Posts Tagged ‘ History ’


A cathedral for a forgotten god
its altar bare
prayers and incantations unknown,
maybe unanswered. Maybe.
Upon the uneven, undulating wall, a human hand, imperfect man.
‘He had a broken finger’ an anthropologist intones.
Traces of art scattered in the recesses of the land
passively watching the rotting bones.

What is real? the shadow cast or the light?
The physical manifestation or the dream?
God in man or the man in god?
The cave (the Freudian interpretation is clear) wet, but also warm and inviting.
The shadow play sings a song:
man seeking an answer
(there is the obvious Jungian one)
but they knew no Freud, no Jung, no Christ.
Just the cave bear and the dark and the sacrifice.

She Speaks

image…boop,boop.Metronomic time, ceaseless and unforgiving.Under her watch fingers freeze, throats tighten and pulses race. In the moment four fight from going under the sonic waves they have created. Outside there is the alley. The artery. Rain falls in giant globs running from Pearse Street to Lombard finally coming to rest at the side streets end.

Some months before and the half whistled shapeless melody is given form by the guitar player’s hands.Lucid dreams given substance. Consonants and vowels drift from the larynx and the word is made flesh. Bass flitters between the gaps, wild and old. This new ship is anchored by the drum. Happiness fills the space.How easy it can be to make worlds.

Joyce’s Liffey everflows to the sea. The eastlanders follow on to Westland. Time passes.The metronome is tamed. Beginnings give way to ends. Parents to our children (all eight of them and those we lost) we coo at them, play peek-a-boo with them. Afraid to let them go but let them go we must.

I think of them now and then. I wonder where they are and what they are doing? Our children. Out of nowhere She Speaks. I hear the lady clearly and remember our moments, frozen now in my mind. Silently, I thank her and all the minutes we shared. All the seconds. Bip, bip….

In the gloaming heart


In the child’s field, before his fame
innocence and experience stake their claim
the soldier’s path is chosen
blood signifies the man.

Love, it finds it’s own sweet voice
and echoes out across the void
that riddle rests within the heart
forever to remain.

From Dun Sgathaich the warrior rides
to crest the heights of a morning sky,
three daughters raise the sounds of war
three sons to kill the kings.

Strapped upon a rock to stand
to hold back that dark grasping hand
yet, Black Morrigan’s cacophonous caw
heralds the fading day.

Of dreams and doctorates

Academic snobbery is nothing new. Universities thrive on it, college lecturers live by it and students get caught up in its tailwinds. I loved university when I first attended it which, was during my mid-twenties. After the boredom of the classroom and the ennui of a succession of dead-end jobs I felt that third-level education was radically different then what I had experienced up to that point in time. Now, in hindsight, I realise the error of my ways, but more of that anon. At this juncture I should point out that I was a high achiever in university. I received firsts on a regular basis and was offered a masters degree in English and in History. I chose History for two reasons: History allowed me to become a tutor and the degree was a masters in literature (or an MPhil). The latter was crucially important to me as the Mlitt allowed me to research on my own and to gather primary sources around which to build my thesis. I had hoped to pursue a PhD but it was felt that my particular topic did not lend itself to that particular award.

It plagued me for some time. Feelings of uselessness were aroused. Somewhere deep inside of me I felt I had let people down. I agonised over the rejection. My thesis director assured me that the department did not treat those pursuing a masters or a PhD any differently but if this was truly the case then why mention it? My director was right: the department didn’t treat me any differently but I was looked upon differently. So begin the next part of my journey as I decided that I wouldn’t attempt to make my thesis into a PhD and that I had to move on toward something new.

That something new was teaching at secondary level. Essentially my academic career was now viewed as over. Of course, I had to obtain a diploma to teach but I know (and I felt it) that this was looked upon, by the academic world, as a minor achievement, that I was, for all intents and purposes, taking the easy way out and would be stuck in the backwater of pedagogy. One thing that the diploma gave me, that neither of my degrees ever could, was the tools to look at my educational experiences up to that point. It forced me to interrogate the model of chalk and talk and to challenge middle-class assumptions about the merits of education from the primary to the secondary and on to the tertiary.

Within Ireland the discussion around education narrowly focuses on the first two but rarely on the third. The chalk and talk model is now seen as old hat in the primary and secondary level yet it persists in the third level. A lecturer stands up and talks at the class, the methodology of teaching is absent and the human connection is lost. Jargon triumphs over knowledge and a narrow focus is often pursued. Where do students with special needs fit in? Disclosure time once again: my second diploma is in the area of special needs. The ‘yak and don’t talk back’ model of third level in Ireland doesn’t really leave a space for those with special needs or as our old head of English said in 2003 to the mass of students on their first day: ‘If you have dyslexia then this course isn’t really for you.’

Knowing what I know now, I should have stood up and walked out but then I was chasing the dream (of just getting a degree).  My mother would have said of our old head that he was ‘a know all that knew fuck all’. To my shame I said nothing. How could I? Wasn’t the model just: ‘Yak and don’t talk back?’ In the end the PhD wasn’t to be but you know what I took the right path in the end,

The sacred heart

image Yeats famously observed that ‘too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’. It is an acute observation, concerning as it does the way humans lose compassion when they get blinded by a singular idea, goal or ideology. WB could see that Irish republicanism would very quickly become heartless, with a narrow view of ‘Irishness’. It is easy in hindsight to see where my nation would go wrong. Very easy to see that we would adhere to constrictive doctrines with regards identity, politics and religion. Our supposed superiors believed that sacrifice was at the centre of what it meant to be human. The sacrifice of Christ became attached to the sacrifice of those that died in the 1916 Easter Rising (so much so that even today the anniversary of the event has became a moveable feast just like Easter itself!) The poets job is not to live in the realm of hindsight but to react to the world around him or her self. Poetry has an immediacy that isn’t matched by other art forms. It can react and create the moment. Yeats knew those involved in the Rising and had seen first hand the job that sacrifice had done on the heart. Most presciently he saw that this shade of ‘green’ would see a terrible beauty born. I cannot read the poem without thinking of all those buried in unknown bogs, those blown up in some pub bombing, those locked away in laundries, the raped and abused, unfortunately the list could go on. The point is the sacrifice comes at a price and even more so when the symbol of sacrifice becomes more important than the reason for sacrifice. What terrible beauty is born when the image becomes more important than substance? Can compassion flower just because you place a painted heart above the hearth? Can ideology feed the starving? This is where the metaphysical matters. Poetry probes and confronts that which we find unpalatable and uncomfortable. It confronts that ‘other’ within and it attempts to shine a light on the darkness residing just below the surface of the self. I cannot live in a Dawkinish world where I am at a scientific remove from myself. Yeats, through words and images, causes me to confront my own hard heartedness and warns me against singularity. To be holistic, to use that overused word, is key. A single purpose is not enough. That way lies the stone and the heart is too sacred a thing to waste.


On the gable end of the block
there ‘stood’ painted goalposts,
two dimensional, just like our lives were meant to be.
Inconsequential and insubstantial to those that did not understand
but they were the gateway to our culture
speaking more than any political proclamation.
That block was our island, our very own nation.
It was neatly bookended with the words Leeds Utd
a daily reminder of all those that had gone to other shores
to etch out a future free of predestined narratives.
Outside authority was alien to us and when we rubbed up against it
it screeched like some horrible language.
Bitterness was the true mother tongue
and dead hearted men would drown their self-loathing in pints
and then they would keen underneath the moon for their lost youth
and the love that had alluded them.
The women would weep or else join them
and in those dark cramped halls lives were broken.
On our road pain was buried deep
waves of desperate longing left unspoken.
From underneath a grey generation of patriots we struggled,
strangled by sentiments as foreign to us as any oppressor’s tongue.
History whored about as cheap commodity, a catch all opiate to placate
the common hoards.
We were Free-state bastards, told that we were living beyond our means.
We were sinners told that we were living with venal disease.
We were an economy gone wrong, a doleful death rattling scream.
We were us…faded but beautiful as vivid as a living dream.

Troubling the waters.


Within Irish historical discourse the term revisionism is a swear word. It is bandied about at will but most often when anyone disrupts the narrative thrust of the nations historiography. I find it all very odd, particularly since revisionism is essentially just a reassessment of the sources, which surely should be at the heart of historical study? In Ireland we stand in the middle and at the beginning of marking important anniversaries. The Home Rule crisis, the creation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish Volunteer Force, the 1913 Lockout, World War One and the 1916 Rising to name but a few. These were the events that would shape my nation for ill or good. Around these events hagiography and shibboleths abound and as a result it becomes very difficult to critically examine the various merits and demerits of events. In such an atmosphere revisionists become reviled. A former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) questioned whether those involved in the 1916 Rising (an armed resurrection which occurred largely in Dublin against British rule) had done more harm than good especially since Ireland was to be granted a parliament of its own as soon as the war had finished.

To some this was the equivalent of desecrating the graves of the executed leaders. In my mind though it is a worthwhile question as the events of 1916 ultimately dictated not only the course of Irish history but also Irish historical discourse. To paraphrase Standish O’Grady Irish freedom was to have three components the first was cultural which he said was minor, the second political which was also minor and then finally the most important one: the military. For freedom to be won bloodshed and death was the most important component.  In the Ireland of today we create a narrative that we are on the side of the oppressed of the world, that we have some special understanding of what it means to be oppressed, we have open disdain for American gun culture and we hold our neutrality to be sacrosanct. Yet, we gladly forget that in Ireland we had at one point in the early twentieth century three armed organisations running about namely The Irish Volunteers, The Ulster Volunteers, the IRB and this was also on top of the crown forces.

Because of this O’ Grady was right: militarianism became the most important facet of our revolution and indeed the gun would remain in Irish politics for a long time after (with one organisation purporting to represent the Irish people buying guns off a regime that brutally suppressed its people, but you know, we are on the side of the oppressed and all). This era needs to be revised and done so constantly and especially when new sources come to light. Patriotism can be a noble virtue but it can also be the place were rabid bloodlust is unleashed. I am a citizen of the Irish republic and we are quick to point out the deficiencies of our Northern Irish neighbours. However, let us revise that old Unionist adage: Home Rule is Rome Rule. Can any of my fellow countrymen and women, with hand on heart say that Unionist fears weren’t well founded? In light of the revisionism that has shined a light on the history of the institute of the Catholic Church can we not, in some degree, see the validity of Unionist fears. All reasonable I am sure you will agree? However, there are those in Ireland that will accuse you of forgetting about the wrongs of the ‘other’ side.

You see in espousing the military over all our founding fathers (and fathers they were because once Britain was gone women had to return to the home. Check it out in our constitution) set up a dichotomy and one that has grown ever since. Our culture became secondary and one that was largely confined to us rediscovering our soul by the transmogrification of the dreaded Bearla (English) into Irish. How this was to be done was never fully explained. Our politics descended into corruption and gombeenism that haunts us to this day. The dreary middle class men that took over from the dreary middle class British were one and the same (yes there were minor differences but these were largely superficial). The post boxes went from red to green and the job was all but done…except the ‘troubles’ but that is another story altogether and one that is long overdue a bit of revision.