and Roman mythology is reflected in his poetry. In his poem “Ceasefire,” he mixes Classical allusion with modern events, much like Mahon’s “Achill,” in reaction to a recent ceasefire in the violence in Northern Ireland.

Longley also has a very keen eye for and appreciation of the natural world.  He often studies short, specific moments of time and natural beauty, producing works thematically similar to ideas explored in haiku. Such is the case in his poem “Snow Water,” (coincidentally about tea and snow) which is similar to Mahon’s response in “The Snow Party” to haiku master Basho.

Sorry for including so many poems in this long post! (I got really excited).

To learn more, click here to see Longley’s personal website.

Snow Water (1994)

A fastidious brewer of tea, a tea

Connoisseur as well as a poet,

I modestly request on my sixtieth

Birthday a gift of snow water.

Tea steam and ink stains. Single-

Mindedly I scald my tea pot and

Measure out some Silver Needles Tea,

Enough for a second steeping.

Other favourites include Clear

Distance and Eyebrows of Longevity

Or, from precarious mountain peaks,

Cloud Mist Tea (quite delectable)

Which competent monkeys harvest

Filling their baskets with choice leaves

And bringing them down to where I wait

with my crock of snow water.

Remembering Carrigskeewaun (1998)

A wintry night, the hearth inhales

And the chimney becomes a windpipe

Fluffy with soot and thistledown,

A voice-box recalling animals:

The leveret come of age, snipe

At an angle, then the porpoises’

Demonstration of meaningless smiles.

Home is a hollow between the waves,

A clump of nettles, feathery winds,

And memory no longer than a day

When the animals come back to me

From the townland of Carrigskeewaun,

From a page lit by the Milky Way.

Ceasefire (1998)


Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears

Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king

Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and

Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.


Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles

Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,

Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry

Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.


When they had eaten together, it pleased them both

to stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,

Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still

And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:


‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done

And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’

A Great Way to Start (or End) your Day…

Before we get too far away from Ireland in our in-class discussions, I’d like to add a quick note about the renowned Irish Breakfast. The Irish really do believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Leave breakfast bars, yogurt-on-the-go, and McGriddles behind! A traditional Irish breakfast is a full meal and can be eaten at any time of the day to ensure five hours of a full stomach. In fact, it is rumored that James Joyce enjoyed two large Irish Breakfasts immediately before beginning to write Ulysses.

The Welsh are also well-known for their breakfast customs; however, the center of their meal varies dramatically from the Irish Fry-Up that I explain below. The unique delicacies of the Welsh breakfast are laverbread, a combination of seaweed and oatmeal fried in bacon fat, and cockles (clams).

Laverbread and Cockles, a part of the Welsh breakfast

The Irish Fry-Up is the main course of the Irish breakfast. It is a fried mixture of meat (bacon, sausage, and salmon), pudding, bread, and vegetables (usually mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans). The Fry-Up is quite universal and is similarly prepared in most Irish homes. Eggs, porridge, potatoes, and soda or wheat bread are often served alongside the Fry. As delicious as this all may sound, be warned of the obvious– Irish breakfasts are very high in fat and protein! They are known to contain up to 1300 calories, more than half of average daily intake.

A Traditional Irish Breakfast

Three Sorrows of Storytelling in O Searcaigh: A Reflection on Lost Irish Culture

I was intrigued by Cathal O’Searcaigh’s allusion to the Three Sorrows of Storytelling in his reflection on the past in the second stanza of his poem, “A Runaway Cow.” Just out of curiosity, I decided to do some research and thought I’d share my discoveries. I also found a copy of the Three Sorrows, a collection of three tragic tales revolving around the Irish cultural values of heroism, clan loyalty, and debt, on google books, which you can view here.

The first of the three tales, “The Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn” describes the hatred-filled feud between the Sons of Tuirenn and the Sons of Cainte which ultimately results in the killing of the oldest Cainte son, Cain, by the Tuirenn. Although it was during wartime, the Sons of Cainte saw this act as intentional, and the son of Cain, Lugh, tricked the Sons of Tuirenn into eternal labor until they settled the debts with their lives.

The second sorrow is “Children of Lir,” in which Lir’s stepwife’s jealousy of his love for his four children leads her to turn them to swans. She exiles her step-children for 900 years, and when they return to their home, there is no space for them in the mortal world.

“Deirdre of Sorrows” tells the story of Conner’s fallen kingdom as caused by Deirdre. After hearing a prophecy that the young girl would destroy his rule, Conner secludes Deirdre from the world, especially men, until she is of age to marry him. However, she falls in love and runs away with another man. Conner follows them in pursuit of Deirdre, and allows his kingdom to be destroyed.

It’s especially interesting for me to learn of the backgrounds of these tales and references for the very reasons that O Searcaigh includes them in his poetry. “A Runaway Cow” is O Searcaigh’s reflection on the idea of disappearing Ireland which is in the present a “desolate” country scene of “lifeless villages,” stripped of good soil and “young folk” by the famine. The nostalgia for the “grand sods of the old days” is expanded upon in the second and third stanzas in the desire for return to the past. O Searcaigh seems to set up a nostalgic longing for the past existence of inhabited white bungalows dotting the land,  the presence of youth, rich storytelling, and clan loyalty. However, O Searcaigh makes clear that this past is not actually desirable either, for the houses are “dandruff in the hairy armpit of the Glen,”  young people are “trapped in their destinies,” and storytelling is a relief in the time of “narrow-mindedness” and “unemployment.” It is this conglomeration of past suppression and modern desolation that prompts the male subject’s “leap like a runaway cow,” an escape from the suppressing but bittersweet old Ireland (which tales like Three Sorrows, not only the repercussions of famine, keep  alive) in modern times. It is also interesting that in what seems to be his conflict between the old, disappearing ancestral Ireland and the modern Ireland, O Searcaigh retains the use of the Irish language rather than the infiltrating English.

"the little white bungalows, attractive/as dandruff in the hairy armpit of the Glen" (11-12)

Dylan Thomas set to Music

After our brief discussion in class about the musicality of Dylan Thomas’s work and that some of his poems had been set to music, I decided to search for some examples. Below I have attached several links to musical adaptations of Thomas’s work and two of Thomas’s own readings of his work. Also, a brief side note- the youtube links won’t link well, so unfortunately, you’ll have to copy and paste them into your browser.

Vision and Prayer“: Written for soprano and synthesizer; first performed in 1961 at the Foundation of the Congress of the International Musicological Society. Composed by Philadelphia-born Milton Babbit, alum of Princeton University, professor at Julliard, and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. I’m actually quite surprised at how jarring the tone and sounds of the recording are- perhaps another less musically challenged person could shed some light on this. The jarring sounds of the synthesizer and voice certainly do work with the harsh words and themes of the poems, though.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”: Composed by John Cale; for chorale. Before listening to this recording, I had completely forgotten that I actually sang this in my freshman year of high school in chorus! (www.youtube.com/watch?v=maISWZ8Tpsc)

A Christmas in Wales“: Written as a choral piece; first performed in 2010 by the California Camerata and Camellia Symphony. Composed by Matthew Harris, an alum of both Harvard University and Julliard. Because the concert was so recent, I have not been able to find an online recording, but I will continue to look! Reviews are all very positive.

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”: recording by Dylan Thomas


“A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London”: recording by Dylan Thomas


Love & Custom in Irish Culture

As a response to today’s holiday, I thought it would be interesting to talk about Irish customs surrounding Valentine’s Day, love, and marriage. In fact, it is especially interesting that St. Valentine has a much closer relationship to the Irish than I had realized. In the mid-nineteenth century, Pope Gregory XVI sent a small gilded casket of the ashes of a famous Christian martyr to Whitefriar Carmelite Church in Dublin in recognition of the church’s preacher, Father John Spratt. The ashes were actually the remains of St. Valentine, exhumed from his burial spot in Rome. This gift has made Ireland an integral part of the celebration of Valentine’s Day for historians, religious women and men, and lovers. In fact, the gift has completely transformed the function of Whitefriar church, for it holds huge Valentine’s Day ceremonies honoring the ashes, bestowing Irish luck upon young lovers, and even selling Valentine’s Day cards. There is also a formal Blessing of Rings for all engaged couples.

Below are some other traditions and customs:

The Trysting Stone: In the early years of a more pagan Ireland, before there were churches, a large part (literally) of the wedding ceremony was the Trysting Stone (Cloch na Gealluna). The Trysting Stone is a large rock with a hole carved in the center. The couple would unite hands through the hole, which is supposed to bring luck to the couple. This ritual was especially important to arranged marriages. Click here to read a poem by David Ross Lietch about Trysting Stones, which gives a bit of perspective about the culture around them.

Trysting Stone, Cork

Shrovetide Even into the middle of the twentieth century, many Irish were following the rules of Shrovetide. It was believed that there was a short period of time in which couples could marry- anywhere from January 6th to Lent. Because marriage was not permissible during or after Lent, it was important to get married before Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, was the most popular wedding day. If you were of age, but not engaged by Shrovetide, you were considered to have failed the community, and were given one last chance to marry, “going to the Skelligs.” While historians call this mere myth, it was believed that the islands of the Skelligs were two weeks behind the time of mainland Ireland because of the time preferences of the monks that lived in the Skellig Monastery. It was important to “not miss the boat” to the Skelligs (one of the origins of this slang phrase), for single people at the end of Shrovetide would be sprinkled with salt for preservation until the next year. You better hurry up; Shrove Tuesday is March 8th this year!

The Skelligs

Luck Money At the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom exchange(d) silver coins. If the coins clink, then the couple will be blessed with happy children.

The Magic Hanky A magic hanky is a special handmade handkerchief given by relatives of the bride and groom to wish good luck in the marriage.

Claddagh Ring

Claddagh Ring

It’s easy to see these rings everywhere today, but it is important to discuss their roots despite their rather touristy attraction these days. In the 16th century, Irishman Richard Joyce’s fishing boat leaving from Claddagh Village was captured by Algerians who sold the entire crew into slavery. Joyce was trained by an Algerian goldsmith who taught him how to make jewelry out of gold. Joyce created a ring made up of two hands holding a crowned heart. The hands symbolize friendship, the heart stands for love and the crown, loyalty. Upon his release, Joyce returned home to Ireland where he found the love he was so cruelly taken from. Her gave her the ring, and they married.

The Gore-Booths and Yeats

After reading W.B. Yeats’s “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” (1929) from The Winding Stair and Other Poems, I questioned Yeats’s relations with the  Gore-Both sisters, “two girls in silk kimonos, both/[b]eautiful, one a gazelle” (4). Was Constance, previously mentioned in Yeats’s poetry–markedly in “Easter 1916” as a beauty fallen to her own “ignorant good-will” (18)–of similar value to Yeats as Maud? Or, was she merely a political symbol to him, representing one of the “many ingenious lovely things gone” (“1919”, 1) in the revolution? How exactly is Yeats connected to the two sisters?

Yeats did in fact know the girls. The Booths grew up in the beautiful, lavish mansion Lissadel in Sligo. Yeats’s mother was from a wealthy family in Sligo, and, although Yeats did not grow up there as well, he had childhood interactions with the girls. As Constance and Eva grew, they both became involved in the nationalist movement. While both sisters had strong political affinities, Eva served primarily as a worker for the women’s rights and suffrage movement in England while Constance, by then Countess Markiewicz (also here), became a major political leader of the Irish nationalist front in Ireland, a leader in the Easter Rising, and eventually a member in de Valera’s Fianna Fáil, anti-treaty party in 1926. Coincidentally, during her Sinn Fein involvement prior to the Easter Rising, Constance joined (Yeats’s beloved) Maud’s women’s activist group in 1908.

Interestingly, Constance’s younger sister Eva was also a poet. Upon the release of her 1898 book Poems, Yeats stated that Eva’s work held both great “poetic feeling … and great promise.” Eva has published nine books of poetry, seven plays, and many essays focusing on social reform and revolution. Click here to read several of her most popular poems.