We kept the poet… but how 
is he as a bard?

We kept the poet… but how 
is he as a bard?

“Keep the Poet” was a mantra used by some of Michael D. Higgins’ followers in the course of the presidential election. And the country has indeed kept the bard, although not without challenges (which is as it should be).

And now that he is elected the steward of the nation for the next seven years, perhaps we should re-examine the poetic works of the versifying Uachtarán more closely, in his most definitive collection, New and Selected Poems, published by Liberties Press in Dublin in 2011.

Michael D. usually writes in the form of ‘free verse’ – it doesn’t depend on rhyme or, necessarily, rhythm.

He is capable of sensitive narrative in free verse, as in the touching story of a priest who became a lonely alcoholic, ‘Requiem for a parish priest’: how the housekeeper, in kindness, “hid the bottles”, and how the bishop advised him to rest and then “gave him a remote parish”.

The weave and weft of Catholic life is very much part of Higgins’ repertory, the “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” night prayers and the allusion to the resurrected Christ seeing a brotherhood around him.

Yet I found an introductory essay on his childhood, written in prose, far more poignant and affecting than any of his poetic works. Early Days is a small masterpiece. It captures, with spare yet heart-scorching emotion, the struggles of his parents, and the despair, anger and anguish of his father as his job prospects, one after another, failed. For his mother, her dream of having her own little home was never realised. Michael D. also has a unique family understanding of the psychological wounds of the Civil War.

There is some consensus that Michael D. has served Ireland well in public office, but the evocative melancholy of Early Days makes me wish he had done less politics and more prose writing.


Now Guy’s imploding

Hallowe’en has become more globalised, more tatty and more elaborate in recent decades – much less the simple entertainment of Celtic paganism of yore.

By contrast, Guy Fawkes night, traditionally celebrated in Britain and Northern Ireland on November 5, has somewhat diminished. It’s seldom these days you see small boys in England with a stuffed scarecrow asking for a “Penny for the Guy”.

I suspect that there is more of an awareness that Guy Fawkes and his pals were Catholic recusants rebelling against discrimination (although admittedly attempting to blow up Parliament was a bit violent). Or perhaps Guy Fawkes is just too localised – not global enough. No American merchandising dimension either!


Nuns’ memories would be welcome

“We need to hear more of the nuns’ side of the story,” wrote Prof. Diarmuid Ferriter in last weekend’s Irish Times. He was referring to the reports about “the things that went on in institutions”, and of course the tragic findings at Tuam Mother and Baby home.

Although local historian Catherine Corless and archivists such as Catriona Crowe have done, literally, ground-breaking work on the Tuam discovery, there is a great deal more to unfold. I would like to see a detailed report of why each of the 796 babies died, besides a generalised allusion to high infant mortality, and an account of how each infant came to be in the care of the Bon Secours.

Like Ferriter, I would like to hear much more of the nuns’ side of these events. The current issue of studies seeks to tackle this theme, with an especially interesting article by Dr Jacinta Prunty. But still, the silence of the nuns does these women religious no favours.

Granted, they have been trained in a sense of collegial discretion but I think they owe it to history and to themselves to be more forthcoming.

I feel sure that there were many nuns who did their level best in circumstances where the State loaded all its responsibility onto them.

I would be glad to hear from any nuns who have any memories to contribute on the whole range of institutional care, just so I can be better informed: I can be contacted at marykennyjournalist@yahoo.co.uk