Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poem for the New Year

Somehow Thomas Hardy's pessimism with just a dash of unrealistic optimism seems right for this New Year.
Welcome 2012!

To commemorate the end of the nineteenth century Hardy composed a poem originally titled By the Century's Deathbed later renamed The Darkling Thrush. Though written several weeks earlier, it is dated 31 December 1900.

His bleak wintry take on the nineteenth century is interrupted by the cheerful song of a thrush and the poem ends with a hint of hope:

So little cause for carolings
0000Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things

0000Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
0000His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

0000And I was unaware.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Text Readability Tests

This website has a readability test which can be fun to use. You copy and paste a section of your text and it calculates its readability and gives scores on the Gunning Fog Index and Flesch Reading Ease.

The first estimates the years of formal education needed to understand the text on a first reading. A Fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a U.S. high school senior (around 18 years old). A paragraph from my history book measured 14.84 on this scale so it's beyond most American 18 year olds.

The Flesch measures textual difficulty which indicates how easy a text is to read, on a scale of 0 = very difficult, to 100 = very easy. My piece came out at 46.97 which seems bang in the middle.

Hours of holiday fun!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Your Object - The Model, Sligo

This seems like a good idea and has the potential for a very interesting exhibition.

Your Object is an exhibition, planned to take place in spring 2012, to mark the 150th anniversary of The Model Building in Sligo. This exhibition will consist of people’s treasured objects to reflect the cultural region today. Everyone is invited to submit an image of his or her most treasured object to The Model with a short paragraph explaining why they value this object.

You are invited to submit images of photos, antiques, household items, clothing, family heirlooms, but we ask you to not send original items; an image and explanation is all that is required at this stage. Closing date is 6 January.

The Model, home of The Niland Collection, is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary arts centres. Built in 1862 as a Model School, the present building has been extended twice. The first extension was in 2000 when it was completely refurbished and extended by McCullough Mulvin Architects. The building was redeveloped again by architects Sheridan Woods in 2010, whose extension to The Model has increased the building by a third in size to create a world-class visitor centre.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas

Lost Christmas

He is alone, it is Christmas.
Up the hill go three trees, the three kings.
There is a star also
Over the dark manger. But where is the Child?

Pity him. He has come far
Like the trees, matching their patience
With his. But the mind was before
Him on the long road. The manger is empty.

R. S. Thomas, Young and Old (1972).

A happy and a peaceful Christmas to all who stumble this way.

The crib is in St Joseph's Church, Rockfield, Coolaney, Co Sligo.

The poem is by Welsh poet and Minister, R.S. Thomas, whose simple, spare poetry has a strange mixture of the devout and the questioning. During last summer I visited his resting place, beside St. John's Church, Porthmadog, North Wales.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Toy Sale 1923

One of the fascinating things about researching in old newspapers is how easy it is to get sidetracked into reading stuff which is interesting but irrelevant. The advertisement above is from the Irish Independent front page, Christmas Eve 1923.

Read the list of lovely toys on offer. Can I have a clock-work train please? No toy guns mentioned, the civil war was just over and the rebuilding was just started.
Also no Santa Claus, instead a Queen in Fairyland.

Anyone getting Mah-Jongg this Christmas?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rolls Royce Armoured Cars

A feature of the recent War Dead book launch in Trim was the presence of some World War 1 re-enactors from Lord Edward's Own Historical Re-enactment group, Athy and the Irish military war museum, Drogheda. Some were dressed in uniforms of the time and had rifles, pistols, grenades, kit on display.

I was intrigued by the lot, especially by the guns and especially especially by the Vickers machine gun pictured above. You can research and write history which involves weapons and their deadly use often without ever really knowing what the weapons looked like.

One of the many fascinating characters featured in my book is the Rolls Royce armoured car The Ballinalee which spent quite a while in Sligo, was taken by the anti-Treaty forces (republicans, irregulars, IRA - what to call them is often a problem). It was used against the Free State troops for a few months until it was recaptured. The anti-Treaty forces put it out of action before it was taken and it was not used again in the war.

Anyway the armoured car's main weapon was a Vickers gun and I had never seen one until Noel French's launch. An impressive weapon firing 450 to 500 round of .303 per minute, with an effective range of 2,000 metres. The republicans took the machine gun out of the Ballinalee before they abandoned it.

The most famous of the 14 or so Rolls Royce armoured cars used by the Free State is the Sliabh na mBan beside which Michael Collins died during the Civil War. It has just been fully restored by the army and is in the Curragh, Kildare. More here , here and here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Poems

The Boyne Writers readings for the residents in Knightsbridge Home have been going on now for two years I think and have been very enjoyable and successful as well judging by the number of attendees. We have also succeeded in involving many of the residents in reading, reciting or singing themselves which adds considerably to the enjoyment.

I've been looking for poems to read this Wednesday on the theme of Christmas. They have to be well written with a good rhythm to aid reading and help keep attention. A bit a humour here and there helps as does clever rhymes. Simple and serious is also a good combination.

I found a discussion thread on this very topic and followed some of the links to poems, some I might use. I always feel free to shorten poems I read or indeed sometimes to change words.

Anyway here is my tentative set list for Wednesday. The number I read will depend on how many residents want to contribute, I may read as little as four or as many as seven, so better be prepared. Last week we had a request for A Christmas Childhood by Kavanagh but I didn't have the poem in any of the regular books I carry with me.

Advent - John Betjeman

The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus - Ogden Nash

Talking Turkeys - Benjamin Zephaniah

Prayer For a New Mother - Dorothy Parker

Goodwill To Men - Give Us Your Money - Pam Ayres

Christmas Bells - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A Christmas Childhood - Patrick Kavanagh

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

LitLab at Crannóg, Cavan

The Cavan branch of the Cavan/Meath LitLab was well represented at Saturday's,celebration in Crannóg Bookshop, Cavan when owner, John McEvoy, was presented with the Bord Gais Energy Bookshop of the Year Award. Three of our members , Honor Duff, Mairéad Donnellan and Paddy Halligan, read there at noon by special invitation and made a great impression on shoppers and fellow-celebrants.

They read three poems each, Paddy read from his "exotic journeys" poems partly based on experience and partly fiction in the proper proportions. Honor's set included a recent one based on a flooded Cavan field visited by optimistic water fowl and Mairéad read her hilarious "They're only here for Heaney" poem which usually goes down very well with its self effacing humour.

Other notable writers, Noel Monahan, Shane Connaughton, Dermot Healy and Michael Harding were reading at the venue during the day.

Mulled wine, good company, good prose and poetry and a positive bookshop story - a perfect start to the Christmas season. Well done LitLab!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bord Gais Energy Bookshop of the Year 2011

Crannog bookshop, Church St., Cavan has been named Bord Gais Energy Bookshop of the Year 2011.

"Proprietors John McEvoy and Anne Connolly were thrilled to be named as the winning recipient of this honour and to receive their award trophy together with the prize of €5,000 worth of free electricity from Bord Gáis Energy.

As any visitor to The Crannóg can see, this is a bookshop with a distinct identity; a warm embracing physical space filled with a broad and eclectic range of titles so rarely seen in bigger shops. From a class field of excellent bookshops from all over the country, The Crannóg emerged as a worthy winner."

John believes a bookshop is an integral part of the community and ‘reflects the community it’s in’ and was keen to thank customers and staff, ‘without our customers we wouldn’t be what we are’ he said. ‘We are also very proud of the staff who work here; it’s a nice reward for them as well.’

The award is being celebrated in the bookshop all day today Saturday 17th December. A number of national authors will attend during the day and local authors are welcome to come in and informally read a couple of poems or extract form a novel or whatever at some point throughout the day.

A number of our LitLab members will be there and will read.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taoiseach Enda Kenny Launches War Dead Book

The Taoiseach launched Noel French's book The Meath War Dead in Trim last evening. He did the book and the dead proud delivering a speech which acknowledged their sacrifice, the country's lack of appreciation in the past and the plans to have the coming centenaries respectful of all traditions.

He spoke of the pain of the families whose relatives had been killed in the war and of those survivors who returned to a changed Ireland where their sacrifices were not valued or acknowledged.

Things have changed, he said, and spoke of the Irish President and the Queen visiting the Garden of Remembrance and the War Memorial at Islandbridge earlier this year. He promised that the coming centenary celebrations would be inclusive with mutual respect a central element.

(Photo from this website)

This made me wonder about my own book, does it fit the bill? I think so. The first world war looms large in the early part and the contribution and opinions of the non-Catholic population of Sligo are well dealt with, I think. We'll see.

A feature of the Taoiseach's speech was the amount of poetry included - Owen, Ledwidge, Robert Graves. Maybe not what you might expect from a Fine Gael Taoiseach! But then Enda is a west of Ireland man where poetry has always been valued and educated in St Patrick's College, Drumcondra as a primary teacher. So he knew some of the poems by heart, either from teaching them or being taught them.

He quoted from the well known Lament for Thomas McDonagh by Francis Ledwidge but also a verse from his less well-known The Irish in Gallipolli

Neither for lust of glory nor new throne
This thunder and this lightning of our wrath
Waken these frantic echoes, not for these
Our cross with England’s mingle, to be blown
On Mammon’s threshold; we but war when war
Serves Liberty and Justice, Love and Peace.

And finally An Taoiseach mentioned the ending of the war in Iraq and the futility of the "war to end wars" quoting from Robert Graves' poem Armistice Day 1918

When the days of rejoicing are over,
When the flags are stowed safely away,
They will dream of another wild 'War to End Wars'
And another wild Armistice day.

A well organised night, a great speech and an excellent launch for what is the fourth in a series of such volumes on Irish counties by the History Press.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Meath War Dead

As regards centenaries and the upcoming remembrance of the Irish Revolution this goes hand in hand with the centenary of the Great War 1914-1918. The commemoration of the Irish dead of that war has been problematic over the years but is now an accepted part of the national story.

Over five hundred men from Meath died in the Great War. Their lives and those of their families are recorded in a new book, The Meath War Dead, by Trim author Noel French. Noel has been director of the Meath Heritage Centre, Trim since 1987 and has written twelve local histories and has had a number of articles published in Riocht na Midhe.

The book is being launched by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in the Knightsbrook Hotel, Trim at 7pm on this Thursday, 15 December. It is published by the History Press.

These Meath war dead lie in graveyards from Basra to Bermuda, from Jerusalem to Gallipoli, from Ypres to Teltown and everywhere in between. This new book contains a comprehensive record of those men and includes those who died at sea. One hundred men from Navan and district died in the war. Twenty families lost more than one member in the war. The poet, Francis Ledwidge, is the most well-known of the Meath causalities of the war.

Not only are the dates and places of deaths of each man recorded but the author attempts to give some background details including parents, dates of baptisms, occupations of their parents and their own occupations. The present families of the men who died provided photographs and never before seen correspondence for this publication.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Irish Revolution 1912-1923 - County Sligo

Many of you, for various reasons, boredom included, will be delighted to hear that I sent off the final draft of my history book earlier this week. I edited it down to 70,762 words - that includes footnotes and bibliography - so it's finished.

More or less. The editors will now look it over, possibly make a few corrections and suggestions which will be finalised by the end of March. And then Four Courts Press will publish it at the end of 2012 as the first volume in its series on the Irish counties 1912-1923.

Great to get in early! Already you can see the build up of publications of that period. The centenary is going to see many more such publications and by the time 2023 arrives we'll all be tired of centenaries.

I still have to finalise (Four Courts Press house style would demand finalize) the photographs to be included. I found quite a number of the period which are previously unpublished and they should add a lot to the book.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Auction Kells

I spent a few hours this afternoon viewing books in a second-hand book auction in Usher's Auction House, Kells - lot of lots of books. This is the second part of the sale of the collection of William Battersby, late of Cannon Row, Navan, Co. Meath, who passed away in the Autumn 2010.

This appears to have been a large and eclectic collection and includes newspapers, pamphlets, posters, stamps, postcards as well as books that cover topics from Irish language to religion, art & design to agriculture, history, drama, poetry, mythology, archaeology and travel. There are lots such as "A shelf of poetry books" and "Books about Jonathan Swift".

There are also papers from the north County Dublin HolmPatrick Estate, Headfort Estate in Kells, advertising memorabilia, theatre programmes, old receipts and log books.

William Battersby wrote a number of books including ‘The Age of Newgrange’ (1997), ‘The Hospitallers at Kilmainham, Kells’ (1996), and ‘The Book of Kells, A New Look’ (1995) a selection of which will also feature in the sale.

I think there is also a third sale to be held in January. An article about the previous sale by Des Kenny here. The current sale starts tomorrow, Monday 12 December, at 11am and will probably last all day.

It's a strange experience to wander through stuff that someone has collected over a lifetime now spread out to be dispersed among the curious and the interested - a bit like a person's life spread out for the public gaze.

Did I see anything interesting? A few but I doubt if I'll buy anything. I already have quite a lot of books etc, not enough I think to make three sales, but one? Maybe.

Friday, December 9, 2011

T.S. Eliot Poetry Award Controversy

The Australian poet I mentioned a few times recently, John Kinsella, is in the news again. His collection, Armour, was one of a shortlist of ten for the £15,000 TS Eliot prize announced in October.

Since then award-winning poet Alice Oswald, who was shortlisted for her new collection Memorial, a retelling of the Iliad focusing on the ordinary soldiers who died, pulled out in protest at its sponsorship by an investment company. Oswald said she believes that "poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions".

The Poetry Book Society, which runs the award loses its Arts Council funding next year and it announced a new three-year sponsorship for the prize from private investment management firm Aurum Funds at the same time as it revealed its shortlist in October.

Oswald's withdrawal was followed later this week by that of Kinsella. 'The business of Aurum does not sit with my personal politics and ethics', he said, 'hedge funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism'.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I admire their stands of course but I like the idea of someone like Kinsella, whose poetry leaves no room for doubt about his attitude, taking money from an outfit like Aurum and getting publicity from them - subversion rather than endorsing.

Eight poets remain in the running for the TS Eliot prize, one of the most prestigious in poetry: John Burnside, Carol Ann Duffy, David Harsent, Esther Morgan, Daljit Nagra, Sean O'Brien and Irish poets, Leontia Flynn for Profit and Loss and Bernard O'Donoghue for Farmer's Cross.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Greg Hastings Exhibition

Greg Hastings, who does our Boyne Berries cover illustrations, is having an exhibition of his imaging work at Trim Library from this Saturday 10th Dec until 17th Dec 2011.

He will be in attendance during that period and will be delighted to meet and talk to visitors. All images will be on sale - great Christmas presents!

Images displayed on this Facebook page represent a selection of his work. These fine art images are carefully printed on 300gsm 'Fine Art Paper'. Each print is individually done and carefully controlled to be colour faithful and rendered properly.

Greg's cover for the first ever Boyne Berries.

Monday, December 5, 2011

W.B. Yeats - Athlete

Spent the day in the National Library. Am I finished there now? Well it all depends on what you mean by finished. I found what I needed - a great quote from Bishop Morrisroe of Achonry to finish my book and match his great quote I open the book with. And some information on the Royal Irish Constabulary in Sligo.

But finished? Well. I popped down to visit W.B. Yeats while there. It's a wonderful exhibition, something new to notice each visit. Nice online presence also. I looked at the lovely cup (picture right) W.B. won in 1879 at the age of 14, for winning the half-mile race at the Godolphin School in Hammersmith, London.

Now if he had only kept up the athletics and forgot about that ould poetry he could have represented his country at the 1896 Olympic Games at the age of 30 more or less. A gold medal maybe!

Anyway W.B. was a great man for revising his poems even after they had been published so he would appreciate how difficult it is to say that something is finished.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anne Crinion - Trim Photographs

Anne Crinion's book, 50 Years through the Eye of the Camera, containing photographs from Trim and surrounding areas was launched last night. A large crowd attended.

The book contains a large number of photographs of events, shows, drama, musicals, local happenings, official opening etc from the early 1960s. Many familiar faces there some now also no longer with us. The book is available in local outlets in Trim.

I arrived in Trim for the first time in 1970 and stayed in lodgings with Anne's mother for ten years so I know a lot of people in the book.

I feature in the book in a photo from the early seventies when I was in a drama group in Boardsmill. We did Sean O'Casey's Shadow of a Gunman set during the war of independence. I played Donal Davoren, the poet (a very bad poet) who is mistaken for a gunman. War of independence, poetry seem to have haunted me.

Anyway I remember it as being very enjoyable and carefree. We didn't worry too much about accents or method acting or any of that fancy stuff - the height of our ambition was to learn the lines and deliver them on stage. Sadly some of those in the picture have passed away.

And me? I'm the fellow on the left with lots of hair and bare feet.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Boyne Writers Publications

More congratulations to Boyne Writers Group members, to Anne Crinion whose book of photographs of Trim and surrounding areas is being published tonight, Friday, in Trim Castle Hotel. This book contains a selection of photographs taken by Anne over the last thirty years or so and features many Trim people and events. A great Christmas present!

And on this Saturday the Irish Daily Mail are publishing The Holly Gatherers by member Caroline Finn in their glossy magazine. This piece was included in RTE's most recent Sunday Miscellany Anthology. I think there may even be a photograph of Caroline in the magazine, with holly as well!

There's no keeping up with this crowd!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Awards

Blogger, Peter Goulding, has posted the results of the Francis Ledwidge International Poetry Awards here. He himself came second this year, well done Peter! (Though possibly it's time to drop this "What a suprise - there must be some mistake!" attitude to your numerous winnings and commendations and publishing credits Peter.)

Some other familiar names in the winners and commended lists. Two members of our Meath/Cavan LitLab group are there, Andrew Jones and Patrick Devaney (Andy and Pat to us) as is Boyne Writers Group member Evan Costigan. Well done lads!

The awards ceremony, always a friendly event, will take place at ‘Donoghues’ The Glen of Aherlow, 29 Emmet Road, Inchicore, Dublin, on Wednesday, 14th December, 2011 at 8.00 pm. All are welcome.