Simply the Best.

Image result for george best

I heard this poem on the radio this morning.  These days I only reliably listen to two Irish radio shows; Saturday playback and Sunday Miscellany.   There was a little snippet about George Best.

On the 14th of September 1963, the year I was born, at the age of 17 he made his first division debut for Manchester United, so today is a bit special for George.  That year they finished second in the league behind my team; Liverpool.

George Best was problematic for me as a kid.  He was from the wrong end of Ireland.  He played internationals for Northern Ireland.  Everyone knew he was a genius, but he played for the wrong team.  Those were the great years of Liverpool Vs Manchester United rivalry.

If I wrote this poem it would be 1974, Liverpool winning the FA cup in Bill Shankly’s final year as manager, the young Kevin Keegan scoring twice in the final.  Dermot is that little bit older than I.  But we had the same english teacher in Beneavin College.


In Memory of George Best: by Dermot Bolger

In one corner of our mind it remains 1969:
Frosted pavements, icy breath, yet our hands thaw
in the thrill of chasing a ball under streetlights,
voices in the dark calling the names of Best and Law.

A drudge of decades have clogged our arteries,
yet no matter what occurred, what we have become,
when we see again his feint, his sheer artistry
thousands of us are instantaneously made young.



A poet paints with words.  They select words carefully, one at a time, and fit them together like a jigsaw.  The finished article, if it is a success, is an emotion capture.  It is a perfectly recorded moment in time, which conveys the feelings of the poet.  Really successful poems open those same emotions in the reader.

I think what makes Paula Meehan even more tangible to me is that she grew up in my part of Dublin both in place and time.  Like Dermot Bolger she speaks with the cadence of Finglas when it was a village of Dublin perched on the edge of the countryside.

I grew up in the City, with a cow-field at the end of the street.  There was a short cut that way, so we literally walked to school “through the fields”.  My sister fell in the ditch once and had to go home covered in mud and get my mother to drive her in.  The notion that anyone would be “driven” to school; preposterous!  Of course in those days kids were skinny.

All the above just erupted out of my brain from reading the Meehan poem below.  Yes, there were horses in gardens!  Big gardens we had in those days.

Back to wordsmithing though.  There is one word in the poem below that sits awkwardly. “Sweaters”.  We didn’t have sweaters in Finglas in the 1960’s.  Americans had sweaters.  We had jumpers, cardigans or geansais.  Maybe her brother got a sweater in the States in the 1980’s before we lost milk bottles.


My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis; by Paula Meehan

(for Brendan Kennelly)
It was the piebald horse in next door’s garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother’s room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.

The rest of the house slept except for my father.
I heard him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.
Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw

the stoop of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What’s he at?
So early and still stars in the west?

They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour;
they came from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.
The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air.
The sun cleared O’Reilly’s chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St Francis, made whole, made young again, in a Finglas garden.

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.