Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Poem

Rather than put up Tennyson's Ring Out Wild Bells again this New Year, you know the one that has:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

I thought this from 1910 captures the spirit of the current times somewhat better.

Happy New Year

The Year
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sligo: The Irish Revolution 1912-23, A Review

The Irish Story website has a detailed review of my history book by John Dorney. In general it's a positive review, calling the book "useful" and praising much of the material. He is somewhat dissatisfied with my analysis of the Civil War however mentioning the anti-Treaty majority in Sligo in the election of 1922. I think I have made clear my belief that this majority has more to do with the geographical spread of the candidates that pro- or anti-Treaty stances.

He also has a few other criticisms of the book but in a volume of 70,000 words on such a long and eventful period it's difficult to be comprehensive so I have no problem with that and certainly have no intention of making any comments on the review website.

What is interesting is that already in comments on the review a certain amount of heat has been generated especially about the Civil War.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christmas Poem: Our First Christmas Tree

Our First Christmas Tree

The countryside his common
wealth, holly, ash plants
his to harvest as required,
kindling in spring
mushrooms in summer,
blackberries in autumn.

That winter we insisted,
so he took his saw
into starless dark
far beyond the stables,
guided by barbed wire,
returned with a trophy tree.

We crowned it with a silver-paper-covered
cardboard star, hung home-made ornaments
and tissue paper novelties,
pretended to be happier.

I bought one this Christmas
daylight, sized and packaged,
legal, lacking the challenge
of something on the margin,
the tang of trespass,
infant irritant
on the noisome
vain empire of excess.

Michael Farry 

Asking for Directions (Doghouse, 2012)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zbigniew Herbert: Collected Poems 1956–1998

Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998) was a Polish poet, dramatist, essayist. Influential, honoured and well regarded in the west, he is one who needs to be read. So I tackled the Collected, not a simple task as it's almost 600 pages long. I've covered about a third and am taking a break.

Interesting poetry, no punctuation but skilfully done so that is not a problem. His poetry is calm, personal and political, remarkably when you consider the events he lived through.

He is quoted as saying that as regards poetry "The word is a window onto reality". He has written a number of prose poem, a form I am not fond of but I think this one is delightful:

  The hen is the best example of what living constantly with humans leads to. She has completely lost the lightness and grace of a bird. Her tail sticks up over her protruding rump like a too large hat in bad taste. Her rare moments of ecstasy, when she stands on one leg and glues up her round eyes with filmy eyelids, are stunningly disgusting. And in addition, that parody of song, throat-slashed supplication over a thing unutterably comic: a round, white, maculated egg.
  The hen brings to mind certain poets.

(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)

The Collected Poems, 1956–1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, edited and translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles, with additional translations by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott and an introduction by Adam Zagajewski.

Review article by Charles Simic here. One by Craig Raine here. Herbert article at the Poetry Foundation here.

Picture: Statue of Zbigniew Herbert in Kielce, Poland.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 2013 Prole Laureate Poetry

The 2013 Prole Laureate Poetry competition is now open. Entry by email is preferred and you pay by PayPal. Full details on website.Entry fees: £3.00 for a single entry, £2.50 for subsequent entries.

Winner - £130, publication in Prole issue 10 and on the website. Two runners up, each receiving £30 and possible publication on the website. Winners will be paid by PayPal - or by cheque if they have a bank account operating in GBP.   

Closing date for entries, February 14th 2013. Winner announced in issue 10 of Prole and on the website by April 19th 2013.

Judge:  D.A. Prince (right) is a poet and reviewer with a long-standing appreciation of the energy and individuality of 'small' magazines. She has two pamphlets with Pikestaff Press, and in 2008 HappenStance Press published her full-length collection, Nearly the Happy Hour. Publication of her second collection is due in 2014

I was lucky enough to get a prize in this last year. So older unknown Irish poets take courage and enter!!. And my third-prize winning poem, The Truth, is still on the competition page on the website, scroll down. I loved what the judge said about my poem. Great to be referred to by surname only!

Comments of judge, Andrew McMillan: A lesser poet would have taken pages, or maybe even a full collection, to say what Farry distils here into a beautifully simple poem. Ideas of genealogy, ageing and truth are handled with great care and given the space they need to breathe in the short, sparse lines. The ending is heartbreaking and well earned through a poem which builds itself on allusion, on half-told stories, on broken trusts; what sort of style could better imitate the life so many of us have known?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Penny Dreadful Literary Magazine

Another new Irish literary magazine, the Penny Dreadful, has just been released. Issue #1 entitled "Reinventing the Egg" can be ordered from the website and should be available in shops around now. The price is €4.99 plus postage and packaging and for that you get 80 pages of literary bliss!

Issue one features short fiction from, among others, Mercedes Helnwein and William Wall and poetry from such as Theo Dorgan, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Alan Titley, Will Schutt and many many more.

The Penny Dreadful Magazine is the perfect stocking filler this Christmas season. A launch is promised for Cork in January.

Editors are Marc O'Connell and John Keating and the magazine is also on Facebook.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Doire Press Fiction Chapbook Competition

Doire Press 2013 International Fiction Chapbook Competition.

Winners will each receive 75 copies of their own professionally edited and printed chapbook published by Doire Press. Chapbooks will be perfect-bound, contain up to 40 pages, feature colour front and back covers, as well as their own isbn and barcode. Ten shortlisted entries will be included in an anthology.

Entries: one short story (3,000 words max). Deadline: January 9th, 2013.

Judge: Celeste Augé is an Irish-Canadian writer who received her MA in Writing from NUIG. She won the 2011 Cúirt Festival of Literature New Writing Prize for Fiction and is a two-time winner of the Lonely Voice competition run by the Irish Writers’ Centre. She’s been shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award and was highly commended in the 2011 Seán ÓFaoláin Short Story Competition. Fireproof and other Stories was published by Doire Press in 2012. Visit her website at

Submission Guidelines:
€10 for first entry, €8 for each additional entry. Cheques or money orders to be made payable to Doire Press. Entry fees can also be paid via Paypal through the Doire Press website.

Email submissions will also be accepted with an additional €1 printing fee per entry. Send entries via postal mail to: Doire Press, Aille, Inverin, County Galway, Ireland. Entries must include cover page with full contact information and title of story. Entrant’s name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript.

To read the full list of contest guidelines, submit via email or to pay by Paypal, please visit the website at For any questions, email

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Lost Son - The Brian MacNeill RTE Programme

The programme on the killing of Brian MacNeill on Benbulben mountain in Sligo during the Civil War in 1922 was shown last evening on RTE 1. It is available online on the RTE Player at the moment It was produced and directed by Niamh Sammon for RTE.

The programme was well done and covered a lot of ground in less than an hour and showed clearly how it happened that one son died fighting the army and government in which his father and two brothers were serving. The family tragedy aspect was well covered contrasting with the unfolding of the important national events. The research, especially as regards the deaths themselves, seems to have been thorough and McDowell made a great presenter.

Good use was made of photographs, some newly discovered, but some of the film clips used are by now becoming overused. There is a Pathe newsreel piece about a meeting in Sligo on Easter Sunday 1922 which I saw recently used in a programme about the attack on the Four Courts in Dublin and was used again last night as if it showed Civil War events. The great clip of Sean MacEoin chopping a tree which was blocking a road also comes from the Sligo Easter Sunday film.

It's very interesting to be involved to any degree in the making of a TV programme. My involvement in this programme was small. I was not one of those consulted during the making of the programme, there are many who know a lot more than me about that particular incident.

I was interviewed to give some background on the general situation in Sligo during the War of Independence and Civil War. The interview took place in Rahelly House in north Sligo which was the anti-Treaty headquarters at the period and from where the IRA fled to Benbulben when the Free State troops attacked.

The director had this great idea of putting myself and Michael McDowell sitting in front of a screen commenting on photographs which were being shown on a screen. He was asking questions and I was answering. This was developing the story of the programme, McDowell coming to Sligo to find out what happened.

This was filmed from many angles, we spoke the same words over and over again. The scene in the programme lasted only a minute but was very effective. The still above shows us talking about Sligo IRA O/C Billy Pilkington.

I was delighted to be involved with the programme and especially glad that the programme turned out as well as it did. Nice also to have my new book mentioned on the caption. Well done to all involved.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Benbulben Civil War Deaths

On Monday evening, 10 December, at 9.35 RTE 1 will screen a documentary about the deaths of six anti-Treaty soldiers on Benbulben, County Sligo during the Civil War in 1922.

It will focus especially on Brian MacNeill, son of the Free State government minister Eoin MacNeill, who came to Sligo during the Truce, took the anti-Treaty side and was one of the Benbulben victims.

I was interviewed for this as a historian who has researched the period though I have no particular insight into the actual incident. I'm interested to see how they will cut and use what I did say.

To a large extent you are at the mercy of the editors whose priority may be to tell a good story rather than reflect all the nuances of a particular incident. I have been told by someone who is an expert on the incident that he has seen the programme and is very pleased with it.

From the RTE website:

One of the victims was Brian MacNeill. His nephew, former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell now wants to discover what happened on that day in September 1922. Did Brian and his comrades really die in an ambush, as the official version goes, or were they killed in cold blood? Why was Brian MacNeill, the son of a minister in the Free State government, fighting on the Republican side? What were the forces, events and ideologies that drove him and other Irish men to take up arms against their former comrades – and in Brian's case, members of his own family?

Filmed in Sligo and Dublin, the documentary will follow Michael's investigation. Piecing together accounts from the military archives, IRA papers, interviews with descendants, and family letters Michael will paint a compelling picture of a family divided and a country riven apart. At its core will be the story of Brian MacNeill, the brilliant young medical student whose death goes to the heart of one of Ireland's greatest historical traumas. 

Sligo Champion report of the making of the documentary.
A Herald piece on the documentary.

Picture above of Brian MacNeill (right) and Sligo IRA leader Frank O'Beirne from my Sligo: The Irish Revolution 1912-1923.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Moth - Winter Issue

The winter issue of The Moth features, among other things, interviews with DBC Pierre and Leontia Flynn.

Leontia is the judge of this year’s Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, which has a whopping €5,000 plus two nights B&B and dinner for two at Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork as a first prize (with 2nd and 3rd prizes of €1,000 and €500) and closes on 31 December. Full details on the website here. 

Recent occurrences at The Moth include the launch of editor, Rebecca O'Connor's, new poetry collection We’ll Sing Blackbird, a Christmas exhibition of over 20 Moth Studio artists and the tour of Seamus O'Rourke's For Club and County around packed GAA clubs throughout Ireland.

Details of all competitions, publications, purchasing, subscriptions, submissions and forthcoming events on the magazine website.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tommy Murray - Young Writers Launch

The launch of Golden Rhymes, the anthology of poetry by the late Tommy Murray's Meath Young Writers Group took place this Thursday evening in Navan Library.

A most impressive event with readings from the anthology by the young writers. Their confidence and reading skills were striking as well as the directness and simplicity of the work. It was clear from the attendance and from comments by writers and parents that Tommy had make a great impression on all.

Tommy's Meath Writers Circle and others marked the occasion by reading some of Tommy's poems and poems which had some connection with Tommy. Tom French of Navan Library who organised the event read a recent poem of his, a tribute to Tommy (picture above).

I officially launched the publication, having been asked by Tommy a few weeks before his untimely death. This is what I said:

I met Tommy Murray in a street in Trim about six weeks ago. We stopped for a quick chat as we usually did. And as usual he was full of vitality and enthusiasm. He was delighted that this anthology was ready and asked me to launch it. I was delighted to be asked and agreed.

Since then things have changed. Tommy has left us but, though delayed, this launch goes on as he would have wanted.

Tommy Murray started this group in 1998. This is the fifth such collection. The previous anthologies were called: Gemstones; Building blocks; Rough Diamonds; Paper Trails; And this one is called: Golden Rhymes.

Tommy was anxious from the start that group members be published. He recognised the importance of publication, of others reading your work. Tommy enjoyed reading his poems to an audience, he enjoyed entering competitions, getting his work out there and he particularly enjoyed having his work published and winning prizes.

It may be that we write for ourselves first but it is important that others read and hear our work. Our work can speak to them, bring fresh thoughts and images to their minds, surprise them, make them smile, think and sometimes even cry. Look around this library. It is full of the ideas, the stories of others recorded for all times and available to us. Just as the work of you young writers is now recorded for all time in this anthology.

Tommy’s foreword to this anthology makes poignant reading especially when, after talking about his fifteen years of working with young writers he ends with: “Long may it continue”. In one way it won’t continue. Tommy is gone now. His work is finished.

But in another way it will continue and the work that Tommy has done will continue. His own poetry and local history publications will continue to be read and enjoyed. Indeed his work with this group and previous groups continues. He helped opened their eyes to the wonderful use of language. How we can paint pictures, pass on ideas, stimulate thoughts and dreams with words. Who knows what good Tommy’s work has done and will continue to do?

Some of his young may continue to write and some even become well-know for their writing but all will treat language differently, in speaking, in listening, in writing and in reading, because of  Tommy.

Tommy’s classes were never designed to be an XFactor for young writers or Ireland’s Next Top Poet. They were intended to help young writers achieve their own goals, develop in their own way. This is evident in this anthology which is a wonderful mixture of different voices with poems of all shapes and sizes, including haiku, (one about shopping) dealing with many topics,

the everyday: the walls of a house, the colour red, oil seed rape, relaxing in the afternoon; the unusual: a mystery creature, a strange man, a weird city, monsters under the bed; global concerns: the landscape, a just and free world, a tough life; and the great issues which have concerned poets at all times: death, loneliness and there is even a poem called Scribbles which is about writing itself.

Meabh finishes one of her poems in the collection with
“Pictures are great
But not as good as books”.

And from that I take it she means that words, well chosen and well arranged, as they are here and as they are in the poetry of Tommy Murray, allow the reader or listener create their own pictures in their own minds.

One of the wonderful things about having your work published is that when others read your work, it can speak to them in ways you never imagined.

A great example in this anthology is a poem by Sarah entitled I have gone. I don’t know what the original inspiration behind it was and in a sense that doesn’t matter. When I read it and when you read it in the anthology later it will speak to us of Tommy.

We will never forget Tommy, the mischief in his eyes, the enthusiasm in his voice, the enjoyment he got from reading his work and his energy and dedication in the service of writing. Part of that was his work with this group and this anthology is a fitting tribute to that work and to him. In a real sense Tommy is with us here. As Sarah says in her poem:

“I have gone from your world
But it doesn’t mean I am not here
I will always be close”

It gives me very great pleasure to officially launch Golden Rhymes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Golden Rhymes - Meath Junior Writers' Launch

What was meant to be a joyous occasion will have more than a touch of sadness. The last time I spoke to Tommy Murray he asked me to launch the anthology by the members of his Junior Writers Group. He had edited the anthology, Golden Rhymes, had the booklet printed and had fixed a date for the launch.

His sudden death meant the launch had to be postponed but it will now take place on Thursday evening, 6 December, at 7pm in Navan Library. The celebration of the talent and achievement of this group will be overshadowed by Tommy's absence and the knowledge that he will not be with us to celebrate.

As well as the launch the evening will be a celebration of the work of Tommy Murray and members of the Meath Writers Circle and others will be there to remember him and read some of his poetry.

At last night's Ledwidge Poetry Competition presentations Liam O'Meara paid a handsome tribute to Tommy Murray, mentioning his long association with that competition and with the magazine, Riposte. Frank Murphy, who had a poem highly commended, has more on the night on his blog.

The three prizewinners at last night's event: Marie Cadden from Galway, 3rd, Evan Costigan of Boyne Writers, 1st, and Denise Ryan from Dublin, 2nd. Well done to those and to the organisers. A full house, some great poetry and the usual friendly welcome.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Francis Ledwidge Poetry Awards and Christmas Cards

Tomorrow evening the presentation of the Francis Ledwidge Poetry Awards takes place in Donoghue's pub, Emmet Road, Inchicore at 8pm. Evan Costigan is this year's winner. His winning entry is called Boy at the Bus Stop. Second place went to Denise Ryan, Dublin, for her poem In Debt and third to Marie Cadden, Galway, for Up to Scratch.

Two LitLab members, Honor Duff and myself, and Frank Murphy of the Meath Writers Circle are among the commended. I hope to attend the presentation.

This year it is possible to send Christmas cards to family and friends with a Ledwidge theme. To promote the poet and raise funds for the upkeep of the Ledwidge Museum, in the poet's cottage in Slane, the committee have introduced Christmas cards.

The first card has a photo of the Hill of Slane in the snow with an extract from a letter that Francis  wrote to Katherine Tynan in June 1917 about his beloved Meath.

The second card displays the complete poem, House of Gold. Francis wrote this poem for Fr. Devas S.J. D.S.O. Battalion Chaplain WW1. The greeting inside both cards reads; “Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas and happiness through all the coming year”.

The cards are are €2.50 each or you can purchase a pack of five for €10. They can be purchased through the website, at the Francis Ledwidge Museum, the gift shop at Bru na Boinne and various outlets in Slane village. They can be posted out from the museum for a small additional charge.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize

An international poetry competition run by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland, is currently open for submissions.

This is a prize for single poem, named in honour of a late Irish poet long associated with the Centre. The Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize has a first prize of 1,000 Euro and publication in Southword Literary Journal.

The MLC will subvent travel costs for the winner up to 600 Euro and provide hotel accommodation and meals for three days during the Cork Spring Literary Festival. The author who takes first prize will have the chance to read the winning poem at the Cork Spring Literary Festival in February 2013. There will be a second prize of 500 Euro, third prize of 250 Euro, and ten runners-up will each have their poems published in Southword and receive Southword’’s standard fee of 30 Euro.

The deadline is 15 December 2012 and this year's judge is poet Thomas McCarthy (above). More information, including submission guidelines, may be found here on the website  or via the Facebook group. Queries to