The Light ~ Brendan Kennelly

There was a big gathering in Dublin today to  honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.

I know that very, very few people read that post which was  written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.

This is what I wrote back then:


Brendan Kennelly in the 1970s

Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection Reservoir Voices (2009).  Seeing the book on the shelf in the  Book Centre in Waterford  gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem,  The Smile,  related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was  just seventeen and  incredibly homesick.  I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and  gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.


The Smile

That first day on Trinity’s cobbles

confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis

that my dreams of professional tennis

were shattered like my throbbing wrist.

Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!


Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain

for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy

room in Front Square. His voice,

his smile, his dimples inviting

me into his past, his solitude, his heart.


Economics was waiting to trip me up.

Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn

with mugs of  black Bewley’s Java.  

Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;

momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.


I scrambled through the September repeats;

got into my running with Sociology

and tennis. How many times did I

dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?

He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?

I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay.  And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would  immortalise me forever in lines like:

Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,

The speed of a swallow, the grace  of a boy

With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,

I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s.  I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.

No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota  brought Brendan’s  Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I  heard a haunting programme in which  he was speaking  of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn.  Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh.  I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of  Bewley’s  in Westmoreland Street,  at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights  and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.

Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College.  The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible?  Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a  period of weeks.  He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light.  If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.



What I Love about Ireland

While I’m certainly not a huge St. Patrick’s Day person in terms of getting all decked out in green and wearing shamrock, I find myself being more and more aware of my Irish identity as March 17th looms.

Here are the things that I love most about this native country of mine:

1. The fact that Ireland is an island with miles and miles of glorious and diverse coastline.

2. The accent, or should I say, the range of Irish accents and the way I only hear my own Irish accent when I’m not in Ireland!

3. The long and ongoing tradition of the arts, and especially poetry, through names like W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, Paul Durcan …..

4. The Irish passion for sport … hurling, horse-racing, rugby, soccer, athletics, boxing…

5. Travelling along back roads through the countryside soaking up the colour and the nods of familiar strangers.

6. The buildings ~ from iconic places like Trinity College, Dublin to tiny thatched cottages with red doors out in the middle of nowhere.

7. The incredible diversity of Ireland’s people ~ layered with an intriguing complexity, warmth and quick wit.

The World’s Favourite Love Poems ~ Gatherings from Ireland #144

Love poems are a passion of mine and, if you remember, I sought to identify the greatest love poem of them all a while back  The Greatest Love Poem?

Well, yesterday I came upon a collection in the Book Centre in Waterford The World’s Favourite Love Poems which is edited by Suheil Bushrui.  Needless to say it was a MUST-BUY and I have been languishing in its brilliance since last night.

What a collection! Almost two hundred poems from all around the world and I am savouring every single one of them. Four Irish poets are included, Thomas Moore, W.B. Yeats, John Millington Synge and Diarmad O’Curnain.  I had never heard of  Diarmad O’ Curnain or his love  poem, which is translated from Irish by George Sigerson (1836-1925) , an Irish physician, scientist, writer politician and poet. If his name sounds familiar, the Sigerson Cup in GAA football is played in his honour.

George Sigerson

The  beautiful poem by Diarmad O’ Curnain, who is still intriguing me, reads as follows:

Love’s Despair

I know not night from day,

Nor thrush from cuckoo gray,

Nor cloud from the sun that shines above thee –

Nor freezing cold from heat,

Nor friend, if friend I meet –

I but know -heart’s love! – I love thee.

Love that my Life began,

Love, that will close life’s span,

Love that grows ever by love-giving:

Love, from first to last,

Love, till all life be passed,

Love that loves on after living. 

How I crave to know more about both Diarmad O’Curnain and the ‘love’  about whom he wrote. This poem that sits alongside poems by well-known names like  Ovid, Rumi, Shakespeare, Shelley, Hardy,  Teasdale …..

Can anyone tell me more about this Irish man?

Happy Christmas ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 15

Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford
Garrarus Beach, Co. Waterford

I would like to wish all my readers and followers a very Happy Christmas. I really appreciate the fact that you take the time to come visit Social Bridge and respond to my writing.

This morning I went out to Garrarus, one of my favourite beaches near my home in Tramore,  Co. Waterford.  As the sun was rising, it came gleaming through the wonderful rock formations and reminded me very much of a  short poem by John Montague. I hope you enjoy it.


The sounds of Ireland,

that restless whispering

you never get away 

from, seeping out of

low bushes and grass,

heatherbells and fern,

wrinkling, bog, pools,

scraping tree branches,

light hunting cloud,

sound hunting cloud,

sight hounding sight,

a hand ceaselessly 

combing and stroking

the landscape, till

the valley gleams

like the pale pile upon 

a mountain pony’s coat. 

(John Montague)

W.B. Yeats Online Exhibition ~ Gatherings from Ireland #3

W.B. Yeats
W.B. Yeats

I am passionate about poetry and have found that William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) remains the most well-known Irish poet around the world.  In recent years, the National Library of Ireland has staged a wonderful exhibition on the Life and Work of W.B. Yeats and it is available online for the whole world to visit.  I hope you enjoy this insight into the world of Yeats who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

Yeats – National Library of Ireland

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

(W.B. Yeats)