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Praising the dead, lauding the living

It was well worth getting up at 6.30am on a Saturday and heading north west!

Breakfast in Shells Café in Strandhill and then I launched myself at Sligo … which was launching itself at the rest of the world.

I heard Joanna Lumley on the radio as I drove up to Sligo, and as I made my way down O Connell Street there she was in the flesh … looking Ab Fab, sweeties! and enjoying the Yeats fest as much as the next person.

Into Yeats HQ at the Yeats Society Building for the the launch of this year’s International Summer School … and a party for WBY.  I got a welcoming hug at the door  – it’s always nice to be remembered!

Business first though – Martin Enright acted as MC. Prof Meg Harper outlined the 2015 School’s programme and it was formally opened by Senator Susan O’Keeffe who is behind the Yeats2015 yearlong event.

Meg & Susan getting ready to launch ... c. K McDonnell

Meg & Susan getting ready to launch …
c. K McDonnell

There was wonderful music by local children and adults. Some people dressed up in early 20th century costume.  The fizz bottles popped open. We all sang Happy Birthday to WB and his granddaughter Catríona blew out the candle.  You could almost be forgiven for feeling the man himself was watching …

WBY sees all ... c. K McDonnell

WBY sees all …
c. K McDonnell

After all that, there was time for a quick cup of coffee before heading to the Pollexfen Building in Wine Street to hear Prof Harper’s excellent lecture on ‘Yeats and the Power of the Imagination’.  It was like being back at the Summer School. I found myself longing to be in Sligo in a few weeks time. The lectures and lecturers are always so stimulating – and the questions always add to the heady mix.

Then … to Drumcliffe, where Eilo and the Society’s volunteers had arranged readings of Yeats poems, beside his grave.

Eilo and a Yeats reader

Eilo and a Yeats reader

Winners of the Yeats prizes at the Feis performed their winning pieces and local people read their chosen Yeats poems. Also reading were Liz Lockhead and Gillian Clarke – the national poets of Scotland and Wales. Included was  an excerpt from one of Yeats’s final poems, Under Ben Bulben :

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,   
On limestone quarried near the spot   
By his command these words are cut:


               Cast a cold eye   
               On life, on death.   
               Horseman, pass by!
Bare Ben Bulben, from Drumcliffe. c. K McDonnell

Bare Ben Bulben, from Drumcliffe.
c. K McDonnell

The Burren – where I live – is a special place. It can put a spell on a person. Each time I go to Ben Bulben it affects me in the same way. I know someone who lives on its slopes – lucky person.

Limestone landscapes confer their own strange blessings.

And then …. and then … well, Reader, just think of dusk, and the lights and music of a funfair, and the promise of chairoplanes, and candy floss, and staying up late with your bestest friend ever in the world. THAT is just a shadow of what the atmosphere was in the Knocknarea Arena in Sligo on Saturday night:

MC for the main event, Theo Dorgan, was blessed amongst women. Six, to be precise. And all Laureates or National Poets:

Chair of Irish Poetry, Paula Meehan; Poet Laureate of England, Carol Ann Duffy; the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke; the National Poet of Scotland, Liz Lochhead; the London Laureate, Aisling Fahey and Northern Irish Poet, Sinead Morrissey all read a Yeats poem and then three more of their own.

Sinéad read The Circus Animals’ Desertion, Aisling, a London poet whose family is from Gort (and have a connection with Thoor Ballylee), read The Lake Isle of Inisfree. Paula gave a stirring reading of Easter 1916.

Oh, but the poetry!

Aishling told us about Nanas and holy water and mouth ulcers, Sinéad took us on a sepia journey through the Belfast slums; Paula through the ghostlines of Leitrim. Carol Ann read of Hillsborough, and Gillian of Love. Liz wiped the soot from a Lanarkshire miner’s face, and opened up a lifetime.

Susan and the six poets - no! seven. Theo is there on the right in the MC's chair! c. K McDonnell

Susan and the six poets – no! seven. Theo is there on the right in the MC’s chair!
c. K McDonnell

I wasn’t taking notes – so forgive me if you don’t get the full story. It was a dizzying night, and we were privileged to be in such company. Nothing beats a ‘live’ reading.

There was some powerful singing by Mary McPartlan, accompanied by Aidan Brennan on guitar. She came back on stage at the end of the night and led us all in Down by the Salley Gardens.

Then Susan O Keeffe sent us all home, but not before President Michael D had made a speech and recited WH Auden’s In Memory of WB Yeats

Here – an excerpt:

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;

No better words to end a night of poetry.

No better words to bring on inspiration for more.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I drove back to the B&B with the window open and my brain fizzing.

It struck midnight as I drove past Drumcliffe. I blew a kiss into the night air. I’d like think WB captured it and that Mrs WB didn’t mind too much.

Bedtime reading c. K McDonnell

Bedtime reading
c. K McDonnell









All Hail the Birthday Boy!

Yeats on the gable wall. Sligo, August 2014

Yeats on the gable wall. Sligo, August 2014

It simply would not do to let tomorrow’s 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birthday go by and not post something.

All going to plan, I will be in Sligo – Yeats central – for the #Yeats2015 festivities. I plan on dropping into Drumcliffe to pay my respects. Me and the multitude, no doubt.

This time tomorrow, I’ll be getting ready to go to this. So many poets! It promises to be something special.

I’m also looking forward to the launch of this year’s Yeats International Summer School which is taking place during the first two weeks of August. Straight after that, it’s a quick run down Wine Street (that is its name!) to hear Prof Margaret Mills Harper speak about ‘Yeats and the Power of the Imagination’.

Here is a link to a post and a podcast of a programme I made with fellow students at Wild Atlantic Waves Radio. Give it a RT on d’aul Twitter machine and a LIKE on Facebook, would you?

More when I return from Sligo.

Happy Birthday, dear WB.

Yeats Day cake - c. Yeats Day 2015

Yeats Day cake – c. Yeats Day 2015


Just a catch up on the Walter Macken centenary celebrations.

I wasn’t able to get to Galway on the 3rd May to the street party in St Joseph’s Avenue, but I met Deirdre Kennedy last week. She told me a great time was had by all and they had a good turnout.

A photo appeared on the front page of the Connacht Tribune on Friday 8th.

Photo Joe O Shaughnessy Connacht Tribune

Photo Joe O Shaughnessy Connacht Tribune

And I should say here: although there didn’t seem to be much coverage in the Tribune my wondering if there was coverage in the City Tribune proved to be correct.

Deirdre told me that there was a lot of info, and Macken related material in that paper – which is only available in Galway city.

We bumped into each other on the 12th at Ultan Macken’s one man show about his father. The event took place in An Taibhhearc, where Walter spent many of his years as an actor, writer and director.

It was a lovely evening of remembrance and for those not too familiar with Macken’s writing, a great introduction to the books. Ultan had brought many first editions of his father’s books with him.

In the second half of the evening, a Cursaí/RTÉ documentary from the 1980s was screened. A younger Ultan was the on-screen presenter. The interview with his mother Peggy was wonderful. It reinforced what we had already heard that evening: Walter and Peggy were such a wonderful couple, and a great team.

It’s sad that Macken died so young, leaving Peggy behind him.

So – thanks to Deirdre, and to those who contributed to the talks and events. Other commitments meant that I couldn’t get to everything, unfortunately. But special thanks to Anne McCabe, An Taibhdhearc and Ultan for bringing Walter Macken back to us for an evening.

Walter Macken Centenary 1915-2015

Well – it was Walter’s big day yesterday. And if it got a mention on RTÉ, I missed it. Last year I wrote an article in NUI Galway student newspaper, SIN, and here on the blog.  In it, I suggested that in the months to come, Galway might think about celebrating one of its famous writers. The article got quite a bit of support. As the new year came in, I thought I should try to get an article into a local Galway paper. I got the push I needed: a conversation with Anne McCabe of An Taibhdhearc Theatre spurred me into action. Anne told me about An Taibhdhearc plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Macken’s birth. She also told me about a commemoration committee from the west end of Galway city, where the writer grew up.

Plaque at Macken's birthplace, St Joseph's Ave. Photo c. Karen McDonnell

Plaque at Macken’s birthplace, St Joseph’s Ave.
Photo c. Karen McDonnell

I went to St Joseph’s Avenue and spoke to Deirdre Kennedy about plans for a street party in honour of Walter. The local businesses funded a stage for the day, and musicians and singers associated with the Crane Bar were going to participate. Both of Macken’s sons – Walter and Ultan – would be there on the day. The residents had received a grant towards the event, but most of the sponsorship has been local. Ideally though,they would like to paint a mural on the gable end of the terrace or – in common with Ultan Macken – they would love to see a statue of Macken somewhere in Galway city.  (There’s always the option of public/private cooperation in terms of funding.) I wrote my article, phoned and then emailed it to the Connacht Tribune.

Later, I thought about the fact that The Silent People is set mainly in north Co Clare, where I live. I wrote another article and sent it to the Clare Champion. They published it in their 1 May edition.

Clare Champion Walter Macken article

I couldn’t be at St Joseph’s Avenue yesterday. But the Galway Advertiser was there and posted photos on Facebook:

Tom and Des Kenny will have Macken articles in the Galway Advertiser and Books Ireland.

Getting Ready for Walter's birthday party.  Photo C. Galway Advertiser

Getting Ready for Walter’s birthday party.
Photo C. Galway Advertiser

It’s such a shame that the opening festivities did not appear to be even listed in the Connacht Tribune, considering that Walter Macken’s wife was from the family which owned the paper – and wrote for the paper herself. There didn’t appear to be any mention of the centenary in last Friday’s issue (unless there’s something in the City Tribune?) . Even if they do a spread next week, they have ignored this weekend’s events.

It seems to me that most of ‘official’ Galway has opted out. Nothing about a new plaque to replace the old one in St Joseph’s Avenue. Even less than nothing about calls for a statue of Walter Macken in the city of his birth. Galway is aiming to be City of Culture 2020. The city might mark the Macken centenary in some official way!

However – and this is important – though events were launched in An Taibhdhearc by Tom Kenny last Thursday, and the street party happened yesterday, there is more to come. An Taibhdhearc is hosting  lectures on 12,14, and 15 May. Ultan Macken will speak about his father on the 12th. That will be followed by a screening of a 1988 RTÉ documentary about Macken.  At 10.30am on 13 May, there will be a screening of the The Flight of the Doves – a film of one of Macken’s children’s books. Paul in the Bell, Book and Candle bookshop will be displaying Macken memorabilia. He also has quite a few out of print books. Don’t forget, you can buy Macken’s work online.  Also, Ultan Macken’s book about his father, Dreams on Paper, is available in paperback and online.

I’m definitely going to some of these events and, having missed the fun in St Joseph’s Avenue, I hope to get to ‘Street to Stage’  at 8pm on the 15th. It’s a film of yesterday’s celebrations and – if the residents of the St Joseph’s Avenue squeeze up in the seats – I’d love to be in their company.

Why don’t you join us?

May Day Poetry & Coffee

Record Break Café. Photo by Gerry Doyle

Record Break Café. Photo by Gerry Doyle

Hello, my lovelies!

I will be doing a poetry reading at the Record Break Café in Ennis, on May 1st at 8pm

Come on – join us for some poetry & damn fine coffee at Sinéad’s lovely café in the Lower Market area.

Location of  Record Break - Ennis

Location of Record Break – Ennis

Dublin in Poetry

This is a bit of fun!

Tweet a twittery poem to Poetry Ireland, and it may get used on a Dublin-related app …

What part of Dublin do you want to write about?

I’ve already done mine … no surprises there.

Statue of Oscar Wilde Merrion Square  Dublin

Statue of Oscar Wilde Merrion Square Dublin

April – The Cruellest Month?

April is the Cruellest Month‘ wrote T.S Eliot in The Wasteland.

It was if you were on the Titanic.

Titanic.  c.

Titanic. c.

For me, though, April has been peachy so far.

poeticdiversity in Los Angeles has published my flash fiction Down in the April 2015 issue.

You can read it here:

Many thanks to editor Marie Lecrivain for her continued support.

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