Review Of Textualities 17

Reflections on the Mini Conference.



Presenting to one’s peers is never an easy journey, especially when one’s peers are incredibly bright, well-read individuals whose views on a particular subject or a particular writer, playwright or poet may differ dramatically from yours. Add a group of lecturers and professors to the audience who have hundreds of years of learning behind them and one is tempted to ‘ head for the hills’. Trying to believe the old idioms “ oh, everyone is in the same boat” or “ everyone is on your side” doesn’t help as you know that’s not true. Everyone isn’t in the same boat. Some students have a far better grasp of their subject matter and are better speakers than others. Some students have a great skill in constructing a power-point and everyone involved is competitive by nature, or else they wouldn’t be there in the first place. An old golfer once said to me “Do you know why Tiger Woods is so good at golf?…because he plays the course and not the other competitors”.  I have found it to be good advice and relevant to many areas of life.

The mini conference was superbly organised. I’m from a different generation where computer skills and power point was related to the electricity coming into a house rather than a presentation but Annie, Rebecca  and Erin were just so generous and patient with all the presenters and made it a pleasure. The introduction of the timing device is a great help as it keeps all the presentations on line.

Perhaps what is magical about the day is the absolute passion that such a varied group of people have for such a varied group of subjects. From Codey’s “Black Minstrels in Joyce”   to Ellen’s agitprop poets and Annie’s conceit on Huston there was never a dull moment.

It was fantastic to see that three of the proposed dissertations are on Marina Carr and neither Amy or Margaret had even heard of her until Dr. Kelly’s insightful lectures. Margaret is doing her dissertation on Ireland’s Funerary Culture and it is an area I think is very important, particularly in theatre, and quite often overlooked. Erin is doing her thesis on John B. Keane and while I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, for those of us reared on the Kerry border it is hard not to be envious. Cian is doing his work on Flannery O’Connor. I had never heard of her and if there is one single ‘wow’ factor in the MA course it is not only learning about writers, poets and playwrights you have never heard of from the lecturers, it is learning from your fellow students. Sitting next to Cian at the rehearsal day he launched into a story of her life and twas as good a lecture as I’ve ever been at. She is top of my list in September as are Ellen’s two poets, Sarah Clancy and Elaine Feeney, neither of whom I have heard of. Sinead is probably attempting the bravest dissertation of all. Anything to do with the Famine is still such a delicate area and she has my absolute admiration. If I have any tiny complaint about the course is the lack of all mention of the famine or any writers or writings from that time. Its influence on us as a nation of people  is so important in our literal history that it feels like it should have been included somewhere. Yet, as I say, ‘tiny’ complaint and I’m sure i’m not the first to say it so there must be a good reason.

The questioning session at the end of each session was very worthwhile. I suppose it opens your mind to areas and byeways that you hadn’t thought of going down and certainly it felt that all those who asked questions seemed to do so, not as a criticism but very much as interested, helpful support. All in all it was a smashing Saturday, way above expectations.

Literature Review

In 2011, Fintan O’Toole, in his Irish Times column, asked an important question regarding Irish Theatre; “Can Irish dramatists tackle the big questions again?”. His article bemoaned the fact that during the period of the Celtic Tiger no playwright, with the exception of Sebastian Barry with Hinterland, had made any effort through their work to ‘take aim’ at the Establishment ‘even with society in the throes of collective madness’(Van Winkle, 132). His point is well made, but perhaps he was asking the wrong question. O’Toole accepts ‘that the generation of Marina Carr and Sebastian Barry, of Conor McPherson and Mark O’Rowe, of Martin McDonagh and Enda Walsh is in many respects a golden one’ but never questions or even alludes to what couldn’t be more obvious in Irish Theatre at the time “who are the new generation of playwrights?”. The ‘golden’ group he talks about all emerged in the 1980’s and 1990’s and it is difficult to name one candidate that emerged as outstanding playwright in the intervening period, not to mention a ‘group’ of outstanding playwrights. The following year O’Toole ‘recognised the 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival, which ran from September 29 to October 16, as “the most significant in 30 years. He described the new movement as “magic hyper-realism,” noting the frequent abandonment of “one or more of the basic elements of drama: a text, a theatre, an audience and a performer,” and the commitment to the hidden, the documentary, the physical, and the place’ (Van Winkle ,133). There is no question that the “Behind Closed Doors” Festival brought some powerful theatre to light in site-specific locations such as Louise Lowes Laundry, Mark O’Halloran’s Trade and Eileen Walsh’s magical performance in Franz Xaver Kroetz’s Request Programme. It also initiated a change away from the ‘theatre/playwright’ towards the ‘site-specific/theatre maker’ combination. In a country where the position of the playwright was already undermined by the Arts Council’s cessation of the ‘Playwright Commission’, the closure of numerous regional professional theatre companies, who were regular supporters of developing playwrights and the lack of funding for large scale productions, it was a further hammer-blow to the playwrights.

The working title of my MA dissertation is titled “The Precarious Position of the Playwright in Irish Theatre: National Identity and the Storyteller. In the opening chapter I intend to look historically at how Irish theatre has developed and the importance of the text and the actor within that genre. I intend to analyse the work of Donald Morse in his Irish Theatre in Transition: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan,2015) which opens with Christopher Murray’s essay “The Irish Theatre: The First Hundred Years 1897-1997” and his belief that the Abbey was not only an Irish national theatre committed to retrieving Irish identity, but also a modernist one which was from its inception influenced by ‘Little Art Theatres’ in Europe’. Morse accepts that Murray is ‘widely recognised as the primus inter pares among Irish theatre critics’ and the book deals with analysis and comment from 15 theatre scholars to Murray’s essay under a number of rubrics that are very relevant to the present position of the playwright in Irish theatre.

While I will highlight the reasons for the present position of the playwright, I would like to concentrate on the importance of the playwrights’ contributions to the national identity as textual ‘story tellers’. I will refer to Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957-2007 edited by Nicholas Greene, Patrick Lonergan and Lilian Chambers (Careysfort Press , 2008), Christopher Murray’sTwentieth Century: Mirror up to Nation (Manchester UP, 1997) and Eamon Jordan’s Dissident Dramaturgies: Contemporary Irish Theatre (Irish AP, 2007) to analyse the important contributions that previous generations of Irish playwrights from Synge to Carr have made to Irish society with regard to national identity and the ‘mirror to nation’ ideal.

The main aim of the dissertation will concentrate on analysing the work of three contemporary playwrights, Pat Kinevane, Ailís Ní Riain and Micheál Lovett. Kinevane is one of the most important voices in Irish theatre in the past ten years. O’Toole believes that historically playwrights had a wider canvas to draw from as “There were more big narratives to draw on or to subvert; Irish Freedom, emigration, the struggle between tradition and modernity, the sexual revolution and the Northern conflict” (IrishTimes). Surely, each of these issues, many of which like the ‘sexual revolution’ are ongoing, is still very relevant to Irish society. It is possible to replace ‘Irish freedom’ with the civil right of the citizen and the ‘northern conflict’ with ‘the northern question (especially vis a vis Brexit) and add immigration and the cultural implications of same and it would appear the list is longer rather than shorter.

Pat Kinevane’s trilogy of plays; Forgotten, Silent and Underneath deal with a plethora of issues with an emphasis on the marginalised in society, the ‘old’, the ‘homeless’ and the ‘physically deformed’. Joan Fitzpatrick Dean’s well-wrought essay explores Pat Kinevane’s performance plays, Forgotten (2008) and Silent (2011), which were developed by Fishamble. As with the works examined in part three of the collection, Dean emphasises the theatricality of Kinevane’s plays, bringing out the Beckettian and Syngean elements of these grim portrayals of the marginalised (Morse, 157).


Irish theatre has found it difficult to categorise Kinevane. From critics, to scholars to journalists he is referred to as an actor/playwright, an actor-writer and a performance artist but never as a playwright. Yet, he has spent many years, firstly, as a stage actor and then as a playwright honing his skills. His play Forgotten was first produced by Fishamble in 2006. Kinevane is extremely fortunate to have the support of Fishamble; The new play company’ and their intuitive director Jim Culleton. The world of theatre recognised Kinevane’s talents in 2016 when he won an Olivier award for Silent, a play dealing with homelessness and mental health issues. His most recent play Underneath deals with physical deformity particularly with respect to the female lead character. Kinevane’s first play The Nun’s Wood was produced by Fishamble in 1997 and won a BBC Stewart Parker Trust award. Fishamble then produced his second play The Plains of Enna for the 1999 Dublin Theatre Festival. I will argue that Kinevane’s early work deserved to be nurtured by the National theatre which would have cemented his position as one of the most powerful voices of his generation. While some might say the theatre-going public might have lost his trilogy if he had been nurtured by The Abbey, it is far more likely that Irish theatre would have had an even more powerful body of work to engage with. For the dissertation I will analyse all of Kinevane’s work and use Eli Rozik’s Generating Theatre Meaning (Sussex AP, 2008) and Robert Knopf’s Script Analysis for the Theatre (Bloomsbury, 2017) as aids to interpretation.


Ailís Ní Riain did her undergraduate degree in Music at UCC and a Masters in Composition at York University. Her first play Beaten (Published as Tilt, Nick Hern, 2007) was produced at the Granary theatre in Cork and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. She followed with Cell at the Manchester Literary Theatre in 2010 and Desolate Heaven (Bloomsbury, 2013) at the Everyman, Cork in 2012. Corcadorca did a rehearsed reading of her play The Tallest Man in The World in 2013 and her play Ostrav was produced in London at Theatre 503 in 2014. In the short period that she has been writing plays, Ailís has been shortlisted for the 2014 James Tait Prize for Drama for Desolate Heaven and as well as numerous Bursary awards including the BBC North Writers Bursary, she was a finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Conference. She, like Kinevane, is also a powerful voice of her generation and more importantly, in a country that has so few women playwrights, she is a ‘female’ voice of her generation. Many of her plays deal with the power of sexuality both from a female and a male perspective. She is presently writing a new play called Bitterweed which is based in Sarajevo and deals with rape in both war-torn Serbia and a rural Ireland setting. I intend, in the dissertation, to analyse her work most particularly with regard to feminine issues in Ireland over the past decade.

Photo on 20-03-2017 at 18.56

Micheál Lovett is from a small village, Kilworth, in North Cork. Having spent a number of years with the local drama groups as an actor he began writing plays in the late 1990’s culminating in the production of his first play The Deadman’s Beard at the Everyman Palace in Cork in 2001. He was writer-in-residence at the Everyman from 2000-2002 and moved to London to further his career. His next play Tricky, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third was produced by Blood in the Alley at Richmond Studio and transferred to the Courtyard in King’s Cross. Lovett is heavily influenced by John B. Keane but he has a cutting edge which is far darker and his text is even more layered. He has been described by one reviewer as a ‘cross between John B Keane and Tarantino’. His next play This Ebony Bird opened at the Half Moon Theatre, Cork Opera House in 2005, was critically acclaimed and was nominated for a Stewart Parker prize for best new play. Lovett’s Macbeth at the Gates was produced in New Orleans by the English Rep company Dem Boys in 2008. Blood in the Alley produced his next play Jumping the Sharks at Smock Alley in 2010. Lovett is presently working on a new play titled Goddess which will be produced in Cork in 2018. I have worked closely on all of Micheál Lovett scripts but always with a view to production. I intend to analyse the writing with regard to the Oedipal sense of the writing. None of Lovett’s play have yet been published.

If Kinevane is interested in the marginal in society both Ní Riain and Lovett are constantly asking questions of the relationships within the family unit, often with strong sexual undertones. Very little has been written academically about any of the three playwrights. Through the dissertation, the aim is to investigate the interpretations of the writing of a new group of playwrights who have yet to be recognised as important and powerful voices of their generation.Fintan O’Toole’s final observation could be dangerously prophetic and what I hope to find an answer to in my dissertation.

‘Perhaps the kind of unified dramatic vision that comes from a literary playwright labouring over a text is not available in a context in which younger writers think of themselves more as “theatre makers” than as dramatists. My hunch, though, is that crisis and despair will produce the kind of ambitious public theatre that prosperity and smugness discarded. As Jonathan Swift put it, no nation needs it so much’ (Van Winkle, 132).

Works Cited and Consulted

Greene, Nicholas. Lonergan, Patrick. Chambers, Lilian ( Editors). Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957-2007. Dublin: Careysfort Press. 2008. Print.

 Jordan, Eamon. Dissident Dramaturgies: Contemporary Irish Theatre. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. 2010. Print.

Kilroy, Thomas. ‘Dublin International Theatre Festival: The New Irish Plays’.  The Furrow, Vol. 11, No. 10 (Oct., 1960), pp. 679-683 Published by: The Furrow. Journal.

 Kilroy, Thomas. ‘A Generation of Playwrights’.  Irish University Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, Serving the Word: Essays and Poems in Honour of Maurice Harmon (Spring – Summer, 1992), pp. 135-141Published by: Edinburgh University Press. Journal.

 Knopf, Robert. Script Analysis for Theatre: Tools for Interpretation, Collaboration and Production. London: Bloomsbury. 2017. Print.

 Lonergan, Patrick. Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Theatre in the Celtic Tiger Era. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2009. Print.

 Mask, Deirdre.’ Personal and Political: Irish Theater in 2010’. New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, Vol. 15, No. 3 (FÓMHAR / AUTUMN 2011), pp. 126-135
Published by: University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies)

 Morse, Donald E. Irish Theatre in Transition: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2015. Print.

 Murray, Christopher.’ The Foundation of the Modern Irish Theatre: A Centenary Assessment. : Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS), Vol. 4, No. 1/2, THEORY AND CRITICISM [Part 1] (1998), pp. 39-56 .Published by: Centre for Arts, Humanities and Sciences (CAHS), acting on behalf of the University of Debrecen CAHS. Journal.

 Murray, Christopher. Twentieth Century Irish Drama; Mirror up to Nation. Manchester: Manchester UP.1997. Print.

 Nakase, Justine and Stack, Roisin. Keeping a Head Above Water. Irish Theatre in a Time of Transition. New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua Vol. 13, No. 3 (FÓMHAR / AUTUMN 2009), pp. 124-132.Published by: University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies). Journal.

O’Toole, Fintan. “The New Theatre: Magical, Visible, Hidden,” Irish Times, 15 October 2011. Newspaper.

Pine, Emilie. Review of ‘Suspect Cultures: Narrative, Identity and Citation in 1990s New Drama’ by Clare Wallace. Source: Irish University Review, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Autumn – Winter, 2008), pp. 450-452 Published by: Edinburgh University Press. Journal.

 Rozik, Eli. Generating Theatre Meaning: A Theory and Methodology of Performance Analysis. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.2008. Print.

Smith, Eoghan. Review of ’ Irish Theatre in Transition: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century by Donald E. Morse’. Nordic Irish Studies.Vol. 14 (2015), pp. 153-158. Journal.

 Van Winkle, Kathryn Rebecca.’ You Had To Be There: Irish Theater in 2011’. New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach NuaVol. 16, No. 3 (FÓMHER / AUTUMN 2012), pp. 133-146Published by: University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies)

 Wallace, Claire. Suspect Cultures: Narrative, Identity and Citation in 1990’s New Drama. Prague: Literraria Pragensia. 2006. Print.











The Professor and the Trollope

The bar is trendy, one of those bars that you pay twenty five euros for three drinks in, with polished brass fittings everywhere, even in the gents. It isn’t  ‘uber’ trendy, maybe because it has been in the same family for generations. Here and there are gentle reminders of the past; a Keating painting, Paul Henry’s mountains and a revolver in a glass case. It still has that casual feel to it that survival of time anoints and most of all it has low ceilings. Generally my experience has been that the lower the ceiling, the better the bar. While it’s not my local, I’m known here so I’m comfortable here.h2548-l69106992_mid

Surrounded by a coterie of listeners, Willie as usual, is in full flight. It is difficult to like him. He has a habit of dropping his ancestors into the conversation and invariably they are landed gentry families. The locals throw their eyes to heaven at the frequent mentions of the Butlers of Ormond or the Pollexfens of Sligo. Nobody in the bar can ever remember him buying a round. It is well-known that “Willie would make a prisoner of a euro”. His saving grace is his mind and the fact that he is a brilliant orator; a composer of words even. As I move past them I hear his clipped voice remonstrating about the lack of funding for the Arts in Ireland.  Few can hear Whelan, patrick_kavanagh    tucked up against the corner of the bar, muttering under his breath “ Fine for you with your English pension”, his eyes never leaving the page of the book he his reading.

In a dimly lit corner three well-dressed ladies are seated at a round table with three glasses of brandy and a platoon of empty soda bottles. The locals christened them the ‘devoted’ because of their dedication to brandy and soda.159fox

They appear to be celebrating some success. “M.J. has just signed a new contract with Mills and Boon” is the general consensus. Their conversation is sprinkled with references to “doggies” and Jane, shrieking with laughter, is admonishing her friend  “Jessica, you are horrible…get me another brandy, there’s a dear”. On a shelf above their heads is a bronze bust of Behan by Behan threatening to launch itself across the table.

At the end of the bar a man, with a corpulent figure, sits, leaning his arms on the counter, his long grey bushy beard almost touching the shiny surface. The locals call him “Cliff” because of his work with the post office and a popular sit-com, favoured in the bar. trollopeHis real name is Tony. His voice is soft but Harrow and Oxford imbued. He is a prolific novelist who has produced forty-seven novels. He peers over his spectacles at the young apprentice novelist and says quietly but firmly

“ the novelist has other aims than the elucidation of his plot. He desires to make his readers so intimately acquainted with his characters that’…He turns his head making it impossible to hear and turns back with

“ they must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them. He must argue with them quarrel with them, forgive them, and even submit to them”.

The young apprentice nods in agreement. Cliff has been barred twice, most recently by Kate,     000a0cb9-1500        having overheard him say to an English chum “ The problem with the Irish is they are not thrifty, and civil or human creatures but heathen or rather savage brute beasts”. Kate was convent educated and her sensibilities are easily offended. Rumour has it, she discreetly asked Cliff to an ante-room or what was the old snug but is now a waiting room for the restaurant upstairs ,and castigated him for his views on the people Cliff works with, and bases many of his stories on.

Professor Claire Connolly’s seminar on Anthony Trollope was a captivating hour. The main theme of the seminar is the analysis of Trollope’s work with regard to location. I had heard of Trollope. Mallow Castle has a stunning collection of his novels and I had heard of him when I worked there in the nineties.The older people did not speak well of him.

My grandmother was born in the 1890s and left school at twelve to go to work in the landed gentry houses in Doneraile near Mallow. Trollope’s book Castle Richmond is based in the area. My grandmother was  a scullery maid and my grandfather was a woodcutter in Doneraile Court. In Trollope’s time, Hayes St. Leger NT; (c) Tyntesfield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation was the Viscount at the court and one of his daughters was called Clara which coincidentally is the name of  one of the main characters in Castle Richmond. The book was poorly received. It was a landed gentry love story set at the time of the famine. In a series of six letters to the Examiner (London) Trollope recounts how, with first-hand experience of the affected areas, reports of bodies lying in the ditch were highly exaggerated and was hugely supportive of the government’s efforts at the time.

Margaret Kelleher in her essay explains the importance of those letters which have received very little reference with regard to Trollope. I wasn’t looking forward to the seminar but it was an eye-opener as were all of the lectures on the writers we hold in such esteem in this country, many of whom are from a landed gentry background. The lesson to be learned is to open your mind to the brilliance of the writing rather than have an emotional reaction to the writer.

The bar is in metamorphosis. The ‘devoted’ have departed requiring an early night for the fox hunting tomorrow. They have been replaced by four three men and a woman of varying ages. They are Seamus, Brian, Anne and Tom. Behan appears to relax on his shelf and Willie shouts “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met”.

Works Cited

Canny, Nicholas. “Edmund Spenser and the Development of an Anglo-Irish Identity
Author(s)”: The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 13, Colonial and Imperial Themes Special Number (1983),  Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association. Journal. pp. 1-19.

Kelleher, Margaret. Anthony Trollope’s Castle Richmond; Famine Narrative and “horrid novel”.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography and other writings. Edited by Nicholas Shrimpton. Oxford:Oxford UP..2014.(P 145). Print.





Continue reading “The Professor and the Trollope”

In Praise of Laurence

“that’s normal life and you have a chance of being part of that normal life; instead you are waiting in a hedge for a police Land Rover to come along”. (Irish Times, 13/8/16

On a summer’s night in July 1976 two women walked home from the bingo in the Ancient order of Hibernians Hall in Randalstown, Co. Antrim. They were deep in conversation about who won the bingo and how close they had come to winning. As they passed the village butcher shop ,which had been in the same family for five generations, a simple sign in black and white was evident above their heads. “Apprentice butcher required. No Catholics Need Apply’. If the women had chanced to look over the hedge, on the side of the road, as they passed they would have spotted a twenty year old man crouched low in the grass. Though the night was warm, the M1 Garland rifle trembled slightly in his hands. Hearing the women discuss the bingo the thought went through his mind “that’s normal life and you have a chance of being part of that normal life; instead you are waiting in a hedge for a police Land Rover to come along” (Irish Times). A half an hour earlier, as he was leaving home, he had watched through the window, his mother Margaret and his father George watching The High Chapparal. 

Mark Slade as Billy Blue Cannon in The High Chapparal

Every day we make decisions in life, some small, some by necessity, some of no consequence, some with huge consequences.When that young  lad leaped over the hedge to attack the RUC Land Rover, his life would change forever.

In 2016, forty years later, almost to the day, I stood on the pier at Rerrin, on magical Bere Island, in West Cork, on a hazy July evening waiting for the ferry to dock. Lost in thought I felt a tap on the shoulder and a strong (its always strong in comparison to the  Cork accent) but gentle northern accent said “Are you Geoff, I’m Laurence McKeown.“That young man in the hedge in Randalstown had come a long way in those forty years.

After the attack on that Land Rover Laurence was given a prison sentence of sixteen years in Long Kesh. Laurence served those 16 years, five of them naked under a blanket, the walls covered in excrement, no television, lights out at seven, regular beatings, a seventy day hunger strike and  a coma which ended with his mother Margaret saving his life, by taking him off the strike.

Laurence was on Bere Island to promote his play  Those You Pass On The Street. After finishing his term at Long Kesh he went to Queen’s University and did a Doctorate and began writing. He is involved with  a group in the North of Ireland called Healing Through Remembering who strive to ‘deal with the legacy of the past’.

Coincidently the cove that Laurence had just arrived at is called Lawrence Cove. The island was  one of the last locations in Ireland handed back by the British in 1938 and here was Laurence, telling his story in, ironically, what was once one of the largest British Army bases in Ireland. Beara people don’t suffer fools gladly and their post-show questions left no stone unturned resulting in a facinating night for all.

There is always a danger with someone like Laurence that his work would be eternally linked to his past but thankfully for him, Laurence is being nurtured and developed by a great theatre company called Kabosh Theatre in Belfast, under the stewardship of Director, Paula McFettridge.

His new play Green & Blue is confirmation that Laurence is a playwright. While the play is based on the border between the North and the South and the main characters an Irish Garda and an RUC man it is much more about decisions we make and how we can fall into wearing a uniform and that ‘uniform’, be it worn by a Garda, a soldier, a nurse or a national teacher,  can define our lives. Laurence’s past defines him now as a playwright and he has the potential to say a great deal on the stage. Like the old Chinese folk tale A Blessing in Disguise states ‘you should not lose your will to continue if an unlucky event happens’, thankfully Laurence McKeown didn’t.laurence_paistc3ad


Moriarty, Gerry.The Irish Times.’A Former IRA gunman and hunger striker tells his story’. Saturday, August 13th, 2016. Newspaper.

Remembering Edward

Sliabh Luachra or the “mountain of rushes” is a 1000 square miles of land on the Cork, Kerry and Limerick borders. Rather than thinking of it as a mountain it is easier to picture it as a range of seven hills, all in excess of 500 metres in height, and the resulting valleys in between. It is the wildest and most desolate landscape in County Cork, populated by bogs, rushes, forest and marsh making it easy to understand why it was the hiding place of many a rebel and rogue in times past. It was also the birthplace of some of Ireland’s most notable poets including Aogain O Rathaille, Eoghan Rua O’ Suilleabhain and more recently the brilliant Bernard O’Donoghue, emeritus Professor of English at Oxford University. It is famed worldwide for the legendary traditional musicians it has provided such as Padraig O’Keeffe, Johnny Leary and Jackie Daly.

In 1984 Togher was one of the most dangerous suburbs in Cork city and was  populated by rebels and rogues of a different nature. If the Cathedral Road branch of the bank was conscious of security the Togher branch was a virtual fortress. Situated on a green acre it was surrounded by two metre high railings ,topped with barbed wire, while the internal security was the most up to date in the country. The branch, now a veterinary clinic, was located on Edward Walsh road in Togher. Although I spent eighteen months working on that road I never gave a thought as to who Edward Walsh was.

Edward Walsh (1805-1850) was a poet, translator and folklorist and was born in the Araglen valley near the small village of Kiskeam in Sliabh Luachra. John J.O’Riordain is also from the same valley and his book “A Tragic Troubadour” is a lifetime’s work in the collection of the poetry, prose and songs written by Edward Walsh. It is a masterpiece, written, with not only love and admiration but ,with a true academic eye that was rewarded with a Phd. Walsh’s life was short but ‘that half century was packed with political, religious, social and cultural changes in Ireland’. When Walsh was in his teens his village was alive with Whiteboys, and public hangings , ‘within walking distance of his home’, were a regular occurrence. His life and Ireland’s history are as intertwined as his famous song Casadh an tSugain or ‘The Twisting of the Rope’ with the beautiful verse;

If thou be mine, be mine both day and night;

If thou be mine, be mine in all men’s sight;

If thou be mine, be mine o’er all beside-

And oh! That thou wert now my wedded bride.

In the earlier part of his life he was a hedge school master, ’became politically involved, participated in the Tithe War, witnessed Catholic Emancipation, and got a teaching post in the new National School system’. In later years he befriended Thomas Davis, Charles Gavin Duffy and Daniel O’Connell and as O’Riordain states can be considered ‘a midwife to Hiberno-English and a forerunner of the Celtic Revival’. In the main, his life was a tragedy and, as good tragedies are, much of it his own making.

Riordan’s book is a collection of Walsh’s canon replete with short stories like ‘Paddy Doyle’s First Trip to Cork’,’St.Lateerin’ and ‘The Faithful Lovers’ and also many translated Irish songs that Walsh collected and worked on such as  Sean MacDonnell’s  poignant  ‘The Cruel Base-Born Tyrant’ , the second verse going ;

The loved ones my life would have nourish’d,

Are foodless, and bare, and cold,

My flocks by their fountain that flourish’d,

Decay on the mountain wold,

Misfortune my temper is trying,

This raiment no shelter yields,

And chief o’er my evils undying,

The tyrant that rules my fields!

Walsh was a fine writer, his prose and collected stories replete with characters and colour, while his poetry reflects an intense nationalism which cost him dearly.

When I was eighteen I was a member of the 13th Infantry Battalion and I was posted for three months to Spike Island, in Cork Harbour, as military security for four army prisoners serving time for misdemeanours. It was the coldest, bleakest place I have ever been, with nothing to do but watch the gulls and share a cigarette with the prisoners. Would that I had known that Edward Walsh was the schoolmaster on Spike in 1847, at which time it was a British prison.

In 1848 John Mitchel arrived in chains on to Spike as a convicted felon awaiting transportation. Walsh couldn’t help himself and contrived with a ‘turnkey’ to be introduced. Mitchel recounts the meeting with the ‘tear filled’ Walsh in his Jail Journal but the ‘illicit interview with the renowned prisoner cost him his job and plunged him into destitution’.

john_mitchel_28young_ireland29The Princes Street branch of the bank was the busiest in Ireland and that was my final posting. It was also Walsh’s final posting as the schoolmaster to over two thousand children in the workhouse. The long hours and conditions contributed to his early departure from this earth and a small plaque on the wall on Prince’s Street was erected in his memory.

Our paths have crossed as much as his ‘twisting rope’ and yet I would never have heard of him except for staging a play in the beautiful theatre of Bruach Na Carraige in Sliabh Luachra and meeting its wonderful custodian Jack Roche who regaled me with stories of the Sliabh’s finest sons and made me a present of John Riordain’s book. For that I will be eternally grateful.

Work Cited;

“Bernard O’Donoghue reads his poem “Westering Home” – YouTube.” 20 Nov. 2015, Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.

O’Riordain, John J. A Tragic Troubadour. Published by John J. O’Riordain, Mt St. Alphonsus, South Circular Road, Limerick Telephone; 061 315099.

“John Mitchel – Scalar.” 15 Feb. 2016, Accessed 23 Feb. 2017.

In search of Gerald.

1983 was a grey year, as grey as the downpipes on an old house. As depressing as it was that Shergar was kidnapped and never returned and the Gardai were bugging and taping the fourth estate, being a twenty year old country boy cashier with the Cork Savings Bank and being sent to  the Cathedral Road branch was the ultimate in depression. The grey was getting greyer. The ‘northside’ to a country boy at that time was like Harlem to a hillbilly. The ‘northside’ was where you could get a ‘wan’ pregnant in a minute and be beaten up before mass on a Sunday morning. So it was with trepidation that I fired up my rusty old Toyota 30 ( 182 TIU) and headed up Shandon Street.

The Cathedral Road branch at the time was the most heavily secured in the city. With a state of the art Chubb safe as dark and grey as the weather outside and grey metal trigger switch panels on the counter that would shoot to the ceiling if a cashier  inadvertently moved their feet in the wrong direction, Cork’s grey northside was complete. The panels were activated by a bar at our feet and on one memorable occasion that brightened our day, a young, very pretty, female cashier slipped off her high heels to itch her toe and crushed a large crystal ash-tray against the ceiling, sending crushed glass and butts onto the ash-stained carpet and frightening the living ‘bejaysus’out of customers and staff in the process.

The ‘northside’ was the most exotic place I had ever been. At twenty, I had never been on a plane and had only visited Dublin twice, once to the zoo with the family and once to Kilmainham jail on the Christian Brothers’ school tour which thankfully necessitated my only train journey.  This exotic place is one of the oldest parts of Cork city. At that time, if one were to stand at the door of the bank  and throw a stone, one could literally hit the famous North Cathedral and if one were to angle the body to three o’clock and throw again, one could ‘almost’ hit the church of St. Ann , better known to Cork people as the Four Faced Liar given that all four clocks gave a different time. This wonderful edifice is immortalised in the poem ‘The Bells of Shandon’ by Francis Sylvester Mahony, who  wrote under the pseudonym Fr. Prout but more importantly for my generation Shandon’s weather-vane was the inspiration for the ground breaking radio series in the mid 90’s  ‘Under The Goldie Fish’ by Conal Creedon who is the current writer-in-residence at UCC. Everything was old up ‘de northside’. It was like stepping into a William Harrington drawing.

Jasper McElroy in action 

If grey was the predominant colour associated with the trepidation of the place then black was the colour of the exotic and it came in the form of two American basketball players, Jasper McElroy and Terry Strickland, who played for Neptune and Blue Demons respectively. I had never seen a black person let alone met one. On a wet, dark Monday night I lifted my head from my cash point to see the tallest and blackest person I had ever seen and so began a love affair with basketball and in particular the Parochial Hall, the scene of many a frenzied derby.  Terry and Jasper were my Othello-like exotic others and I will be eternally grateful to them. “There was something otherworldly about them,” says journalist Kieran Shannon, author of ‘Hanging from the Rafters’, a superb book written about that time.


Lunchtime on Fridays was fish and chips from Murphys on Gerald Griffin street.Although I had never heard of Gerald Griffin I assumed he was one of Cork city’s Republican heroes and would have gone happily to my grave with that notion if not for attending Prof. Claire Connolly’s lecture on Gerald Griffin to the MA Class on the 3rd of October. Gerald Griffin, it turns out, is one of the finest Gothic writers in Irish literary history. Furthermore, in later life he joined the Christian Brothers and spent his final two years in the North Mon School in Cork, 500 metres up the hill from the door of the bank. Professor Connolly explained that a very important diary he kept in those final two years was framed and in the house of a small number of retired brothers on the ‘northside’. While they had been good enough to show her the framed manuscript she was very disappointed not to be able to analyse its contents.

There is always a Cork solution to a Cork problem. I made numerous phone calls as to gaining access to the manuscript. an old friend was PRO for the Christian Brothers and he smoothed the way to their archivist Karen Johnson. I assumed a journey to the ‘northside’ with framer and digital photographer in tow but it transpired that Karen had a full photographic record of the manuscript and duly posted on the CD. It contains 370 photographed pages of Gerald’s writings. The opening page is a photograph of his watch. So, instead of an apple for the teacher, I have a CD for the professor and will let you know how the analysis of the manuscript progresses.

Gerald's watch.
Gerald’s watch.