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.



The Four Places I Need to See Again in 2016

I have no major ambitions to travel the world in 2016 but there are four places in Ireland that I am yearning to see again.

The first is Drogheda in Co. Louth which was a huge part of my life growing up. I went to school there; played hard and learned the true meaning of what it is to love and be loved.

The Boyne Viaduct in Drogheda, Co. Louth.
The Boyne Viaduct in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

The second is Dublin and, especially my alma mater, Trinity College, where I spent many, many happy days. I was fortunate enough to live on the campus for my final year and that was a blissful experience.

Botany Bay, Trinity College, Dublin.
Botany Bay, Trinity College, Dublin.

The third is Mount Usher Gardens in Co. Wicklow. I began going to Mount Usher when I was in my teens and they have been part of my life ever since. They never, ever fail to soothe my soul:

Mount Usher Gardens, Co. Wicklow.
Mount Usher Gardens, Co. Wicklow.

And the fourth, is the Burren in West Clare, especially Bishop’s Quarter, near Ballyvaughan. West Clare was my father’s native heath and I’ve come to love it like a second home.

Bishops's Quarter, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare,
Bishops’s Quarter, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare.

I’d love to hear about the places that YOU feel you need to see in 2016 and why they hold special significance for you.

Needless, to say, I’m hoping that, at least some of you will yearn to see my beloved Tramore, here in Co. Waterford, that place which I never, ever, ever take for granted in all its moods and beauty.

Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford
Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford


When Poetry Paints

Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin

There are some poems that go way beyond poetry and, for me, this is one of them.

The earth is blue like an orange

The earth is blue like an orange

Never an error words do not lie

They no longer supply what to sing with

It’s up to kisses to get along

Mad ones and lovers

She her wedding mouth

All secrets and smiles

And what indulgent clothing

She looks quite naked.


The wasps are flowering green

Dawn is placing round its neck

A necklace of windows

Wings cover the leaves

You have all the solar joys

All sunshine on the earth

On the paths of your loveliness.

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

(Translated by Mary Ann Caws)

Blogging Down the Years

Thoughts of  the unfolding of years are among the Decemebery things that come round every year for me like berried holly and fresh mistletoe.

As I was out walking yesterday, I was thinking of how so much of own’s life can be encapsulated by thinking of the defining events, images, memories associated with particular years in each decade.

This brought me to:

1964 ~ I was seven and we had just moved to Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. That was a whole new adventure and it was the last year in which all five of us (Mother, Dad and us three kids) were together as a family as my sister headed off to boarding school in 1965.  Being insulated by a warm, warm family is what stands out most as well as the arrival of our very first television in time for Christmas.

Running Free Photo: Frank Tubridy
Running Free
Photo: Frank Tubridy

1974: I did my Leaving Certificate in 1974 by which time we were living in Drogheda, Co. Louth.  It was a year of turmoil in quite a lot of ways and the Troubles in Northern Ireland were a huge worry.

I had placed all my hopes on pursuing a career in tennis but a serious wrist injury put all that on hold.  I had deferred taking up a university place in the hope that summer surgery would rectify the problem but by the December it was clear that a career in tennis was out of the question. That was the year I began learning to drive and it was also the year that my sister and I were re-united as she came back ‘home’ to teach in the school that I had just left.  It was all a bit of a social whirl with big sis as ‘chaperone!’

The song I played over and over in 1974 was this one:

1984: This was a year in which I was still reeling from the death from cancer of my long-time boyfriend from cancer in 1981.

I was ensconced in Trinity College, where I had embarked on a PhD on the experiences of people with physical disabilities in Ireland and I was also very busy working as a researcher on an exciting EU project in the Midlands about the  integration of people with disabilities into society.

Tennis was back on the agenda and I simply adored being able to compete again after all the missed years.

Weather-Beaten Photo: Frank Tubridy
Photo: Frank Tubridy

1994: Undoubtedly the highlight of 1994 was pregnancy and anticipation of motherhood.

That was a year in which I was working in two areas I love: teaching and research and was able to work from home base here in Tramore.

Tramore Bay
Tramore Bay

 2004: This marked the last year that my parents were in good health but they loved spending time with our son, Harry, who was very close to both of them from the moment he was born.

This was a time of major juggling between work and ferrying 9-year old Harry to all sorts of sporting activities.

A major highlight of 2004 was Waterford’s victory in what is considered to be the greatest Munster Hurling Final of all time:

It’s a year I very much associate with my father’s photography and being down in my parents house hearing about their outings to places here in Co. Waterford which they adored.

Curraghmore, Co. Waterford Photo: Frank Tubridy
Curraghmore, Co. Waterford
Photo: Frank Tubridy

 2014 ….. Right now, it’s hard to focus on highlights of 2014 but I certainly associate it with an ever-increasing love of Co. Waterford, nature, the ocean, blogging, poetry and a whole new adventure into the world of carpets.

_Sinead_Boyle_Image_IMG_7202_ (1)

And, of course, the new love affair with Stan!





Dear 87-Year-Old Me

Co. Waterford


November 7, 2014

Dear Jean,

I hope you’re in good fettle and not too surprised to be getting this letter.

I decided to write it as everyone seems to be writing to 30-year-old -me and I feel that there’s a lot to be said for addressing the future ~ 30 years on! You know the way we had that tendency, especially before Father died, to feel that we couldn’t look beyond that point ~ as it seemed like an end-of-the-world prospect.

The world didn’t end then and I’m wondering what you’re thinking 30 years on. What are your hopes, your regrets, the things that you can see as having been truly important with the benefit of hindsight.

Path of Life

I would like to think that you’re still physically active and that you can get to the beach everyday. Hopefully, you’re still swimming and getting that buzz we’ve always got from being immersed in the seawater, with the waves splashing our face.


Speaking of face, how are your teeth? Please tell me that the gum operation I’m dreading so much was worth it all and that the wobbly tooth is still there, solid as a rock.

Writing to you feels like having the framework of a huge jig-saw pretty much in place but needing to figure out those tough bits, especially those that are all the same colour. We certainly had plenty of practice at jig-saws when we were small, didn’t we? Remember the time we stayed in Jigsaw Cottage high up in the Wicklow Mountains. That was a happy night ~ and we managed to find one piece to fit that 5,000 piece jig-saw. I wonder did they ever get it finished?

Have you added many pieces to our jigsaw or have you dumped it and taken a whole new turn in life? I quite like the idea of a whole new you: someone who has cast away worry; has got tidier; is gallivanting around the world on some sort of crazy, creative mission; is full of hope having ridden the storms of this recession and presumably a few more that lie ahead of me now.

What I would hate is if you are socially dead ~ remember David Sudnow’s Passing On and ‘social death’ in Second Year in Trinity? That book has never left me and I can’t imagine it has left you either. I couldn’t bear if you were just languishing in a day room of some nursing home ~ a sort of waiting-room for death.  I can’t imagine how something that feels so not ‘me’ could have become okay for an older ‘me.’

I’m here thinking that life is about quality ~ to love, be loved, to laugh, write, read poetry,  soak in nature, be at peace, have hope and, of course, health.

I know that we won’t live forever. Do you still feel that way? Do you still think of Cicero and On a Life Well Spent?

Our Tramore!
Our Tramore!

If I’m absolutely honest, the reason I came to write to you was because I’ve been seeing lots of lovely wintery sunsets and you know the way I’ve always associated death as being as natural as the sun setting.

Lots and lots of love,


PS. I hope you still have a dog in your life and not just memories of all the beauties we’ve shared thus far.

Sophie and Me
Our Sophie






Bridges to India ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 239

Mahatma Gandhi Setu (Bridge over the River Ganges) Source:
Mahatma Gandhi Setu
(Bridge over the River Ganges)

India has come to hold a special place in my heart ever since I became friendly with an Indian woman, called Fay, who was writing her postgraduate thesis in sociology in Trinity College, Dublin at the same time as I was.  I loved her style and most of all her sincerity, kindness and strong gentleness.  We’d ponder ‘big questions’ over endless cups of tea and as we walked up Dawson Street late in the evening towards out respective abodes.

Back around 2000, my late parents began attending an Indian family doctor here in Tramore.  Like Fay, he is a wonderful ambassador for his native country and has a deep, deep sense of the meaning of the word ‘care.’  I would, without doubt,  count him as one of the people I have been most fortunate to meet in my life.

And more recently, I have met a dear friend, Asha, through our shared love of poetry.  She was one of the early contributors to my poetry thread on Linkedin which I started almost two years ago now. She brings India to life for me in all sorts of ways, through poetry, photographs, humour, empathy, and even gentle reminders of the time difference between Ireland and India!

Rabindranath Tagore (Source: Wikipedia)
Rabindranath Tagore
(Source: Wikipedia)

Speaking of poetry, I am fascinated by the fact that Ireland’s W.B. Yeats developed a strong friendship and working relationship with the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1961.)  Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and these lines of his are among my favourites because they highlight a generosity of spirit that I have come to associate with India and its people.

There is room for you. You are alone with your few sheaves of rice.
My boat is crowded, it is heavily laden, but how can I turn you

(from: Lover’s Gifts V111: There is Room for You)


Poetry in Motion ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 204

Rose 'Poetry in Motion'
Rose ‘Poetry in Motion’

The concept of ‘Poetry in Motion’ is one that resonates hugely with me and I even went as far as buying a rose back in February that had that name. It is now in full bloom and I’ve been thinking more and more about who and what symbolizes ‘poetry in motion’ most for me. It has been an interesting ‘internal’ debate because it has made me realise that what I seem to admire most is the natural ~ be it nature itself, natural talent or nature as it manifests itself between people. So, here’s my top ten (out of hundreds) in no particular order:

#1. Tennis player Roger Federer in full flow.

#2. Former Waterford County Hurler, John Mullane whose natural talent and passion was a thrill to behold.

# 3. Irish athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan, as she sprinted to victory on the world stage.

#4. The dimpled smile of Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly when he introduced his poetry at a reading I attended in Trinity College, Dublin when I was a Junior Freshman.

#5. The sheer talent and handsomeness of  golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who I was fortunate to see playing at the Irish Open in Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny.

#6. Irish boxer, Katie Taylor, as she danced to Olympic Gold.

#7. The sea kissing the shore here in my beloved Co. Waterford.

# 8. The brilliance of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler as they performed in Riverdance.

#9. The great Liam Clancy with his natural talent as singer, story-teller and musician.

# 10. A deep, enriching hug with someone who truly cares.

I’d dearly love to know what your list would be?

Graduations ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 202

I’m writing this post today because I’m not sure how I’ll be fixed for writing anything tomorrow!

Tonight is a BIG Graduation Night for a group of us from Ireland who completed a brilliant online course from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.  The course was a Postgraduate Certificate in Sense of Place: Heritage Tourism and pushed us all not only to the pins of our collars but frayed the collars in the process.

I was never much of a person for graduations in my ‘youth’ and when I look back I wonder how I could have skipped my BSc Graduation from Trinity College, Dublin in 1979.  I thought it was crazy getting all dressed up in a gown and sitting around for hours on a lovely sunny summer’s day when I could be at the beach.

Fast forward to 1991, and I did the full biz for my PhD which I had worked on part-time for what seemed like a 100 years. I think it was the sense of the 100 years and the whole history of  the thing that lured me to that conferring.

My mother came to stay with me in my ‘bedsit’ for a few days and the preparations were real mother-daughter time with the pair of us acting like kids and tripping over each other in the tiny room that had seen me grind out the ‘tome’ on an old typewriter!

Father, being a complete home bird, just flew in for the day on the train from Waterford and had to rush off to catch the train back a few minutes after the ceremony ended. I knew, though, by his witty remarks about my ‘get up’ that he was intensely proud and vastly relieved that the piece of paper had f i n a l l y been collected!  I can vividly remember him saying just before he left: Oh, once a student, always a student. You’ll never stop after this.

Graduation Photo, 1991 Photo by: Frank Tubridy
Graduation Photo, 1991
Photo by: Frank Tubridy

So, maybe it’s age but I’m really looking forward to this ‘Graduation’ that we’re having tonight at the Copper Coast Geopark Centre in Bonmahon. How glorious to have that lovely drive along the Copper Coast to get there and home. I’ve been grinning to myself all morning wondering how we’ll all look in our Harry Potterish gowns.

Most of all, this course is living proof that one can make amazing friends through online courses. We have been hauling each other through the various hoops during the year and always intended to have a right bash if we ever came out the other end.

What Sense of Place means most today is the realisation that the fruits of labour become even sweeter the further one travels along the highways, byways and laneways of life.

What’s your perspective on Graduations of whatever description?

The Voice of Brendan Kennelly ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 124

This week saw the birthday of the poet Brendan Kennelly who has had such an impact on me since I first heard him read during my first year in Trinity College, Dublin in the mid-1970s. I was a young student of Economic and Social Studies then but had heard all about Brendan Kennelly’s brilliance from my brother and sister who had both studied English and were fortunate enough to have him as one of their lecturers.

Brendan Kennelly
Brendan Kennelly

I wrote about the amazing experience of being at that poetry reading in the early days of this blog and thought I would leave it at that.

But, I just can’t let this week go by without saying Happy Birthday to a man who has brought me such solace, laughter and sheer inspiration.  I am delighted to be able to bring you his voice through a short film made by his editor, Neil Astley. Sit back and enjoy it!


Ireland Calling! May 2012 Slideshow

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