Fáilte go dtí hÉigse Michael Hartnett 2021
This year’s Éigse is also taking place as we emerge from 18 months of a global pandemic, a time of great loss, uncertainty, isolation and loneliness for many. It was also, of course, a time of resilience and great compassion and solidarity.
We are proud that last year, with another lockdown looming, we were able to present Éigse online and were delighted to find it reached a local, national and international audience.
This year, while stepping back out into the world is still surrounded by restrictions, we hope the time has come to sound a note of gladness again and to come together to enjoy the restoring and consoling power of words and music.
Because Covid restrictions are still in place around arts and cultural events, a number of events have had to be dropped and venues have also had to be changed.
In compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, we are advising that people book in advance through Event-brite, details of which can be found on our website www.eigsemichaelhartnett.ie It will be possible to acquire tickets at the door, provided the numbers allow. All patrons however will be asked to show their vaccination or immunity certificates.
We are asking audience members to be patient and in particular to arrive early at venues so that we can do the checks smoothly and begin on time.
Venues may have to be changed at short notice and we ask people to bear with us should this be necessary.
We will be streaming a small number of events so that those still confined to home or anxious about crowds can still enjoy the festival, along with people across the globe.
We are ready and waiting to welcome you all back to Newcastle West and to Éigse. We invite you to wander the town that Hartnett grew up in, to walk the steps from Maiden St to Assumpta Park, to read some of his work displayed on boards in shops, bars and restaurants, to enjoy the town’s warm hospitality, and to come along to one, more or all of the events on our programme.
In one of his Inchicore haikus, Michael wrote:
Dying in exile.
To die without a people
Is the real death.
Our hope is that Éigse will once again prove that Michael has come home to his people. Bígí linn.
Join us or as Michael might say, we’ll see ye up town!
Programme of Events
Thursday, September 30th
Official opening of Éigse Michael Hartnett 2021 by the Mayor of the City and County of Limerick, Cllr Daniel Butler followed by the presentation of Michael Hartnett Poetry Award 2021.
We are delighted to be able to hold our first, live opening night in three years. Previous events were disrupted by storms and the pandemic so we are keen to ensure our 2021 opening will be a celebratory, community gathering and a night of words, song and getting to know one another again. Our special guests on the night will be writer Patricia Scanlan and tenor Derek Moloney. Do join us.
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
Admission: Free and Streamed
Friday, October 1st
9.30am-12.30pm: Take a Chance
A series of workshops with poet and spoken word performer Colm Keegan in Desmond College and Scoil Mhuire agus Íde
In association with Dedalus Press, we present two of Ireland’s emerging poets Rafael Mendes and Natasha Remoundou who will read from their recent work.
Venue: Red Door Gallery, The Square
Dip into the work of another of Ireland’s new and emerging writers, Polina Cosgrave
Venue: Cronin’s, The Square (outside venue)
Poets Moya Cannon and Sean Lysaght will be joined on stage by string quartet Capriccio for a magical evening of words and music.
This event is in memory of the much-loved Sheila O’Regan, a member of this year’s organising committee, who died in April.
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
Admission: €10 (Also streamed)
Saturday, October 2nd
Join Limerick poet Bernie Crawford for an enjoyable and thought provoking reading from her recent collection Living Water
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
12.00 noon: Take a Chance 2
“Not what should come next, something else.”
Join poet Colm Keegan in a workshop exploring Micheal Hartnett’s groundbreaking Inchicore Haiku. Closely read this fascinating poem and create your own work inspired by it’s innovative approach.
Those wishing to attend should apply in advance to email@example.com
Venue: Red Door Gallery
John Creedon, one of Ireland’s best loved TV and radio presenters joins us for his very special and unique take on the townlands and byways of Ireland and the stories behind them. He will read from his recent book That Place We Call Home.
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
3.00pm: Michael Hartnett Memorial Lecture
Daniel Mulhall, who currently serves as Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, first came across Michael Hartnett’s poem, ‘A Farewell to English’, during his student days in the 1970s and was intrigued by it. Some of its lines have stayed in his mind throughout the decades that followed. As a commentary on 20th century Ireland, he sees similarities between Hartnett’s poem and Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘The Great Hunger’ and John Montague’s ‘The Rough Field’. In this year’s Michael Hartnett Memorial Lecture, he will reflect on those three poems and the issues they raise.
In his talk, Daniel Mulhall will also briefly preview his forthcoming book, Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey (New Island Books, 2022).
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
3.00pm: Castle Capers
Join us for an open-air miscellany of music and the spoken word in the grounds of the historic Desmond Hall and Castle. Performers will include Colm Keegan, Abby Butler, Ger Wolfe and the Coláiste Ide agus Iosef Trad Group. Casa Street Kitchen, an up and coming taco truck based in West Limerick, will also join us, offering a range of tacos, gourmet burgers and salads!
Venue: Desmond Hall and Castle yard
Writer Louise Nealon will read from her debut novel Snowflake while writer Kathleen McMahon will be in conversation with Norma Prendiville and read from her new novel Nothing but Blue Sky.
String virtuose duo Maria and Lucia will add extra zest to the evening.
Venue: Longcourt House Hotel
Admission: €15 (also streamed)
Organising committee 2021: John Cussen, Vincent Hanley, Rachel Lenihan, Rose Liston, Rossa McMahon, Vicki Nash, Sheila O’Regan RIP, Norma Prendiville.
Ambassador of Ireland to the United States
Daniel Mulhall was born and brought up in Waterford. He pursued his graduate and post-graduate studies at University College Cork where he specialised in modern Irish history and literature. He took up duty as Ireland’s 18th Ambassador to the United States in August 2017.
He joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1978 and had
his early diplomatic assignments in New Delhi, Vienna (OSCE), Brussels (European Union) and Edinburgh where he was Ireland’s first Consul General, 1998-2001. He served as Ireland’s Ambassador to Malaysia (2001-05), where he was also accredited to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. From 2009 to 2013, he was Ireland’s Ambassador to Germany. Before arriving in Washington, he served as Ireland’s Ambassador in London (2013-
In 2017, he was made a Freeman of the City of London in recognition of his work as Ambassador. In December 2017, he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Liverpool. In 2019, he was honoured with the Freedom of the City and County of Waterford. In November 2019, Ambassador Mulhall was named Honorary President of the Yeats Society in Ireland.
During his diplomatic career, Ambassador Mulhall has also held a number of positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including as Director-General for European Affairs, 2005- 2009. He also served as a member of the Secretariat of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation (1994- 95). From 1995-98, he was the Department’s Press Counsellor and in that capacity was part of the Irish Government’s delegation at the time of the Good Friday Agreement 1998.
Ambassador Mulhall brings his deep interest in Irish history and literature to the work of diplomatic service in the U.S., describing the strong, historic ties and kinship between the countries as the basis for a vibrant economic and cultural relationship. He has lectured widely on the works of W.B. Yeats and James Joyce. His new book, Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey, is slated for publication early next year. He is also the author of A New Day Dawning: A Portrait of Ireland in 1900 (Cork, 1999) and co-editor of The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment (Dublin, 2016).
A keen advocate of public diplomacy, Ambassador Mulhall makes regular use of social media in order to provide insights into the work of the Embassy, to promote all things Irish and to engage with Irish people and those of Irish descent around the world. He provides daily updates on his Twitter account @DanMulhall and posts regular blogs on the Embassy’s website.
John Creedon is one of a family of 12 children who grew up in Cork City. In 1987 he came through a public competition to join RTE Radio 1, with whom he has since won both Jacobs and PPI Awards. He was also presented with a ‘Fairplay for Airplay’ award by Hot Press for his support of Irish music. In the 1990s, the father of four girls won an Entertainer of the Year Award and had two no. 1 Hit singles as Terence, a character he created for The Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM. John has numerous film roles to his credit and currently produces and presents a nightly radio show on RTE Radio 1.
Over the years, John has presented numerous concerts live on radio and television, including The RTE Radio1 Folk Awards, New Year’s Eve at National Concert Hall Dublin, St. Patrick’s Night Gala Concert in Bejing , ‘Messiah’ from the O3 Arena for Channel 4 and ‘Céilúradh’ at The Royal Albert Hall in London for RTE.
The Corkman’s television credits are as long as they are varied and include: The Health Show, the travel series No Frontiers, 12 series of Fleadh Cheoil, 4 seasons as judge and mentor on The All-Ireland Talent Show, plus numerous comedy appearances from Republic of Telly to Podge & Rodge.
John completed a Diploma in Regional Studies at UCC and his love of Irish folklore and culture has seen him take to the roads of Ireland to present ‘Creedon’s Wild Atlantic Way’, ‘Epic East’, ‘Creedon’s Shannon’ and several series of ‘Creedons Atlas of Ireland’. In 2018, he spearheaded ‘National Treasures’, a collaboration between RTE and The National Museum of Ireland, culminating in a television series and museum exhibition of family artefacts that celebrate the story of the nation. Creedon also developed and presented the tv documentary ‘Michael Collins-His Final Day’.
John has written extensively for the national newspapers and his work has brought him to the Middle East, India, China, Africa, the U.S. and The Arctic Circle. In 2019 he was voted Irish Travel Journalist of the Year and his book on Ireland’s places and placenames, ‘That Place We Call Home’ made the bestsellers list.
Along with his radio show, the prolific corkman is currently filming a new series of ‘Creedon’s Atlas of Ireland’ for RTE television and is writing a book on Irish folklore for Gill Books.
Patricia Scanlan lives in Dublin. Her books, all number one bestsellers, have been translated into many languages and sold worldwide with over 1.5 million copies in Ireland alone. Patricia is the series editor and a contributing author to the Open Door series published by New Island.
Kathleen MacMahon is a novelist, short story writer and journalist.
Her first novel, This Is How It Ends, was published to great critical acclaim in 2011. It was a Number One Bestseller for five weeks in Ireland and a Richard and Judy Book Club pick in the UK. It was also nominated for two Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, and for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year. This Is How It Ends was translated into over twenty languages.
Her second novel, The Long, Hot Summer, was published in 2014 and also became a bestseller. Her third, Nothing but Blue Sky, came out in 2020 to universally excellent reviews. It was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.
Her short stories have been published in The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times and The Lonely Crowd, among others.
A former reporter with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, Kathleen is the grand-daughter of the short story writer Mary Lavin.
Moya Cannon’s Collected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2021) brings together poems from six previous books, Oar (1990), The Parchment Boat (1997), Carrying the Songs (1907), Hands (2011), Keats Lives (2015) and Donegal Tarantella (2019), more than three decades’ work, a poetry of individual poems which compose a memorable, unpredictable sequence of discovery.
She was born and grew up in Co. Donegal, Ireland, spent most of her adult life in Galway and now lives in Dublin.
In her poems, history, archaeology, pre-historic art, geology and music figure as gateways to deeper understanding of our mysterious relationship with the natural world and with our past.
She has been a recipient of the Brendan Behan Award and the O’Shaughnessy Award and was Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Villanova. She is a member of Aosdána.
Louise Nealon is a writer from Co. Kildare. She studied English literature in Trinity College Dublin, and then completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast in 2016. In 2017, she won the Seán Ó’Faoláin International Short Story Competition.
Her short stories have been published in The Irish Times, Southward and The Stinging Fly.
Her debut novel, Snowflake was published in May 2021,and was a number one bestseller in her native Ireland. Television and film rights for Snowflake have been sold to Element Pictures. Louise is currently working on her second novel.
Natasha is a literary scholar, academic lecturer, writer, and translator. She was born and raised in Athens, Greece and lives in Ireland since 2003.
Rafael Mendes is a writer and translator from Brazil based in Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in “Writing Home: The New Irish Poets” (Dedalus Press, 2019), “Arrival at Elsewhere” (Against the Grain, 2020) and elsewhere. His translation of Brazilian poetry has been recently published in Cyphers.
He’s a 2021 recipient of The Irish Writers Centre Course Bursary and is a candidate for a Master’s in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin.
Seán Lysaght grew up in Limerick city and now lives in Westport, County Mayo. He taught for many years at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Castlebar. He is the author of six volumes of poems with Gallery Press, including The Clare Island Survey (1991), Scarecrow (1998), The Mouth of a River (2007) and Carnival Masks (2014). His prose works, Eagle Country (Little Toller) and Wild Nephin (Stonechat Editions), exploring the wilderness of the west of Ireland, were published in 2018 and 2020. He won the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award in 2007.
Colm Keegan is a writer and poet from Dublin, Ireland. His first book “Don’t Go There” was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. His latest collection “Randomer” is now available from Salmon poetry.
He was a co-founder and board member of Lingo, Ireland’s first Spoken Word festival. In 2014 was awarded a residency in the LexIcon, Ireland’s largest public library. He has developed numerous creative writing projects for schools and colleges across the country. He is a creative writing teacher and co-founder of the Inklinks Project, a writing initiative for young writers. He was the writer in residence for Carlow College St Patricks in 2019. He also developed and co-ordinates South Dublin Epic for SDCC arts office.
His debut full-length play “For Saoirse” was staged in Axis Theatre and shortlisted for the Fishamble New Writing award in 2018. His short play “Something Worth Saying,” commissioned for the Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project in 2020 was called ‘exquisite and devastating’ by reviewer Emer O’ Kelly.
Polina Cosgrave is a Russian-born poet based in Ireland. Her debut collection “My Name Is” was published by Dedalus Press (2020). Her work appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Impossible Archetype, Ireland Of The Minds and Writing Home (Dedalus Press, 2019). She lives in Arklow with her family.
Bernie Crawford, originally from Ballylanders, County Limerick, now lives near the sea in Co Galway.
Her poetry has been published in Irish and international journals and anthologies. This year her first full collection Living Water was published by Chaffinch Press.
She was the winner of New Irish Writing in the Irish Times in January 2020, the North West Words 2019 poetry competition and 2017 Poetry Ireland/Trocaire competition. She was placed second in the 2018 Blue Nib Summer Chapbook Contest and a chapbook with a selection of her poetry was published by the Blue Nib. In 2019 she was awarded a bursary by Galway County Council to work towards a debut collection.
She is a co-editor of the popular poetry magazine Skylight 47.
“A feminist and humanitarian vision lies at the heart of this lyrical collection” Jane Clarke
“Bernie Crawford’s Living Water has the clarity and free flow of spring water, her light precise touch cutting through the shadows and bumps on the road of life” Martina Evans
“every poem has the shine of perfect editing. And yet the authentic voice of the first draft remains” Kevin Higgins
“Bernie Crawford’s debut collection Living Water is a profound pleasure to read. It is informed and heightened by a life that has been lived very consciously, focused, choosing what matters” Jenny Farrell
Derek is a native of the beautiful Limerick City. Since winning RTE’s ‘ Search For a Tenor’ he has toured extensively throughout America, Germany and Ireland.
As well as receiving airplay on most of the major Irish radio stations over the years Derek has achieved No.1 status in the Irish Classical Charts with his album ‘Ireland, Ireland Rugby Anthems’ and he was part of the No.1 album Joyce Songs by Lyric Fm. He also appeared on The Late Late Show singing The Fields of Athenry.
Dereks fully orchestrated version of Stand Up and Fight was played in the Millennium Stadium for the fans sing with in 2008 when Munster won the Heineken Cup. A very proud moment for him.
Derek is delighted to performing tonight, after such a tough time for us all due to the pandemic, and hopes you have a great evening. Derek is a member of The Emerald Tenors and is looking forward to being back on tour throughout Ireland in 2022.
I am a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Castlemahon, Co. Limerick. I have been learning to play the guitar and write songs since I was 9 years old.
I recently graduated with a BA degree in performing arts from the Irish World Academy in UL. Some artists I look up to for their acoustic singer-songwriter style are Christy Moore, Wallis Bird, Bon Iver and Hozier.
I am currently learning to record and produce music myself. I have an original song on Spotify called “Experiment” and also an EP released on Soundcloud called “Rungs”.
Ger Wolfe is a singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born and bred in Cork City and living in Macroom for the last quarter of a century who has been “creating carefully crafted vignettes of song” (Irish Times) for many years.
He has released no less than nine full albums of his own original work on the indie ‘Raggedy Records’ label while touring extensively both solo and with his band ‘The New Skylarks’ since the early 1990’s.
A lot of listeners are familiar with Ger’s songs such as ‘The Curra Road’, ‘The Lark of Mayfield’, ‘Summer at my feet’ and ‘In the Garden of Heaven’ which have received a good bit of radio airplay and have been covered also by artists like Muireann nic Amhlaíobh, Karan Casey, Sharon Shannon and Zoe Conway.
THE MORNING STAR is Ger’s newest album, recorded and produced at home in the Summer of the 2020 lockdown by Amhlaíobh Mc Sweeney. Ger is currently working on a project of traditional sean-nós songs from ‘The Ballyvourney Collection’, songs in Irish gathered by A.M. Freeman and first published 100 years ago.
www.gerwolfe.com for more info and upcoming news and tour-dates.
Capriccio String Quartet
The Capriccio String Quartet was formed in 2004. The initial communion of players was born out of friendships through the Limerick School of Music & The National Youth Orchestra of Ireland.
The line-up has changed somewhat over the years, however, Deirdre Cusssn, Kate Cussen and Finola Molony have remained constant Capricci! Yuki Nishioka, originally from Japan, joined the quartet in 2014 and has added a real energy to the group with her dynamic style of playing. All members are active within Limerick music circles both teaching and performing with various orchestras & ensembles.
The quartet have performed at numerous festivals, state events, weddings & corporate events through the years, most nobably, The Electric Picnic in 2014, 2015 & 2019.
The Quartet‘s repertoire ranges from the usual classical favourites to arrangements of Rock songs and contemporary pop melodies.
Lucia and Maria
Violin virtuose duo Lucia Mac Partlin and Maria Ryan, a.k.a Lucia and Maria met while studying and living together in Cork, where they quickly realized their shared passion for Folk and Traditional Irish music.
They also formed contemporary Traditional Irish quartet Strung. In their compositions and arrangements they combine their traditional, classical and folk influences to stunning effect.
The duo completed their Masters’ at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden before returning home to Ireland to record their debut album ‘Live at the Chapel’ at Griffith College Chapel in Cork as part of The Quiet Lights Festival in 2018.
Lucia and Maria aim to forever push the boundaries of fiddle music and enthrall audiences worldwide.
Casa Street Kitchen
Casa Street Kitchen is an up & coming taco truck based in West Limerick, offering a range of Tacos, Gourmet Burgers and salads!
Catering for a wide variety of dietary needs, the boys are most famous for their Black ‘Mamba’ pulled pork burger!
Since launching this July, the boys have gone from strength to strength, taking bookings from Lahinch to Greystones and even starting their own Farmers market at home in Newcastle West!
You can find them at Shannon & Castletroy farmers markets, at their own market in Newcastle West or at the Villager bar, Castlemahon!
For contact details, you can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or all social media @casastreetkitchen!
Kerry-based poet winner of this year’s Michael Hartnett Poetry Award
The Kerry-based poet, Ceaití Ní Bheildiúin, is this year’s winner of the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award for her collection in Irish, Agallamh Sa Cheo, Cnoc Bhréanainn (Coiscéim, 2019).
She will travel to Newcastle West to accept the award on Thursday, 30 September 2021 which is the opening night of the annual Éigse Michael Hartnett Literary and Arts Festival.
“I am nothing less than stunned,” Ms Ní Bheildiúin said in response to her success in winning this year’s award which was for a second or further collection of poems in Irish.
A long-time admirer of Michael Hartnett’s own poetry she continued: “I always get a great hit out of reading Michael Hartnett’s poetry. I became aware of him, his poems and his life story shortly after I started to compose pieces of Irish language verse. I felt an immediate affinity to him that he had toiled in the same mistiness of Gaeilge as a second language as I was doing. I find his poetry in both Irish and English powerful.”
“It is staggering to have a book of my own awarded the Michael Hartnett Prize. It is an honour beyond belief.”
The Michael Hartnett Poetry Award was established in 1999 following the death of Newcastle West-born poet, Michael Hartnett.
It is jointly funded by Limerick City and County Council Arts Office and the Arts Council and is awarded, on alternate years, for collections in Irish and English. It carries a prize of €4,000.
In their citation, the judges Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhaigh and Seosamh Ó Murchú described Agallamh Sa Cheo, Cnoc Bhréanainn as a “collection which is striking in its ambition and craft” and “reveals the poet’s aesthetic gifts”. With Mount Brandon providing the imaginative terrain, they characterise the book as “an emotional cartography of the mountain, as told in a chorus of voices that illuminate the human drama of life.”
“In this homage to the mountain, Ní Bheildiúin demonstrates her own deep appreciation of Mount Brandon. Nature poetry and a sense of place are central to the Gaelic tradition and Agallamh sa Cheo should be considered among the most significant works of this era that contemplates our relationship with the natural world.”
“Contemporary poetry in Irish is in rude health, based on the 23 entries for this year’s Michael Hartnett Award. Agallamh sa Cheo stood out due to its ambition and breadth as well as the artistry of the work,” the judges concluded.
John Cussen, of the Eigse Michael Hartnett Committee said, “Michael Hartnett would be delighted that Irish poetry is, in the words of the judges, in such rude health. We are truly delighted with the response to this year’s Poetry Award and are looking forward to welcoming Ceaití to Newcastle West.”
Dr Pippa Little, Arts Officer with Limerick City and County Council said: “Limerick Arts Office are very pleased to work in partnership with the Éigse Michael Hartnett Committee and the Arts Council, to award this prize, which honours and supports the work of Irish poets. It is one of the most long-standing poetry prizes in Ireland”.
The award will be presented at the opening night of this year’s Éigse Michael Hartnett taking place from 30 Sept to 02 Oct in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick.
With a blended format this year, live events will be intermingled with online events with all relevant Covid regulations in effective at that time followed.
This year’s programme includes Patricia Scanlan, Kathleen MacMahon and Louise Nealon along with John Creedon and Irish Ambassador to Washington, Dan Mulhall.
There will also be a strong line-up of poets including Moya Cannon, Séan Lysaght, Colm Keegan, Rafael Mendes and Natasha Remoundou.
Remembering Michael Hartnett (1941 – 1999) on the 80th Anniversary of his Birth
Poet Michael Hartnett would have been 80 years old on September 18th this year.
He was born in Croom, Co. Limerick in 1941. In fact, he was a young 58 when he died in 1999.
By Peter Browne
Many people who knew him and admired his work felt the loss deeply and his creativity lives on richly after him.
An old cassette tape which I came across by chance in a cardboard box at home during lockdown brought back particular memories of just one brief period in which I could say I knew him.
This tape contained about 40 minutes of disjointed, poor-quality bits and pieces recordings from a 1985 musical and literary trip to Scotland which we both were on, and it brought back strong and fond thoughts of him even for such a short acquaintance when we were fellow performers touring the Highlands and Western Isles.
The occasion was the annual Turas na bhFilí which was a week-long tour of nightly performances in Gaelic-speaking Scotland organised by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. It was a two-way annual process and each year there were return visits to Ireland by a similar group of Scottish writers and artists.
This particular year the Irish travelling group comprised two poets, Áine Ní Ghlinn and Michael Hartnett, a fine singer Cliona Ní Fhlannagáín and myself as uilleann piper.
Also travelling as leader, organiser and fear a’tí was Colonel Eoghan Ó Néill, a distinguished Army officer who was by this time Director of An Chomhdháil.
There was a minibus driver whose name is long gone from me and we were a happy group on the road for that week. Sadly, as well as Michael Hartnett, Colonel Ó Néill and Cliona have also left us.
For the fairly obvious reason – if there weren’t separate B & B bedrooms on offer – Michael and myself were usually put sharing a room together and we had good conversations – usually on everyday life or the incidental happenings of the tour.
I do recall that he was enthusiastic about folklore and traditions in his own area of West Limerick like dancing and the wrenboys and he also mentioned his respect for Seán Ó Riada.
A printed programme had been prepared in advance of the tour and distributed to the audience at each night’s performance. It contained explanations, translations etc… meaning that the material, including the poetry, would be the same each night.
I used to look forward at each performance to hearing the same poems, the same songs – they grew on me.
Cliona sang Úna Bhán, Dónal Óg, Bean Pháidín. Áine had a beautiful poem about a young boy who was lost to cystic fibrosis and of Michael’s poems, I remember two – one for his daughter “Dán do Lara” with the line “…even the bees in the field think you are a flower” and another especially sad, moving one in which he addressed his father, trying to persuade him not to die but to remain on this earth.
I can clearly remember the soft richness of his words and speaking vioce. I used to play ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ on the pipes nightly out of deference to the literary nature of the occasion.
Michael’s skills and agility in his use of words meant that his humour and wit were a bright feature during the trip – prompted by random events along the way.
When we flew out from Dublin, we had an excellent welcoming night in Glasgow and the following morning went to the airport to fly to Stornaway. And there, as we waited for the flight, Michael bought a bottle of Scotch whisky with the bracing brand name of ‘Sheep Dip.’
This unusual drink became something of a recurring conversational theme for the remainder of the tour. He seemed to use the same mug all week for drinking it. I partook a couple of times as well and it tasted ok – I notice that it’s still for sale on the market.
Later that same first day of the tour when we were travelling in the minibus on the dual island of Lewis and Harris, there was some incident with the minibus and a loose goat which I just can’t recall, and then we were brought to an interpretive centre and souvenir shop with a large selection of teddy bears on sale – they occupied all the shelves of one entire wall.
At that evening’s performance Michael began by telling the audience: ”…I’ve had a very trying day, first of all I started off by discovering a drink called Sheep Dip, then I met a goat on a bus and then I narrowly escaped being introduced to 25,000 teddy bears all wearing Harris tweed!”
In another town called Roybridge we were led by a kilted piper into the room and up to the top table in a ceremonial procession.
Michael had already said to Áine Ní Ghlinn that his own father had once described the sound of the pipes as like being in a submarine with a flock of sheep, so…this wasn’t a good portent.
As we sat down, the piper stepped onto the small stage, which was a concave, parabolic inset into one of the walls of the room.
The sound of the píob mhór was therefore propelled with some force outwards towards us. I watched Michael and I could clearly see his discomfort. He took a beermat, wrote on it and passed it around. Each person smiled as they read it and when it came to me, I saw that he had written: “I’m glad my new false teeth are made of plastic, not china.”
But there was seriousness in all this as well; there could be lengthy silences in the minibus as we travelled along narrow roads, and later that evening in Roybridge as he was reading the poem about his father, there was guffawing from a group of people on barstools at the counter who clearly weren’t there to hear the performance.
The local MC on the night asked them to stop talking or move to another establishment in the town where there would be, as he put it, “…a welcome for all sorts of inane conversation”. They were momentarily silenced but when Michael started again, so did the noise. He simply closed his book, said “is cuma liom…” and left the stage.
His poem about his father was special – for the subject matter, the beauty of the language and the sound of his reading voice. There was a sensitivity, decency and dignity about him and, I think also, a vulnerability.
Although I only ever met him again on one other occasion by chance, it may be the case that a lasting impression and respect for someone can be created over a short time such as this as well as by a lengthy acquaintance.
“…and please, my father, wait a while, there is no singing after death, there is no human sighing – just worlds falling into suns. The universe will be a bride, a necklace of stars on her gown – dancing at every crossroads, tin-whistles spitting music. Father, take your time, hang on. But he didn’t.”
Peter Browne is a piper and a former RTÉ presenter and producer.