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‘… sometimes … you get what you need.’


My previous post mentioned the trip to the West Cork Literary Festival. While there we headed out to Castletownbere as a friend of mine, Christopher Banahan, had an exhibition at the Sarah Walker Gallery. You can find out more about Chris and his artworks here.

As we drove back along the peninsula, I saw a sign for Hungry Hill – the highest peak in Beara.  I mentioned to my aunt that I’d entered the Wild Atlantic Words poetry competition, organised by the Hungry Hill Writing group.  Wouldn’t it be nice, I said, to be able to come back to the festival in September.

Well, dear Reader, that’s exactly what I did!   As I mentioned last week on : my poem At Sea took second place, and I returned to Beara to read with the other writers on 5/6 September …

… at the Sarah Walker Gallery.

Evening at the Sarah Walker Gallery © Karen J McDonnell

Evening at the Sarah Walker Gallery
© Karen J McDonnell

It’s daunting, walking into a new space to meet a new crowd – some of them with more than one collection under their belts. Within minutes, I felt at home and welcome. Jennifer Russell bested severe back pain to introduce the work, judges and readers. First up was Maxine Backus who sponsored and judged the Under-14s competition. As she said in her introduction, the maturity of the work by these young poets was astounding. Many, many congratulations to Saoirse Molly Joy who took both first and third prizes, and to Niamh McCarthy who took second prize. It was lovely to hear the girls read their work. I’ll be keeping an eye on journals of the future for these two names.

© Karen J McDonnell

© Karen J McDonnell

The Wild Atlantic Words Anthology was launched on Saturday night, and contains poems by the prizewinners and commended writers. John Bayliss Post put the anthology together as well as managing the competition and publicity.

The theme of the competition was the sea, and the variety of responses was wonderful. Winner Tim O’Leary travelled from England to read Sea of Jazz – a riff of couplets. Majella Kelly’s third prize and commended poems, Anadromous Vocabulary and The Seven Tears of the Seal Song, were richly imaged … demanding re-reading. I loved the line ‘the seabed is a Tiffany of wares’ in a commended poem, Skating through the Atlantic by Gabriel Griffin. Judge Breda Wall Ryan introduced the three prizewinners. Listening to her comments, I felt we were lucky to have such consideration and attention paid to our submitted work.

There was a short break – time to take in the gently fading evening and for a coffee at MacCarthy’s Bar – before heading back to the gallery for the Open Mic. This was fun as John suggested we sit in a circle and read turn upon turn until the poetry dried up, or we did!  We even had ukelele playing courtesy of Claire Barton – a great way to wrap up the evening.

The harbour at evening © Karen J McDonnell

The harbour at evening
© Karen J McDonnell

Sunday morning and after a well-deserved B&B brekkie, back down to the gallery for a workshop with Breda.  I should mention here that on Saturday, as I was negotiating the traffic on the motorway and the hold-ups at Buttevant, other lucky adults were attending workshops with Afric McGlinchey, while Annette Skade was taking a children’s workshop in Castletownbere library. Six of us, plus Breda, spent a very productive time working on the concept of sequence poetry – the promise and terror that holds! I’ve definitely got one new poem opening up to me. Also, I woke up at 4.30am on Monday morning with the opening lines of another one breaking in my head. I love the jump-leads effect that workshops have on the idle engine that is my poet’s brain!  Thank you, Breda.

After another quick break at MacCarthy’s Bar (there’s a pattern emerging here!), we headed to whiteRoom café just off The Square. Castletownbere has some great venues, it has to be said. Annette, Afric, and Breda read published and new poems. I know I’ve said it here, or on my website, before, but the readings and the open mic the previous night just reinforced it for me: the variety of thought and creativity of which the human mind is capable is heart-stirring. Especially in these days of world-strain, broken things, partings and death.

So – thanks to all of the poets and especially Breda, Afric and Annette. (You can read more about their work by clicking on their names above.)

It’s a funny old world.  I waited for months to get the shortlist results for a different competition – something I’d really set my sights on. No luck there, just disappointment; as happens to us all from time to time. Then Wild Atlantic Words happens, and I get a prize to beat all prizes … a week away in a creative space. Win cash, and it’s going to get spent on house insurance or new tyres for the car – whatever you’re having yourself. But, free accommodation for a week? Priceless!

I have a writing deadline coming up. And this place is where I’ll be working on it:-

Photo ©

Photo ©

How lucky can a girl be? This weekend I met Anne who owns The Creativity Cabin and who’s also a member of the Hungry Hill Writing group. To find out more about The Creativity Cabin click here.  I arrived a stranger in Beara, but  I’ll be returning with an invitation to sit in on the weekly meet-up of the Hungry Hill writers.

As the Rolling Stones once sang ‘ You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you get what you need.’

Boy, did I get what I need.

Thanks, to John, Jennifer, Anne and all at Hungry Hill Writing.  See you soon again in Beara …

© Karen J McDonnell

© Karen J McDonnell


A Summer of National Treasures

Hi dee hiiii, Campers!

Well, it’s hard to believe the summer is gone. ‘Never really took up residence in Ireland this year, did it? Didn’t come driving up the lane with the grass in the middle, to the damp cottage; exhaust scraping the gravel, roof-rack laden with things that would blow half way down the beach; summer with an optimistic face on – dreaming of barbeques and the hurdy gurdies, periwinkles and 99s.

Nope. Didn’t happen.

And try as Weather People and others might to say Autumn only begins in September … well, we windswept lot on the last rocky outpost in what was once the known world … we KNOW that Autumn begins on August 1st.  The old Irish calendar was right, lads. It was bang on.

So, as I wake up to condensation on the windows in the early morning and that chilly feeling in my feet that says, Socks and wood in the stove, dearie, I think about the summer in a different way. In a  What larks, Pip! way.

And there were larks.

This wasn’t a summer for holiday breaks. I was still immersed in my radio work for the diploma and work placements that ran into this month. Holiday? not for me. But, I raided the piggy bank and took a Friday off in early July and dragged the mad aunt down to Bantry to see one Graham Norton at the West Cork Literary Festival .

Graham Norton, you ask? You see, you’re smiling already.

West Cork Literary Festival                                                Graham_Norton_book_cover

Graham was the interviewee for a change – ostensibly about his book The Life and Loves of a He Devil.  What was pure genius though, was having him interviewed by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton. At last, as his Lordship said we could  ‘…hear what the actor said to the Bishop.’ Ahem.

Waiting for Graham - not QUITE the red chair  © Karen McDonnell

Waiting for Graham – not QUITE the red chair
© Karen McDonnell

Yep – it was that kind of night.  Right down to the mainly pink stickies that his Lordship used to mark pages in his copy of Graham’s book.

We’d barely started when a call went out for two cars to be moved immediately – a 141  reg Merc and a BMW.  ‘I’ve great demographic’, says Graham.

Well, the aunt said she couldn’t remember having so much fun in ages. We had pain in our faces from two hours of laughing – and who wouldn’t be the better for that?

There was plenty of time for questions from the audience – and that’s when we saw both Graham the pro and Graham the Corkman; comfortable in his own place. A woman called Caroline asked him how he managed to stay so nice (he IS nice. VERY nice). So he told us about the time he was talking to a group of kids in the local youth group in Bantry and one of them asked him what it was like being a celebrity: ‘Well, you know what it’s like, when you’re in Supervalu, and you see someone coming towards you and you think, no, gawd no, not today …? It’s a bit like that.’   And he beamed.

Then there was the story about his English friends coming to visit him at his holiday home out the road in Ahakista …

‘ ..and they asked me what we do… and I said, Well … there’s the regatta.’   And he just looked at us po faced and the room erupted.  How to explain that moment, that moment where we all knew exactly what we were thinking at the same time, and how no one … absolutely no one who wasn’t Irish would get the joke.   And when we thought our sides had finally split, he took us into his garden leading down to the sea and to the regatta and a photo finish: ‘Just when we thought, How sophisticated, a photo finish, the guy on the loudspeakers says ‘So, if anyone managed to get a photo …’.’

The next evening we drove out beyond Durrus. The aunt nearly crashed the car when we saw this –

Another photo finish? © Karen McDonnell

Another photo finish?
© Karen McDonnell

Graham Norton = National Treasure.  Simples.

Graham and the Bishop ©  (Photo: Tony McElhinney)

Graham and the Bishop
© (Photo: Tony McElhinney)


You’d think I’d be happy with one national treasure for the summer. Not a bit of it.

Lack of finances meant that I couldn’t get to the Yeats International Summer School this year – and boy did I miss it, especially in this 150th anniversary year.  The poetry workshop with Eavan Boland had been long booked-out, so I couldn’t even justify a weekend up in beautiful Sligo.

However, the next national treasure travelled to me – in the form of a brilliant concert in the local church in Ballyvaughan.  (No bishop around this time!)

martin hayes burren summer school                                    The Clare Memory orchestra

The Burren Summer School ended with one hell of a gig by the Clare Memory Orchestra and guests – one of whom was Martin Hayes.

Regular readers are probably aware that I consider Martin to be a National Treasure.  And one of the reasons is because of the time he gives to sharing music with other musicians and in mentoring young students.

The Clare Memory Orchestra plays without sheet music and presented work by one of its founders, composer and guitarist Dave Flynn. He was also accompanied by the Music Generation students from the summer school, some of whom we had the privilege of chatting to later. They were just magnificent. Parts of Flynn’s Clare Concerto were performed: ‘North Clare’ we paid special attention to, of course! One sequence was dedicated to the famous Droneys of Bellharbour, and up they went to play along with the orchestra … a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck experience.  The orchestra performed the whole concerto in Glór in Ennis the next evening.  You can get a taste of what I’ve been writing about here on their website.

Martin Hayes clare memory orchestra

The conductor, Bjorn Bantock lead the orchestra through this programme:

Boléro – Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) 15′
(Arr. Dave Flynn 2015)*

An Irish Farrago –
From O’Carolan to Ó Riada  17′
(Trad. Arr. Hayes/Cahill/Flynn 2013)

Pachelbel’s Frolicking Canon in D – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) 5′
(Arr. Dave Flynn 2015)*

Music for the Departed (2006/2013) – Dave Flynn (b.1977) – 22′

The Clare Concerto (Excerpts) (2013) – Dave Flynn (b.1977) – 25’*

*Features Music Generation Clare Students


SO – a damp squib of a summer, weather-wise … but fun- and culture-wise?

As we’d say here in Clare, It was only ROASHTIN’!!


#PalFestIrl – A Banner Event

Pal Fest


There’s nothing like someone with energy, and Laura Mulcahy has it in spades!!

This weekend as part of the #PalFestIrl initiative, Laura organised a miniature arts festival at her home in Ennis – with films, a short play about Gallipoli – which involved an actor & puppets – and music & song from the Clare Women’s Network. She also extended an invitation to the Poetry Collective to read some of our work.

Teeny Tiny Arts Fest Poster c. Laura Mulcahy

Teeny Tiny Arts Fest Poster
c. Laura Mulcahy

Peter Kay, Patrick Stack and Fred Johnston read a broad selection of poetry; Peter also accompanied himself on keyboards.  I read one poem about Gaza and was delighted to have the opportunity to read from UNSETTLED, A West Bank Journal – an account of a week spent in Palestine in 2008. (Coincidentally, our last night in Bethlehem had been spent at the launch of the first Palestinian Literary Festival.)

Patrick Stack reading his new work C. Karen McDonnell

Patrick Stack reading his new work
C. Karen McDonnell

A huge thank you to Laura for providing a fantastic space, refreshments, great company, and post-gig conversation about the Arts that just fizzed up the imagination.

And, keep an eye out for Laura performing on Youtube – she can sing as well. She sang Cuckoo for us last night  – mighty!

Laura entertains the troups C. Karen McDonnell

Laura entertains the troups
C. Karen McDonnell





old Arafat poster Bethlehem



Old poster of Yasser Arafat on a door in Bethlehem.

C.   Karen McDonnell



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?

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