Passes a Poet

This is a poem from my childhood.  It has nothing to do with an electronic device.  Image

When I was in 6th class (1974/5) we read this poem in school.  Then the teacher had us all write a poem about blackberries.

I dived in head first.  This poem is my childhood.  My family always did hit the bushes every September to harvest natures bounty.  I still do it, but now with my own children in the hedgerows around Dualla in Co. Tipperary.

Afterwards we make gooey blackberry and apple tarts, blackberry sponges and fresh yoghurt smoothies.

Back in 6th class I wrote my own poem and was immensely proud of it.  A year later in First Year at secondary school we were asked to submit a poem for the school poetry competition.  I hauled out my blackberry picking poem and won first prize.
The judge of our competition was none other than Dermot Bolger, another famous Irish Writer.

So I can claim to have taken inspiration from a Nobel Laureate to create a poem that won a prize judged by another great writer.

Sadly, I can’t find my own poem.  But I found the inspiration, thanks Seamus.  You passed away yesterday after a short illness.  We will miss you.  Rest in Peace.

Blackberry Picking; by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
a rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Jim Hourihane and Salmon eile.


My father in law, Jim Hourihan, passed away this day last week.

Jim was the perfect example of how one person can influence the lives of hundreds of people. He was a true entrepreneur, who created wealth from thin air. He was the consummate salesman. An inventor, father to his children, father to those not his children!

I will probably never again meet a man so full of ideas. More importantly he could realise those ideas and create businesses. A practical and empirical person, he learned his mechanical engineering skills the old way, by building engines. When it came to mechanical theory he could baffle the finest academic minds with theoretically challenging but physically obvious reasoning.

He understood something that is crucial to entrepreneurship. A concept that is not taught in business courses in university; that money is not a physical resource, it is a belief system. If a businessman is limited by the availability of funding nothing will ever be achieved. If you can grasp the concept that finance is more a belief than a reality you can leverage great things and create wealth where none existed.

He was born in West Cork on a thriving Salmon River; the Owvane in Carrickanass near Kealkill.   Hence the picture of Fionn Mac Cumhaill above.  Fionn was with the Druid who caught the legendary Salmon of Knowledge.  While cooking the fish Fionn burned his thumb and sucked it, and so became the first to taste the fish and gain wisdom.  A fitting metaphor for a very smart man who grew up catching salmon.

Nobody will ever claim him as a saint. Jim was famous in Thurles Golf Club as a man who could walk into an empty room and cause an argument. He loved his Golf and was good at it. You will find his name on the honour roll of the club. He was proud of his role in preserving the old clubhouse. He analysed the game of golf with his keen mind, and became a coach to many, myself included.
Jim is one of those people who connected together a broad and diverse congregation of followers. In his absence many of those links will be lost, and the world will be a smaller and lonelier place.

A Boy and his Dad; by Edgar Guest
A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
There is a glorious fellowship!
Father and son and the open sky
And the white clouds lazily drifting by,
And the laughing stream as it runs along
With the clicking reel like a martial song,
And the father teaching the youngster gay
How to land a fish in the sportsman’s way.

I fancy I hear them talking there
In an open boat, and the speech is fair.
And the boy is learning the ways of men
From the finest man in his youthful ken.
Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare
With the gentle father who’s with him there.
And the greatest mind of the human race
Not for one minute could take his place.

Which is happier, man or boy?
The soul of the father is steeped in joy,
For he’s finding out, to his heart’s delight,
That his son is fit for the future fight.
He is learning the glorious depths of him,
And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;
And he shall discover, when night comes on,
How close he has grown to his little son.

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
Builders of life’s companionship!
Oh, I envy them, as I see them there
Under the sky in the open air,
For out of the old, old long-ago
Come the summer days that I used to know,
When I learned life’s truths from my father’s lips
As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.

Slane Girl and Texas Rose


Edward Armitage:  The Siren (Leeds Art Gallery)

A dreadful tale of woe broke in Ireland over the last few days. Pictures of a girl engaged in sexual acts with young men at the Eminem concert in Slane went viral. As the story matures you get the sense of it unfolding layer after layer like an onion.
As with anything that goes viral, you get imagery or happenstance with no back story. The photos from Slane were greeted with black and white reaction. Half the world celebrated her “freedom” of sexuality while the other half condemned her as a slut. How many even commented on the young men involved, other than to laugh and say “good man”?
The double standards we apply to men and women in such situations are really quite sickening. He is given a pat on the head for sowing his wild oats and she is vilified and disgraced.
But then the details of the back story begin to emerge. She reported a sexual assault to the police at the concert. So, maybe this was not all “free love” and promiscuity. Or did she make the report to cover her embarrassment? Another layer of the onion peels away.
She is admitted to hospital in a distressed state. She has to be sedated before they can even carry out tests. There are suggestions that her drink was tampered with at the event. Another layer of the onion peels away.
Suddenly the image of a gang of young males cavorting around the young girl in the photo takes on a far more sinister look.
The layers of the onion keep peeling. With every layer her life is ruined further. Only a small population saw the images before they were removed by internet service providers for breach of terms. But the bottom feeding frenzy continues to trawl up copies of the images and the story. The news media are all over it like a juicy bone. And as for Slane Girl, well she is just collateral damage.
What is very clear is that we continue to live in a society beset by double standards. Male chauvinism is alive and well and women remain largely confined to the role of sluts or “lovely girls”. We saw all the lovely girls doing their little party pieces down in Tralee. Congratulations all round to the Texas rose. A lovely girl. A nice clean and respectable girl that you might marry.
But in the western male dominated sexist society is there any real difference between Slane Girl and Texas Rose? The point here is that women are dangerous, unless they are under the control of men.
Our literature is replete with the tales of men who have been seduced and subsequently ruined by women. The Sirens on the rocks sang beautiful songs to lure sailors to their deaths. Queen Circe used magic to transform men into animals, and Odysseus was instructed by the gods to subdue her with force to bend her to his will. Only then was she safe to take to bed (for a year).
Look at the fascination we have with women like Sada Abe, Mata Hari, Wallace Simpson or Christine Keeler who lured men onto the rocks with their siren song of sexuality.
The Christian church began with a woman, Mary Magdalene, in a position of power. It did not take long to root out the women and turn it into a men’s only club, at least in the power positions. Men may rule the church, but women may only serve.
Look at what happened to “wise women” and women healers through history. They were labelled as witches and burned at the stake. Medicine is too profitable a business to allow any control to women.
Westerners frequently criticise oriental practices such as purdah and the Arabic attitudes to covering up women. What short memories we have. Western women are only recently freed from their own forms of “control” clothing. In many countries (Mediterranean especially) widows are expected to don black for the remainder of their lives as a means of desexualising an available woman. Here in Ireland it was expected that women would cover their heads with a hat, or scarf or shawl as recently as the 1970s, and it was insisted upon in church.
Some African societies employ the dreadful practice of female circumcision as a means of amputating the sexual power from the female.
Slane girl was controlled by capturing her image and posting it to the world. She immediately became labelled as a slut, and that is a powerful form of control. What hope does she ever have of rising to a power position without that little indiscretion coming out? She will have to bow her head and hide away below the radar for the rest of her life.
Texas rose of Tralee does not have to hide away. She can celebrate her celebrity. We men will allow her that, because it is a celebrity given to her by men, for being a lovely girl.
A free-thinking, mature, powerful, sexual female is the most frightening thing in the world for the average male chauvinist. The male fantasy of the nymphomaniac is in truth a nightmare.

Siren Song; by Margaret Attwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.