Michael Hartnett (1941–1999)

[First posted on MyT]

Michael Hartnett was a poet and translator from Croom, Co. Limerick (where I was born) who had a great way with language – Irish, which he preferred, as well as English. He was a harsh critic of the mores of the Irish state – particularly its failures in relation to the language and culture – and of what he saw as bourgeois complacency and mediocrity. His own culture was a very old one.

Hartnett lived in Madrid (he was a great admirer of Lorca), London and Dublin before returning to his base in rural Limerick, and translated poetry from Hungarian as well as seventeenth-century Irish.

The following poem, from his Farewell to English suite, shows how earthy and acerbic he could be (he also wrote beautifully lyrical verse).


We woke one morning
in a Dublin digs
and found we were descended
from two pigs.
The brimming Irish sow
who would allow
any syphilitic boar
to make her hind-end sore
was Mammy.
Daddy was an English boar
who wanted nothing
a sweaty rut
and ownership of any offspring.
We knew we had been robbed
but were not sure that we lost
the right to have a language
or the right to be the boss.

So we queued up at the Castle
in nineteen-twenty-two
to make our Gaelic
or our Irish dream come true.
We could have had from that start
made certain of our fate
but we chose to learn the noble art
of writing forms in triplicate.
With big wide eyes
and childish smiles
quivering on our lips
we entered the Irish paradise
Of files and paper-clips.



Filed under Ireland, Poems

12 responses to “Michael Hartnett (1941–1999)

  1. There is another post on Hartnett here, if anyone is interested:


  2. I’ll look up Lewis, Cymbeline. I’d like to get my hands on books of Hartnett’s translations of seventeenth-century poets like Daibhi Ó Bruadair … those guys had plenty to say for themselves (‘anger and desperation’).


    The poems aren’t available online, unfortunately.

  3. Yes, an interesting piece … thanks. Minihane is not afraid to be polemical, which is good. I like the following.

    ‘In a book of mine published about 13 years ago, The Christian Druids, I presented what I believe to be the key to early Irish culture. (I discovered it independently, but I was not the first modern writer to do so.) Christianity in Ireland was uniquely assimilated and naturalized by a pre-existing order of philosopher-poets. The successors of these men, the poets who dominated Gaelic thought for as long as any of that ancient high culture still continuously existed, are those whom I call the Christian druids.’

    ‘We approach Irish materials with a certain poetic spirit, or we kill them stone dead … Dead (i.e. murdered) poetry won’t have that many takers in the long run.’

  4. Aye right, not as good as William Topaz McGonagall.

    Good morning Brendano,

    I bet you like my name change. Long story, you can still call me JW (easier to type) or Hangman, if you prefer.

    Purpose of visit is about last night’s Ireland v Algeria match. A new rule will be invoked at the World Cup regarding the run-up’s to penalty kicks. Any feinting before kicking is deemed unsporting behaviour and will be a yellow card offence as well as a re-take. Check FIFA’s website, if you don’t believe me.

    Yet still the cheating Robbie Keane uses this technique. Watching this atrocity on TV I thought of the angelic Thierry Henry and his legal penalty kicks.

    Yours in sport,

  5. madeoforléans

    So the brits are a syphalitic boar, or should that be bore. A man after my own heart.

  6. You’re probably right, Cymbeline.

    JW, I think I’ll call you JW as your new name is kind of silly. Welcome to my blog … good to see you. I was out last night, and, as a result, don’t even know the result (OK, now I do … a good result for England). Friendlies are a poor substitute for the real thing.

    You might enjoy this:


    Yes, moo, I thought you might enjoy that.

  7. I mean Algeria being beaten 3-0 was a good result for England … don’t know the England result.

    I don’t suppose Scotland were playing.

  8. Silly? There’s more pro Monarchists out there than you think. ‘Sides I’m already JW on blogger and I can’t be me in two places at once. If this wasn’t your webpage I would report you for your ad Eminem attack on me.:-)

    When I first saw the title of this post I thought it would be about the first Dr. Who. Silly me.
    It is amazing that most of the African countries have green in their flag. Maybe the reason why they have never won a World Cup? (smiley) Flag quizzes are always good.


  9. JW … WordPress thought your comment was spam; I had to rescue it.

    You’re quite right, JW … there are a lot of silly people about.

    The first Dr Who???!!! I have never watched Dr Who in my life.

    No team with blue in its flag has ever won the World Cup either, apart from Uruguay (guessing), Brazil, Argentina and France.

    Will look at your ridiculous quiz now.

  10. I like the Ivory Coast flag for some reason.

  11. madeoforléans

    Britain may need some good news. With their new government already falling apart over the cheating homosexual David Laws. Some countries………

  12. Hello, Cymbeline. Yes, if all that is true (and it probably is), it is certainly worrying. Given that there is no advertising on our pages, it’s not clear where WordPress’s revenue comes from.

    I don’t think it’s any harm to have a spam filter … it’s like the junk mail folder in an email program, and one can check and approve the alleged spam.

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