Friday, May 13, 2022

My Turn to the Contemplative (II)

I grew up in a three-bedroomed flat in Ballymun and it was always crowded. I didn't have my own bed until I was a teenager. This environment, I've noticed, has influenced me in two contrasting ways.

One is a stubborn contrarianism, a disposition to assert my own individuality and strive for originality, which I think derives from a fear of being swallowed up in the crowd. This tendency has good and bad aspects. It also gives me an affection for eccentrics and oddballs.

(It would be unfair to pretend that this is entirely a reaction to my family environment. Indeed, there was plenty of eccentricity and originality in my family, and it was prized.)

The other legacy of my rather crowded upbringing is a dislike of silence. I'm used to having activity around me and I like having activity around me. I like having a background

This has made me rather impatient and even disdainful of people who "need" silence. Which might not be a great qualification for somebody working in a library. I must admit I'm rather unsympathetic towards students who ask: "What's the quietest part of the library?". My reply is inevitably: "Get over yourself, you cissy." At least, that's what I feel like saying.

It's also prejudiced me against the whole mania for silence. Of course, "mania" is a loaded word. I'm not suggesting this attitude of mine is fair or rational. But at the same time, I'm rather antagonized whenever I hear someone praising silence and contemplation. They always say this as though it is something incredibly original and even daring (usually accompanied by disparaging remarks about "our 24-hour society" and social media, etc. etc.) But pretty much everybody is on Team Silence, as far as I can tell. Except for me!

Having said all that, I can think of any number of occasions in my own life when I've been thrilled by silence. For instance, when visiting my aunt's farm in Limerick. What I love about the relative silence of the countryside is that you can actually hear distance. Hearing water gurgling in a drain far away is a delicious sensation. Or (to take a more suburban example) listening to shouts and cheers drifting from a playing-field out of sight.

On the whole, though, I'm on Team Noise, Team Activity. I realize that this puts me at odds with the whole Christian tradition, I'm sure I'm in the wrong, and all I'm asking for here is an exemption.

But is contemplation all about silence, anyway?

I have a mind that is always racing. I find it very hard to concentrate during Mass and the rosary. This is one reason I prefer a short Mass, since trying to concentrate during a protracted one is quite tiring.

Silence doesn't make me feel contemplative. It just makes my mind race more.

Having something to keep my mind busy, and thus soothing it, is what "liberates" my contemplative side. Perhaps I am not so strange in this. After all, this seems to be the point (or some of the point) of the repetitive prayers of the rosary, according to some authors. It focuses and steadies the analytic part of the mind, which allows the contemplative part of the mind to work.

I only have time for a quick post now, so I will resume this topic in my next one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

My Turn to the Contemplative (I)

In October of last year, I wrote a blog post with the title "To Live Overflowingly", in which I expressed a desire to live a life packed with incident, industry and gusto. This is how it started:

In recent years, a particular ideal has seeped into my imagination-- gradually, but with ever more insistency.

I would call it "to live overflowingly."

I don't claim to embody this ideal, or even to approach this ideal. It's an ideal, something that captivates my imagination.

To put it simply (before I inevitably elaborate), it's to live with gusto, to cultivate a hearty appetite for life.

I love the line in Groundhog Day: "Well, sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes." And the line in Tennyson's "Ulysses": "Life piled on life were all too little".

I think this ideal first took hold of me while reading about prolific authors. Prolific authors have always stirred my imagination. Authors such as Isaac Asimov or G.K. Chesterton or St. Augustine (five million words!) or Enid Blyton.

I love what Isaac Asimov said about himself: "Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers."

That ideal still moves me-- especially the gusto part. But, more recently, I've been turning towards a different ideal, one that is almost the opposite.

I've been trying to be more contemplative, slower.

This applies especially to writing. Although I still like the idea of being a literary workhorse, and that works fairly well in prose, my mind is turning more and more to poetry.

At the risk of being controversial, all prose is pretty interchangeable. (I'm not talking about fiction, or about essayists such as Chesterton or Orwell-- although it actually applies to a considerable extent here, too.)

Whenever I look at any of my published pieces, I do feel a strong sense of accomplishment. I don't think I'll ever get over the thrill of seeing my words in print. It makes me happy when people tell me I have a particular style.

At the same time, there is the nagging thought: "A lot of other people could have written this. It would have been much the same."

As well as this, prose is disposable in a way that poetry is not. Of course, prose will at least get a reading, which poetry usually won't. But people read prose, put it aside, and never think about it again. If you can persuade someone to actually read a poem-- oh, huge "if"!-- and they really like it, it will mean more to them than prose ever would. People come back to poetry.

 

When I started writing poetry (around sixteen) I laboured over every single poem, every single line. It was finished when it was finished. The almost-good-enough wasn't good enough. Anything that read awkwardly, any weak link, had to be replaced with something better. This was the right approach and I wrote pretty good stuff, for my age.

In my twenties I had the disastrous idea of writing a poem every day, or every few days. My idea was that it would train my poetic (and writing) muscles. I compared it to practicing calligraphy, so  that one becomes a fluent calligrapher. It was a big mistake. There was a very dramatic decline in quality. I wrote some terrible poetry in my twenties-- terrible in its mediocrity, in its throwaway nature.

Recently, I've gone back to writing as I did in my teens, and even more so. On my morning tea-break in work, I take out whatever poem I'm working on (only one so far), and sit with it. If I spend the entire tea-break without writing a single word, that's OK. If I write a single line or a couple of lines, that's OK too. (W.B. Yeats, my ideal in all matters poetic, didn't let himself write more than six or seven lines at a time. I'm not that severe.)

So far, I have ten verses of a new poem that I'm pretty happy with.

The idea is to dwell with the poem, to put my soul into it, so that-- however bad it is-- at least it could never be called throwaway. To put as much thought, depth and love into it as I possibly can. As much of myself into it as I can, so that each is an episode in my life.

True, some of the greatest poems have been written in a matter of hours. John Keats, astonishingly, wrote "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" (in my opinion, the greatest sonnet in the English language) in a single night, at the age of twenty-one. Such miracles are rare and not to be looked for.

 

And what if these poems are never published, if they never get an audience?

I'm reconciled to that. At least, I'm trying to be reconciled to that. I don't want it, and I would very much like for them to get an audience. But I've accepted at this stage that literary magazines and newspapers are not going to publish my poems, or that I might manage at best to get a handful published. Good or bad, they are written in traditional verse, which goes against them from the first.

And really...who reads literary magazines or slim volumes of poetry, anyway? Posting a poem on Facebook probably gets as much of a readership. My hope is that a poem that really speaks to people will find its way, however it comes to their attention.

And even if they never do (which would admittedly disappoint me), there is value in the process. We live in a prosaic society, an anti-poetry society. I don't want to be carried along on the tide. Patrick Kavanagh once said: "A young man who writes poetry is a young man, but a man of forty who writes poetry is a poet." I'm going to write poetry. I'm going to talk about my poetry and ask people if they'd like to hear my poems. It seems to me as worthy a topic of conversation as many others, even if it's a dire poem.

In my next post, I'll write about other aspects of this "turn to the contemplative", aside from writing poetry.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Three Years Today

Today is the third anniversary of my father's death. I posted this about him last year on Facebook (and shared it again this year).

Today is the second anniversary of my father's death. He was the biggest influence on my life. My love of poetry came from his extempore reciting of Shakespeare and Walter Scott and Robbie Burns and any number of others, not to mention his buying me books such as Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses.



He put far more effort into the public good than he ever did into his own private good. He edited a community newspaper (latterly a magazine) called The Ballymun News for over thirty years. He wrote most of it himself. He took a leading role in setting up a community social centre called The Ballymun Workman's Club. He helped set up the Irish language school in Ballymun, without which I would not even have the Gaeilge briste [broken Irish] I have. He said he had no Irish himself, although I suspect he had a little more than he pretended.

In the seventies he became a whistle blower and had a brutal boy's remand home called Marlborough House shut down.

He did all this while working a succession of jobs which were rarely more genteel than house painter, labourer, or orderly. Several times he had opportunities to advance himself but refused them on grounds of principle.

He was a strongly believing Catholic, although he rarely went to Mass. He also had a big influence on my religious beliefs although there was never any pressure in this way. I am such a contrarian that I probably would have reacted against it if there was. He could quote fluently from the New Testament, though the Old Testament was a closed book to him. When we went into town to get a birthday gift on my birthday the ritual was always: a glass of orange and a bag of crisps in the Flowing Tide, and lighting a candle in the Pro Cathedral.

I have so many memories of him but recently, I find myself remembering one from the mid-nineties: the smell of papier-mache as he made something from it in the living room-- a Christmas crib most likely. Soccer was on the TV. He watched every sport except a handful, like basketball (which was "a game for freaks") and motor sports.

"He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again." Please say a prayer for him.

Monday, May 2, 2022

My (Brief) Exchange with Brian Holdsworth

I often watch the videos of the Canadian Catholic YouTuber Brian Holdsworth. I've been a fan for a good few years, but recently I've not been so keen on the turn his commentary has taken, which seems (as with many Catholic YouTubers) relentlessly negative towards developments in the Church.

I might be wrong, but it seems like many Catholics on the right are drifting into a sort of despairing nostalgia for Christendom. I don't doubt that they care about saving souls, but they also seem preoccupied with the notion of reviving a Catholic society, a Catholic culture and body politic.

This seems such a flight into fantasy that I find it rather depressing. We're not in the High Middle ages anymore. We are in a very different situation and it seems reasonable that the Holy Spirit is responding to that diference, that this is why the Church in our time takes a different approach than it did in the Counter-Reformation or any other time.

Anyway, I was surprised that my initial comment got 37 "likes". Brian responded to it. I responded back, and then so did he. I think I'll leave it there.

Here is the video.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Adorable Trivialities

I'm reading Elected Silence by Thomas Merton, which was (bizarrely) the title initially used in the UK for his autobiography, better known as The Seven-Storey Mountain. I began to read it many years ago, but I don't think I got further than a few pages on that occasion. Other than that, I've never read anything by Merton.

This is a bit strange, I suppose, given my long-standing interest in converts. In fact, I am reading the book as research for the next article in my converts series in St. Martin's Magazine.

I was bound to come to Merton eventually. I'm fairly familiar with his story from various books about converts that I've read during the years. (A Century of Catholic Converts by Lorene Hanley Duquin may be the best of these. I recommend it. It's so good I bought it twice, once for myself and once as a gift for the lady who eventually became my wife.)

But I'd always felt a bit iffy about Merton. The wrong sort of people were keen on him, I thought. And his flirtation with Eastern religion was a bit troubling.

My distrust was deepend by this article on the Catholic Answers website. All in all, I thought, I would avoid Merton.

However, he has since received praise from the highest source, the Pope himself. In his 2015 speech to the US Congress, the Holy Father said: "Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."

Does this mean all Catholics are obliged to revere Merton? Obviously not. We all know there is a hot debate within the Church on how far we are to adhere to the Pope's judgement when he is not speaking infallibly. Personally, I consider it wisest to follow rather closely, and therefore I'm happy to consider Merton "safe" (while reserving the right to read him critically).

And he can't be too bad, because one of the things his memoir did was push me into the confessional, which I had avoided for too long.

It's a good book. Thomas Merton seems to have been the sort of extroverted, go-getting, effortlessly competent type of person who is in many ways the complete opposite to myself. Although he lingers on his flaws and failures, the picture I get from reading his memoir is of someone who excelled academically and socially-- so much so that he placed no particular value on his success, and even felt somewhat ashamed of it. So, to this degree, I find it hard to relate to him. (I'm still quite a shy person, but if I was to describe my childhood and adolescent shyness readers would find it hard to believe. And I was definitely a C-to-B student at school-- except at English, where I excelled, and at mathematics, where I was always very happy to scrape a bare pass.)

Merton was also (by a certain point in his life) drawn towards silence and solitude, something I've never experienced at all.

However, I still find a lot of interesting stuff in the book. What prompted this blog post was one passage in particular, in which he describes a train journey to Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky, to attend a Trappist retreat (this was before he became a Trappist):

So when we entered Cincinnati, in the evening, with the lights coming on among all the houses and the electric signs shining on the hills, and the huge freight yards swinging open on either side of the track and the high buildings in the distance, I felt as if I owned the world. And yet that was not because of all these things, but because of Gethsemani, where I was going. It was the fact that I was passing through all this, and did not desire it, and wanted no part in it, and did not seek to grasp or hold any of it, that I could exult in it, and it all cried out to me: God! God!

This reminds me of a similar passage, in Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday. It comes at the very end, after the protagaonist has had an experience which is a sort of allegory of the Christian revelation:

When men in books awake from a vision, they commonly find themselves in some place in which they might have fallen asleep; they yawn in a chair, or lift themselves with bruised limbs from a field. Syme's experience was something much more psychologically strange if there was indeed anything unreal, in the earthly sense, about the things he had gone through. For while he could always remember afterwards that he had swooned before the face of Sunday, he could not remember having ever come to at all. He could only remember that gradually and naturally he knew that he was and had been walking along a country lane with an easy and conversational companion. That companion had been a part of his recent drama; it was the red-haired poet Gregory. They were walking like old friends, and were in the middle of a conversation about some triviality. But Syme could only feel an unnatural buoyancy in his body and a crystal simplicity in his mind that seemed to be superior to everything that he said or did. He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality.

That's always the sensation I feel when I'm immersed in the sacred. That the workaday world is comparatively unimportant, but strangely all the more precious for it. There's not as much pressure on it.


I was trying to express something like this in the article I wrote
about the background in holy pictures.

More recently, it something I've experienced when attending lunch-time Mass in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom church in UCD. This very simple church (which I love) has two plain windows to the right and left of the altar. I greatly enjoy taking glimpses out of them during Mass. The contrast between the world outside and the evocation of Eternity inside stimulates my imagination. Suddenly, the grass and the sky and trees and the passers-by outside the window seems strangely unreal, or less real than the tremendous Reality inside. And the weather outside, be it sunny or rainy, brings to memory that wonderful phrase "in season and out of season."

It's hard to describe the sensation exactly. But what I can say is that the created world never seems more straightforwardly loveable than when I turn towards it after contemplating the divine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Does Anybody Read This Blog Anymore?

In recent months, I've felt like I'm just talking to myself. Which is, of course, what crazy people do.

It could be that my posts became so repetitive and/or eccentric that my little audience just drifted away.

After ten years, I'm too sentimental to retire Irish Papist completely, but perhaps it is time to put it on the backburner.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Imaginary Friends: Another Poem from 2005

Here is another poem I came across in my archive trawl. I'm pretty sure I wrote it a few years before 2005, but the only date I have to go on is 2005, when I created the file.

(I have a clear memory of writing every poem I wrote. My 2005 poems were mostly written a rented room in Stillorgan, while listening to Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles. I remember this poem being written at home, at a time I was eating lots of peanut butter straight from the jar and reading The Wheel of Time.)

This is a very Betjeman-esque poem, even mildly plagiarizing his "A Hike on the Downs". The narrator is meant to sound unpleasant, and he's not meant to be me. I'm unpleasant in different ways.

When I wrote this poem, I remember being very unsatisfied with it. Now I read it again, it's actually a lot better than most of the stuff I wrote at this time. As with many of my old poems, I regret that I avoided Irish references as much as possible, hoping that would make them more accessible to non-Irish readers. I'm also disappointed that I fell into the common mistake of using "under-par" to mean "inadequate", when it means quite the opposite in golf.

Imaginary Friends

I like to think that Anthony
Has read the works of Proust.
He seems so smart and literary.
It gives me such a boost.

I like to think Elizabeth
Conceals a heart of gold
And if she does, we can forget
Those nasty jokes she told.

I like to think that Paul and Clive
Are intellectuals
Who can’t abide the nine-to-five
And not just ne’er-do-wells.

But, in the morning, when I wake,
Before I don my myths
I realize my own mistake.
Who tumble-dried my wits

To turn such dullard into dudes?
Don’t ask, I know: myself.
But with my tea, a thought that soothes:
They’re not quite bottom-shelf.

Maybe I wince to hear their jokes
Their quips that miss the target;
At least they’re better than the blokes
Who throng the supermarket.

At least they aren’t quite as bad
As those atrocious mothers
Who rant at the last kid they had.
They don’t give me the shudders

(Except for sometimes). As for me
I could be worse by far.
If not quite what I hope to be
I’m not quite under-par.

But, ah! When day-dreams set me free
Then Anthony and Paul
And all that third-rate company
(Myself the most of all)

Become the people I deserve;
The wit and repartee!
Elizabeth has vim and verve,
Clive spontaneity.

Too much of life offends the sight
To look with naked eyes.
Who could forego the candle-light
Of fantasy and lies?

Before the Party: A Poem from 2005

I didn’t want the other guests to arrive
As I helped you put out glasses and plates.
You laughed and said Nobody celebrates
A thirtieth alone
, do they? I knew
That moment's fragile joy couldn’t survive
The next intruder to come smirking through
Your door. But after all, we’re only mates.

The inner sanctum is the only room;
Nothing is holy outside you and me.
Ringing the door-bell now is blasphemy.
The soul is a kingdom charted two by two.
The door-bell rings. Sir Thomas, I presume
And loneliness begins again at three

I'm going through all my old poetry, trying to collect them together and to digitize all the ones I only have in manuscripts. It's proving to be quite a task.

This is one of the better ones I've come across, that I haven't posted on this blog already. I think the second verse is very good, if I say so myself.

At this point of my life, I was writing a lot of poems portraying fictional, dramatic situations. Reading back on them, I cringe at their knowing, worldly-wise tone. Based on my life circumstances, this affectation was ludicrous. I'm not worldly wise today. I was even less worldly-wise in 2005.

But that's one of the dilemmas of poetry. You don't want it to be pure self-expression, since you want to speak to universal (or at least, widespread) human experience. But writing from a God's-eye view is also difficult, since most of us are not God. You have to find some compromise between the two.

Although this poem describes a fictional situation, it's definitely influenced by a powerful unrequited crush I had at the time. I say "crush", but it was not a fleeting thing, and lasted a couple of years. But I was very firmly "friend-zoned" (as they say these days). I think this poem might fairly speak to any young man caught in such a situation.

Is it obvious that the girl is greeting a new arrival, ironically, as "Sir Thomas"? I hope it is.

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Happy Anniversary

On this day in 1660 the English parliament (the "Convention Parliament") voted to restore the monarchy and acknowledge Charles II as King of England. He had a high old time of it, hiding from Roundheads inside oak trees and frolicking with many women, and then converted to Catholicism on his death bed.

God bless constitutional monarchy! God bless democracy! God bless parliaments with nicknames! God bless England!



Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Strange Thought

I haven't got the time or energy to expand this into a proper blog post, but I was struck by a strange thought the other day.

I was thinking about the Ireland of my youth, and specifically how the stories and doctrines of Catholicism were fairly frequently invoked at this time.

This could be easily exaggerated-- they certainly weren't a feature of everyday life or ordinary conversation.

But they were there. It was not unusual for conversation to turn to sacred matters. Even if they were not discussed (or alluded to) from a viewpoint of explicit belief, they were generally discussed respectfully enough.

What I find interesting is the counterpoint this involved. There was, on the one hand, the ordinary world of school and buses and television and shopping trolleys.

On the other hand, there was the world of first century Palestine, a world of miracles and demoniacs and impassioned theological debate. And then there was the whole history of Catholicism, full of martyrdoms and wonders and apparitions, many of them occurring in exotic countries, or in distant times.

It's the mixture that I find intriguing, and beguiling. Ordinary life had a window onto an utterly different world, an utterly different mode of being. It threw its light onto the mundane world, however fitfully.

This is more or less gone now, and Ireland seems correspondingly shrunken and impoverished to me.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Happy Easter!

Just a quick post to wish all my readers a blessed Triduum and a happy Easter. Here's hoping we all receive many lasting graces over this holy period.


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

On a Lenten Rondel

What poetry needs is a place at the table. There has never been, I believe, so little popular interest in poetry as there has been for the last fifty years or so. And yet there is no lack of reverence towards poetry. We have too much reverence, and too little familiarity (in both senses of that word).

We put poetry into cordoned-off areas, to be safely exalted and ignored.

Some time ago I submitted a poem to an online journal for which I have written quite a few articles. I was told that several people had submitted poems to the journal, and that the editors were working on a separate publication in which such creative writing would appear.

But this is the whole problem in a nutshell. Confine poetry to its own publications, its own events, its own websites, and very few people are ever going to read it.

It's hard to believe that poetry, not so long ago, was a staple of every sort of magazine and newspaper. If you don't believe me, read some literary biographies from the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

The problem today is not that there are no "spaces" for poetry. There are. But poetry never really escapes from them. There are poetry slams and poetry websites and all sorts of poetry repositories, like this one which was created by my own library-- "Poetry in Lockdown".

It's a noble initiative, but who is going to read all these poems crammed together into an online collection? Who is going to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and browse through "Poetry in Lockdown"? Nobody. So much poetry in one place, so barely presented, is somewhat overwhelming.

Related to our excess of reverence for poetry, today, is a reluctance to talk about it in the same way we talk about everything else. We are too conscious of silly maxims such as Archibald MacLeish's "a poem should not mean but be." We have been more or less convinced that anything we deign to say about a poem is almost certainly reductive, vulgar, obvious, missing the point, etc.

But to place something above or beyond analysis is really to push it out of sight and out of mind.

Whenever I've shared my poetry with people (with a very exceptions), the reaction is generally twofold:

1) I like it.

2) It makes me think of X or Y or Z.

But what I was really gunning for is a critical reaction. What is good about it? What is bad about it? What does it suggest to you in terms of meaning and association? Exactly the sort of critique anyone would have about a film, a novel, a painting, a piece of music. I just want my poem to be treated as a piece of work, not as pure sacred self-expression, immune from analysis.

There is no shortage of people writing poetry (which is a good thing in itself), and even platforms (of some kind) where that poetry can be shared. But there is no real discussion of any of this poetry, outside the ivory towers of the academy. It's just there. Take it or leave it.

So today I am going to discuss a poem-- not written by me, but by Dominic N of the "Some Definite Service" blog.

It's a poem which has been posted on the blog for several Lents running, but with subtle changes over the years. I suggested to Dominic that he should write about the evolution of the poem, and he did so in this post.

Being a lover of texts about texts, and of texts about texts about texts, I am now going to write a little bit about the poem myself-- not concerning myself with the different drafts (though that would be interesting), but with his latest version.

Here it is:

All friends of Christ, hold fast, hold fast;
Fear not these desert days of Lent.
All grunged-up souls, all people pent
In pleasure’s prison, bravely cast
Your senseless sin aside at last:
Believe the Gospel and repent.
All friends of Christ, hold fast, hold fast;
Fear not these desert days of Lent.
The thirst and hunger will not last,
For by God’s Son, who underwent
The Cross, we know that we are meant
For Heaven’s home when pain is past —
All friends of Christ, hold fast, hold fast.


First of all, I think this is an excellent poem. The use of the rondel form in itself is an achievement, being a highly restrictive and exacting format. There are only two rhymes in the whole poem, which gives it a strong sense of compression and containment. The repetition of the two rhymes adds emphasis, to this very simple and unambiguous poem.


It's a highly rhetorical poem. The poet addresses the reader directly, in the first line and the last. Indeed, the poet addresses the readers collectively, giving it something of an air of a sermon.

The use of repetition is the most notable feature of this poem. The repeated lines are exhortations, again emphasizing the rhetorical tone of the poem. One of the most important functions of poetry is to inspire, and this is obviously a poem that sets out to do this.

It's a rather melodramatic poem, a characteristic that I think both a strength and (possibly) a weakness. The first line is both melodramatic and emotional, reminiscent of evangelical religious language that seems (sadly) quite old-fashioned today. This is a bit daring but, I think, very effective. It surprises the reader and wakes her up. "Believe the Gospel and repent" is also a powerful line, since this is in effect the essence of the Gospel. In fact, to read the Gospels is to realize how far we tend to drift from this basic fact, that Jesus called on us to believe and repent, above all else.

However, I do think the melodramatic nature of the poem might be a weakness-- or, more positively, something that gives the reader pause for thought. After all, is the modern Lent really an ordeal? There are two days of fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), and six Fridays of abstaining from meat. These days a lot of people abstain from meat anyway. In terms of the core requirements, Lent really seems more of an inconvenience than an ordeal.

But that's the minimum. Aren't we supposed to go beyond that? Yes, most of us "give something up". This year (as I've done several years previously), I gave up listening to music. Even though I allowed myself to break this musical fast on Sundays (and St. Patrick's Day), it still bites a little. But only a little.

We could go much further, and doubtless many do. The English politician Anne Widdecombe, for instance, only drinks water during Lent-- a privation which strikes me with awe! However, I think such people are in a minority. References to "holding fast", the "desert", and "thirst and hunger" seems somewhat incongruous and excessive.

But perhaps I am taking too literal a reading of the poem? Perhaps the poet is thinking of the spiritual ordeal of Lent, a time in which we are meant to spend more time in reflection, prayer and self-examination. This is possible. However, I still think it seems unrepresentative of modern life. It's very difficult to "retreat" during Lent, in our post-Christian and pluralist societies. Sadly, Lent does not throw its atmosphere over its stretch of the calendar, as do Christmas and summer and other periods of time. I think it's rare (to put it mildly) to remember something that happened during Lent and say (or think): "I remember one Lent..." Outside a Catholic church, with its covered statues and purple hangings, you'd hardly know it was Lent. And it's very difficult to preserve a Lenten spirit, a Lenten outlook, in all the animation and bustle of everyday life.

Similarly, "pleasure's prison" strikes me as excessive. How many of us are really hedonists? Life still seems a condition, as Samuel Johnston put it, in which "much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed". It seems to me that most of us spend most of our time working, studying, commuting, taking care of children (or parents), enduring small talk and obligatory social calls, keeping fit, seeking to improve ourselves in one way or another-- somehow (I may be wrong) I think hedonism is the besetting sin of few enough people these days. Although we neglect our souls, I don't think we do it for the sake of pleasure. I'm even inclined to think our society could do with more simple, wholesome pleasure, not less. However, "pleasure's prison" is certainly a ringing phrase, taken on its own.


As I've said already, however, it might be that this contrast between Lent as it should be, and as it really is, is a virtue of the poem. It's a salutary reminder. After all, here we are; another Lent gone and we have not really lived it as we should have.

While I am criticizing the poem, I will mention a final thing I don't like so much. "Grunged-up" seems a little too slangy and discordant; admittedly, my taste in poetry might err towards the over-polished and the over-refined. I can't help thinking of nineties grunge music and fashion.

Other than that, I have only good things to say about the poem, especially its use of language. "Your senseless sin" pleases the ear, and reminds me the intellect of sin's futility; I may consider "these desert days" and "thirst and hunger" to be excessive in terms of our actual experience of Lent, but the simplicity and vividness of the phrases themselves are effective; "for Heaven's home when pain is past" is a line which is a pleasure in itself, having something of the naivety and simplicity of Anglo-Saxon poetry. (There are plenty of echoes of Anglo-Saxon poetry in this poet's work.)

Dominic himself was somewhat critical of the lines:

For by God's Son, who underwent
The Cross, we know that we are meant
For Heaven's home when pain is past--

He describes these lines as being "a little more awkward for the reader", though he is satisfied that he has "avoided anything contrived". I think he has done better than that. This is a poem chock-full of simple, direct, simple statements, a thing that is very difficult to achieve in poetry. Most poems have too few direct statements; this poem almost errs on the side of too many. The slight stiffness and indirectness of these lines is a pleasing contrast to this, and this temporary change of pace and tone makes the last few lines all the more powerful in their renewed directness. I like "who underwent the Cross" very much; it gives me a frisson. It has a slightly medieval flavour to it.

As I say, an excellent poem. Like all good poems, its merit becomes clearer as you analyse it. It's by no means this poet's best poem, or even one of his best. It is rather limited in its scope, which is part of is appeal. There is no room here for his usual subtle humour, or his celebration of ordinary modern life. But it does what it does very well.

And I am very happy to be able to post my analysis of it on Spy Wednesday, one day before the end of Lent!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Endings That Open New Horizons

This is a Facebook post I posted some weeks ago. It's about the climactic scene of "All Good Things", the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It's a brilliant finale. It features Q, a mysterious and almost-omnipotent figure who was a recurring character in the series. In fact, he featured in the first episode in which he puts the  whole human race on trial (the crew of the Starship Enterprise being their representatives). They survive that, of course, but in "All Good Things", Q tells Captain Jean-Luc Picard that "the trial never ended". Picard finds himself trying to stave off the impending doom of humanity, which comes in the form of a "spatial anomaly".

In "All Good Things", Picard travels through the past, present and future (thrust back and forth by Q), and realizes that the spatial anomaly is growing bigger the further back he travels in time. If he doesn't stop it growing (backwards in time), it will eventually stop human evolution from ever happening at all, in the primeval past. His encounters with the other characters in the three different timelines have a tremendous dramatic and emotional impact on the viewer-- on this viewer, at least. The story touches on deep themes of loyalty, identity, and the unity of a human life.

(The framework of past, present and future is reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, a story which has provided a template for countless other stories.)

Q is a fascinating and ambivalent figure. He is a member of a species called "the Q Continuum", who are all near-omnipotent and who seem to act as a kind of cosmic judiciary. He seems sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly to the crew of the Enterprise. In "All Good Things", up to this last scene, he seems entirely hostile-- even terrifying.

You can see the climax here. Watch it before you continue reading. It's not very long.

And here is my Facebook post, which is shorter than my set-up:

I think this might be favourite climax of any TV drama ever. Not only that, but it's a kind of paradigm of how I think a story SHOULD end. "Charting the unknown possibilities of existence". The conclusion of a story should not be a closing down but an opening up of new horizons. That doesn't have to be a science-fiction understanding of new horizons; it can simply be a deeper understanding of life on the part of the protagonist, or new possibilities of some kind.


The part where Q leans over to say something to Picard and then his chair pulls him away is brilliant, as is "See you...out there". It gets the whole atmosphere of the show in one scene. Of course, in science-fiction guise it's essentially an encounter with an angel.

But then, I'm a fuddy-duddy who thinks fiction (indeed, all art) should be something that raises people up and inspires them. Even it has dark themes, it should ultimately inspire. I agree with Chesterton when he said the only thing worse than the oppression of the people is the depression of the people.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Modern Poetry Really is Rubbish

Last month, The Burkean pulled a wonderful prank on the publishers of Icarus, a prestigious poetry journal in Trinity College.


This story fills me with glee, but also with a certain relief. Since my teens, I've felt pretty sure that modern poetry (which mostly means free verse) is rubbish. I can't see anything in it at all.

But every now and again, doubts creep in. After all, so many modernistic poets seem very much in earnest, often enduring poverty, mental illness and even suicide as they grapple with their art.  (Of course, I have tremendous sympathy for the human aspect of this.) They seem to have so much to say about each others' works, as do literary critics. Am I simply missing something?

A story like this reassures me that, no, I am not missing anything. Modern poetry really is rubbish, a genuine case of the Emperor's New Clothes. 

And that means the revival of classic poetry, traditional poetry, proper poetry, really is an urgent cultural necessity. The need for this seems ever more imperative to me.



Wednesday, March 30, 2022

From COVID with Love

For more than a week now I have been downed with COVID. Aside from one horrible night of a sore throat and lots of coughing, my symptoms haven't been too bad. However, for several days and nights I suffered from intense restless leg syndrome, to the extent that it was sometimes painful. I was walking on the spot to abate it for up to half-an-hour at a time.

I feel better now.

Like most of us, I hope, I prayed along with the Holy Father when he consecrated Russia, the Ukraine, and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother. Is it a coincidence that the terible war seems to be turning a corner already?

During the time I was sick I read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (well, I had read the first two books last year), Dead as Doornails by Anthony Cronin (a book I've read at least three times now), about three-quarters of The Communist Manifesto, and A Very Short Introduction to Catholicism by Gerard O'Collins. I also browsed G.K. Chesterton: A Biography by Fr. Ian Ker.

Everybody told me I would love Scoop, so naturally I was disposed to dislike it. In the end, it was neither so good as I was told nor so bad as I feared. Waugh's humour is a little bit too middle-of-the-road for me, neither farcical enough to really gratify my taste for the uproarious, nor subtle enough to please my liking for more-or-less realistic humour. And I find his prose style arid. I prefer Tom Sharpe.

Narnia kindled my imagination when I was a child. Several previous attemps to rediscover the novels floundered. Lewis's fictional world seems like pasteboard compared to the depth and detail of Tolkien's Middle Earth, and-- to be honest-- most modern fantasy worlds. However, Lewis certainly has wonderful little touches that lifts his mythology above others-- like "the wood between the worlds" in The Magician's Nephew, or Puddleglum's speech to the Witch in The Silver Chair.

This time around, it was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that really impressed me. I don't know why this book had less of an impression on me as a boy. There are some beautifully written vignettes, such as Lucy reading the magic book, or the encounter with the sea-dwellers. The pace of invention never slackens, and the whole thing has the air of a genuine myth.

The Communist Manifesto is a dull book and made me reconsider the use of the term "cultural Marxist". I'd come to see it as a stupid and sloppy term, which didn't really mean much. However, reading Marx, I realize that there is a very definite line of descent between him and 21st-century lefitsts. Essentially, it's the rejection of any concept of objectivity or fair-mindedness or detachment. To Marx, everything was a function of the struggle between the bourgeois and proletariat. His modern-day heirs may have jettisoned those terms, but the dualistic thinking of "oppressor-oppressed" remains. The book chilled me. The mentality it espouses is all too familiar today.

As for Ker's biography, I went looking for Amazon reviews and found one that I'd written! And forgotten about. Browsing it again, my opinion hasn't changed.

Aside from reading, I've been watching (on YouTube) a turn-of-the-millennium show called Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, which has nothing at all to recommend it in educational terms, but whose atmosphere I thoroughly enjoy. I've only been watching the episodes hosted by Jonathan Frakes, AKA Commander Will Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Frakes is such an accomplished ham, and presents this farrago of nonsense with such glee and relish, that he carries the whole thing onto a higher level. The show embraces a "Twlight Zone"-style aesthetic, being presented from a mysterious house with lots of spooky and tasteful bric-a-brac. I've always loved this sort of atmosphere: an atmosphere that suggests the world is a shimmering, uncanny place where anything could happen and weird events might be just around the next corner.

At the end of the show, Frakes reveals whether the stories we've just seen dramatized are "fact or fiction". Nothing can surpass the gravity with which he announces they are "based on a true story" (no details given), or the wolfish grin with which he informs us: "We made it up! Pure fiction!". (Maybe Jonathan Frakes could sometimes stand in for Dirk Benedict on this blog...)

As I've said, Frakes invites us to guess which stories are true or false. This is probably a waste of time, since it seems almost random, but I've derived amusement from trying to guess which story-related pun he's going to use when making this invitation.

It might be pure nonsense. But at least it's harmless nonsense, unlike The Communist Manifesto.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

On Atmosphere (V): The Early Nineties in Ireland

The last period whose atmosphere I'm going to write about is the early nineties, and particularly the early nineties in Ireland.

After that, it seems to me, we are living in the current historical moment-- whatever that is. I'm not aware of any different "atmosphere" in the year 2000 than there is today. In fact, very little seems to have changed. It's true that social media became ubiquitous, but the penetration of the internet into everyday life was already well-advanced in the year 2000, so it wasn't that much of a novelty.

Is it the case, perhaps, that we are simply more sensitive to the zeitgeist when we are younger? Would somebody born in 1995 perceive enormous differences in "atmosphere" between 2005 and 2015, for instance?

I don't know. But I know it all seems very samey to me. I started in UCD in 2001, a little after 9/11, and a little before the release of the first Lord of the Rings film. Sad as it is to admit, 9/11 did seem to have a certain rejuvenating effect on the world. Perhaps the stark reminder of death makes people more grateful for life. It may seem disrespectful to include the Lord of the Rings films in the same sentence as 9/11, but considering they were released over a period of three years, and each one was a major event that everybody was talking about, they definitely cast their aura over this particular passage of time.

In fact, when I think back to the turn of the millennium, it seems to me that the world had somehow regained its youthfulness. Correspondingly, when I remember the late nineties, the world back then seemed rather tired and dispirited. Of course, this might simply be my own projection. But I'm by no means sure that it is. I can remember sitting up into the early hours to witness the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It felt less like a new dawn than a marathon runner limping over the finishing line. Friends was the cultural phenomenon of this time, and, as good as Friends undoubtedly is, it's pretty vapid and undemanding.

But, even though the new millennium did indeed bring with it a certain freshness-- or so it seemed to me-- there wasn't enough difference for me to consider it an "atmosphere" of its own, as I've assigned the seventies and eighties and early nineties.

(The popularity of the "New Atheists" from the mid-2000s, which lasted about a decade, was another characteristic of the time between the early nineties and now. But I don't think it was ever mainstream enough to be called zeitgeisty. The God Delusion sold three million copies. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, released two years later, sold 100 million.)

So much for the more recent past. Let me return to the early nineties in Ireland.

I've often written about the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy, and the near-hysteria which gripped Ireland at the time. This was the first time the Republic of Ireland had made it to the World Cup Finals (rather surprisingly, since we've always had good soccer players). The fact that Ireland played England in the first game only added to the anticipation. Someone once said that a game of tiddlywinks between Ireland and England would attract a crowd of ten thousand. As it happened, the game between Ireland and England was a one-one draw, which of course counted as a moral victory.


World Cup fever was everywhere. I've never witnessed such an intensely collective experience. When the games were being televised, and Ireland scored, you could hear the cheers coming from all around. Everybody was watching the matches on television. Tricolours hung everywhere. The entire nation felt like one big extended family.

The manager of the Irish team at this time was Jack Charlton, an Englishman who had been a part of the 1966 World Cup-winning England team. He quickly became the darling of the Irish. He was down-to-earth, unpretentious, fatherly, sometimes gruff, sometimes genial, and he enjoyed fishing and having a pint. This was back when the Irish people contrasted themselves against overseas sophistication and swank.

As well as this, many of the Irish international team had English (or Scottish) accents, and qualified to play for Ireland through their parentage-- "the granny rule", as it was dismissively called. Although this was often a cause for mockery, it occurred to me even at the time that it could be seen in a very different way. These players had chosen to play for Ireland, and very often (as could be learned from the intensive press coverage and interviews of the Ireland squad) they had a genuine emotional identification with the country. Jack Charlton had them singing Irish rebel ballads on the team bus. They were discovering their Irishness, and the country was rediscovering its Irishness through them.

The song "Put 'Em Under Pressure" was played non-stop around this time. It was the official Irish World Cup song, produced by a member of U2. It's based on a guitar riff from "Dearg Doom", the signature song of the Celtic Rock group Horslips, which was itself based on a traditional Irish tune called O'Neill's March.

And this was the essence of this brief moment in Irish social history-- it seemed as though there was going to be a continuity between the past and the future, that Ireland was going to become a successful modern country while still keeping a firm hold of its traditions.

Another indication of this was the Papal audience which the Irish soccer team was granted during the World Cup Finals. Wherever they were born, most of the players were Catholic, and the audience got a huge amount of publicity. Everybody seemed to view it very positively. Of course, this was before the Bishop Casey affair in 1992, when it was revealed a prominent bishop had fathered a child...and before the much worse revelations of child sex abuse that were soon to follow it. But, for the moment, Ireland seemed safely Catholic.

The year after the World Cup, a relatively new band from Galway, The Saw Doctors, had a number one hit in the Irish charts with the song "I Useta Lover". Not only did it reach number one, but it stayed there for nine weeks. Music famously has the power to evoke the past like nothing else. Whenever I listen to this song (as I very frequently do), I'm instantly immersed in the atmosphere of the early nineties in Ireland. There's a bounciness and a happy-go-lucky air to the song that is very typical of this particular hour in history.

And again, there are several Catholic references in the lyrics. One is particularly crude, describing the narrator staring at a girl's bottom as she goes up to receive Holy Communion. But somehow, in the context of the song, it doesn't seem so bad, even kind of innocent. I've mentioned before how much I love the euphony of one particular line:

"You remember her collecting for Concern on Christmas Eve?"

The narrator goes on to tell us that "she was on a forty-eight hour fast, just water and black tea." Later on, he says that "all the thoughts and dreams I've had of her would take six months in confession."


So the song had a distinctly Catholic flavour, but it also had a distinctly Irish flavour. The singer sung with a strong Irish accent. We were very used to hearing Irish singers sing in American or simply neutral accents. (One of my favourite Irish musicians, Rory Gallagher, doesn't seem to have made a single reference to Ireland in any of his songs, which are steeped in Americana). The Saw Doctors were unmistakeably Irish, unmistakeably culchies (the Irish term for rednecks).

I'm pretty sure I remember us singing this song in choir practice, in my Dominican school. I don't remember any reference to posteriors so perhaps that bit was left out. But could we really have sung it in choir practice? Perhaps my mind is playing tricks, but whenever I listen to the song I find the school auditorium coming before my mind's eye, and I can hear teenage voices singing: "I have fallen for another she can make her own way home..."

I rarely go to concerts (I've even been laughed at for using the word "concerts" rather than "gigs"), but I did go to see the Saw Doctors in Galway on Halloween night in 2008. It was immense fun, and nobody seemed to be enjoying it more than the band. They are by no means one-hit wonders, but have quite a repertoire of solid songs ("Last Summer in New York", from 2005, is one of my favourites.)

It hadn't even occurred to me, when I began writing this post, that the early nineties saw the beginning of Ireland's run of success at the Eurovision Song Content, which we won four times this decade. In the 1994 contest, hosted in Dublin, the interval act was Riverdance, which became a phenomenon in its own right. Ireland seemed to be world-conquering.

The Eurovision often gets laughed at, but I have happy memories of it-- the voting, more than the music. One of Ireland's winning songs, "Rock and Roll Kids", is a particular favourite of mine-- a nostalgic, even schmaltzy lament for old times, with well-written lyrics.

While Jack Charlton was winning famous victories on the soccer pitch, and the Saw Doctors were storming up the charts, Irish kids' TV was dominated by Zig and Zag from the planet Zog, two hand puppets-- one purple, one beige. They were presenters on The Den, a block of afternoon programming which featured various cartoons and other kids' shows. Zig and Zag did the continuity, along with a human presenter, and-- even better than the two aliens-- Dustin the Turkey, a puppet who spoke with a strong Dublin accent and an endless repertoire of Dublin slang and idioms. Zig and Zag were mildly subversive. Their humour had much more of an edge to it than anything seen on Irish children's TV before this. Every kid watched Zig and Zag.

The early nineties also saw the publication of The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle, which appeared as individual novels from 1991 onwards and which I received, in trilogy form, as a Christmas present in 1993 (or was it 1992?).  The trilogy follows the lives of a single family who live in a north Dublin housing estate. Doyle is the archetypal sneering Irish liberal, but he is also a genuinely funny writer, and he was gifted at reproducing north Dublin working class dialect. Most writers, when they try to write dialect, instinctively resort to the dialect that existed decades before. Doyle had been a teacher in a working class area, and picked up on more current idioms and tendencies-- such as the tendency for Dubliners to place "but" at the end of a sentence.

It was refreshing, indeed revolutionary, to encounter fictional characters that actually spoke like the people around you. Doyle's books had such an influence that I'm pretty sure they popularised some of the slang terms that I actually hadn't encountered before the books, but which were soon to be commonly heard in the classrooms and dressing rooms of my (socially very mixed) school.

My father had a running battle with Roddy Doyle. He was vexed that Doyle allowed Ballymun to be used as a stand-in for Barrytown in a TV drama he scripted. He believed this would only worsen Ballymun's reputation. My father confronted Doyle about this when he made a public appearance in Ballymun Library. He even entered an RTÉ radio short-story competition, and made the shortlist, solely for the opportunity of confronting Doyle (who was on the panel of judges) on air. He never got the opportunity, which he put down to Doyle recognizing his name and blocking him from winning the contest. Who knows?

All that aside, Roddy Doyle's novels (and the films made from them) really did capture, and contribute to, the national zeitgeist I'm describing here. Indeed, the Italia '90 hysteria is described very well in The Van, the third novel in the trilogy.

To put it all together...in the early nineties, Ireland suddenly seemed to be confident in its own identity, its own Irishness, and bursting with creativity. It seemed, for a moment, that we might become a modern country after our own manner, without letting go of our distinctiveness or our Catholic identity. Sadly, it was not to be.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

A New Video from Roger Buck

Always worth watching! This three-hour video is about Ireland and globalization, as well as other things. I highly recommend it.



Saturday, March 19, 2022

Legacy: A Memory, and a Note to Self

When I was a kid, I had a particular fascination with titles: book titles, magazine titles, newspaper titles.

I also had a fascination with logos, especially book publisher's logos. (I guess I could say I was interested in logos long before I was interested in Logos.)

I was also an avid reader of comics: Transformers, Battle, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers, and so on. (Not American comics, which I never really encountered. British comics.)

One feature of British comics was that they would regularly amalgamate. Falling circulation for one title meant that it would be merged with another, more successful title. They would usually sell under a combination of titles for a while, but eventually would revert to one title. And frequently, little remained of the "junior partner" after some time except perhaps one particularly popular story. They were somewhat similar to political parties in this regard. (I might write a whole post about the comics of my youth, one day.)

I began reading Eagle because Battle was merged into it. Some time later, another comic with the title Wildcat was merged into Eagle.

Wildcat was an attempt to make a science-fiction comic, based around a spaceship which took human beings from Earth to seek new worlds. I think there had been some sort of catastrophe on earth. There were lots of different characters and comic-strips based around this premise. Obviously, it didn't sell too well, and most of the stories it brought to Eagle didn't run for long, with the exception of "Loner" (which was actually one of my least favourite stories in Eagle-- too action-oriented, and I didn't like the inky, fussy draughtsmanship).

Anyway, this is a lot of build-up, just to draw your attention to the logo of Wildcat.



One morning I woke up in a state of intense excitement. I had dreamed of a comic with a logo in the style of Wildcat, but with the title Legacy instead.

It's hard to describe just how much this galvanised me. I felt it was my destiny to create this comic.

All these years later, I have no more interest in comics, but (as my regular readers will know) I'm increasingly preoccupied with poetry, and especially with the need to revive traditional poetry.

I keep thinking that a magazine, or perhaps initially a blog, will be an important standard-bearer for this.

I'd been trying to come up with a good title, for ages, when I remembered my childhood dream. What better title for a traditionalist poetry blog/magazine than Legacy?

So instead of making a note in my diary, which is not to hand at the moment, I decide to blog about it instead. If Legacy ever comes about, this will be the first mention of it ever.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a day early, but St. Patrick's Day seems to have become a season in recent years, so I hope I'll be forgiven.

It was my tradition some years back to turn the background of this blog green for St. Patrick's Day, but I can no longer work out how to do it. The blogging platform is always changing. There probably is a way to do it, but I gave up after fifteen minutes.

I put together a St. Patrick's Day book display in the library. The theme I was given was "St. Patrick: An Icon of Irishness". But I made sure the top row were all about St. Patrick as an evangelist of Christ.


I could easily have included the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin city centre as one of my crummy eighties memories. I think I only ever actually went to it once. It rained. The spirit of crass commercialism I described in that post was well and truly on display on the parade. Obviously, businesses are going to use parades to advertise. Nothing wrong with that. But back then, it was nothing BUT advertising, pretty much!

Everybody remembers the ubiquitous ATA Security floats, although I actually remembered them as ACA Security. The highlight of the parade, for me, was being squirted with a water pistol by a pirate.

Sure, it was better than nothing. But I have to admit that the St. Patrick's Day parade has become much better in recent times, with much more artistic, tasteful and elaborate floats. I've only ever watched it on TV since that year.

My St. Patrick's Day memories are not particularly special. My mother used to give us green and orange jelly with cream, to represent the tricolour. Or maybe that only happened once, I can't remember. Dinner was usually corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage, which I utterly hated. I don't remember ever going to Mass on St. Patrick's Day as a child.

The last poem my father wrote was about spending St. Patrick's Day in a hospital ward.

In the last seven or eight years, my personal tradition has been to read St. Patrick's Confession on the day, though I'll admit that in the last few years, it's only been a section of it.

Another St. Patrick's tradition on this blog is quoting De Valera's unfairly infamous St. Patrick's Day radio address from 1943-- although, in all honesty, it has become thoroughly rehabilitated in recent years. Sure, people still make snide references to "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads" (which he may or may not have actually said-- the original broadcast was not recorded), but nearly everyone who writes about the speech per se now admits that it has been unfairly lampooned.

When I was a teenager, however, it was still open season on it. I first encountered it on a bus shelter ad which quoted a fair chunk of it over a photograph of the Ballymun flats. (It wasn't clear who'd sponsored the ad, but it was obviously ironic in tone.) And it was even mocked in my school history book!

In any case, here it is:

The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live. With the tidings that make such an Ireland possible, St. Patrick came to our ancestors fifteen hundred years ago promising happiness here no less than happiness hereafter. It was the pursuit of such an Ireland that later made our country worthy to be called the island of saints and scholars. It was the idea of such an Ireland - happy, vigorous, spiritual - that fired the imagination of our poets; that made successive generations of patriotic men give their lives to win religious and political liberty; and that will urge men in our own and future generations to die, if need be, so that these liberties may be preserved. One hundred years ago, the Young Irelanders, by holding up the vision of such an Ireland before the people, inspired and moved them spiritually as our people had hardly been moved since the Golden Age of Irish civilisation. Fifty years later, the founders of the Gaelic League similarly inspired and moved the people of their day. So, later, did the leaders of the Irish Volunteers. We of this time, if we have the will and active enthusiasm, have the opportunity to inspire and move our generation in like manner. We can do so by keeping this thought of a noble future for our country constantly before our eyes, ever seeking in action to bring that future into being, and ever remembering that it is for our nation as a whole that future must be sought.

This has always seemed like a noble vision to me, even when I first encountered it, as an angry socialist teenager. I was confused by the hostility towards it.

One thing that does bother me a bit (and this belongs to the second half of the paragraph above, which is rarely quoted) is the conflation of Christianity with militant nationalism. This was an all-too-common practice at this time, its nadir perhaps coming when Patrick Pearse proclaimed the grave of Wolfe Tone to be holier than that of St. Patrick.

Although I admire the courage and devotion of the people who fought in 1916 and the War of Independence, and indeed in previous uprisings, and although stories about them will always have a grip on my imagination, I'm not at all convinced that they were justified. But then, I pretty much agree with Benjamin Franklin that "there never was a good war, or a bad peace". I tend to think World War II was not justified, and I'm almost certain World War One wasn't.

In any case, I wish you all a happy St. Patrick's Day.