John Montague was that most unusual of Irish people, someone who was born in Brooklyn, New York and “Emigrated” backwards to the home country.  John was born in the USA in February 1929, eight months before the Wall Street crash.  By 1933 the family were in dire straits and sent the boys home to the family place in Northern Ireland.

A celebrated and award winning poet, Montague is well known in Ireland as a regular on the Leaving Certificate.  For that reason alone he is probably better known and less loved.  Considered by many to be Ireland’s first Poet Laureate as holder of the Chair of Poetry.

He passed away in Nice in the south of France on Dec 10th.


Adam’s Apple; by John Montague

Her skin is smooth
as peach or appleblossom
-or a snakeskin.

The snake’s fangs gleam,
the fruit glistens
as warmly in her palm

as ever it shone
on the holy tree.
He savours it

so slowly
it sticks in
our throat forever.


Study of 5 mackerel by William Shackleton

Study of 5 mackerel by William Shackleton

Mackerel have a sparkle.  A very special way of catching the light.  The flash of iridescent metallic blues and greens that no photograph ever seems to capture.  A live mackerel is a work of art.  One of the great joys of my youth was catching mackerel, seeing them flash and glisten in the water, feeling the kick as they take the bait, watching them flicker and sparkle as you reel them in.

Such easy fish to catch, they will bite anything put in front of them.  A hook decorated with a feather or a triangle of shiny plastic will attract them.  When they are running you can catch them by the bucket-load.  You have to make a conscious decision to stop casting your line, because there is a limit to how many you can eat and give away.

The mackerel run in the height of summer, so for me mackerel are the harbinger of the summer.  Long warm nights, salad days, holidays, beaches, messing about in boats.  All the good stuff.

They are perfect for the barbecue, and there is no fish to rival a truly fresh mackerel.  A smear of Dijon mustard, ten minutes on the BBQ and you have a meal fit for a king.   Some green salad, good crusty bread and a nice sharp white wine to cut the oil, a Vinho Verde or a Pinot Grigio, nothing too sophisticated.

White Water; by John Montague

The light, tarred skin
of the currach rides
and receives the current,
rolls and responds to
the harsh sea swell.

Inside the wooden ribs
a slithering frenzy; a sheen
of black-barred silver-
green and flailing mackerel:
the iridescent hoop
of a gasping sea trout.

As a fish gleams most
fiercely before it dies,
so the scales of the sea-hag
shine with a hectic
putrescent glitter:

luminous, bleached—
white water—
that light in the narrows
before a storm breaks.