Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blackfriary Dig Poem 1

Last year I spent a couple of days as a volunteer on the Blackfriary archaeology dig in Trim which is run by the Irish Archaeology Field School. I've always been interested in archaeology, did it for my BA from UCD which was done as a night student long ago so no hands-on experience just lectures. But lectures from some very eminent archaeologists including Ruairí deValera, George Eogan and Michael Herity.

So I wrote a series of poems about the dig, mixing fact and fiction, present and past. The IAFS have kindly displayed some of the poems at their pop-up museum in Trim Library and on their Facebook page. The above picture is taken from their Facebook page.

Here is the first in the series. The Dominician mendicant friars who lived in the priory would have been engaged on the quest, begging for alms, as a regular activity, hence questing. 

At a conference in Trim Colman Ó Clabaigh OSB, an expert in this field, said that the Dominicians in particular were prone to grant dispensations from some of their rules to their friars. In his book "The Friars in Ireland 1224-1540" he mentions dispensations given by Dominician and Augustinian priors general to friars to "ride a horse, take baths and use linen cloth". The Dominician rule specified that rougher woolen clothes had to be worn. A nice detail like this is worth remembering and including in a poem.

"The Friars in Ireland, 1224-1540" by Colmán Ó Clabaigh OSB, published by Four Courts Press, was the winner of the 2013 Irish Historical Research Prize, awarded by the National University of Ireland.

A Novice Enters the Friary

I was unskilled, book-learned,
without practical experience.

‘Teach me’, I implored
and the supervisor showed me how to dig,
fill a barrow, dump by the ditch.
Then the mattock work, more careful,
alert for bits brought near the surface
by seven disturbed centuries.

When I had proven my diligence
by recognizing plaster scraps
and finding two pieces of worked stone –
window surrounds maybe –
I was allowed on my knees
to scrape the earth, collect plaster,
glass, lead and bone fragments
The first skull shocked me,
lucky my trowel avoided shattering
the wafer-thin shell. Experts took over;
their brushwork and wooden skewers
took patient days to uncover the skeleton.

They thought it male, old, my height.
An aged mendicant friar, they speculated,
with a dispensation to take baths,
eat meat and use linen underwear.

I see him, too old for questing,
too worn out for preaching,
happy to end his days in prayer,
reading and composing sweet new psalms
he will never have time to write down.

Michael Farry

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