Monthly Archives: June 2010

Marvellous powers

I came across this quote from the New Zealander mathematician and ‘lightning calculator’ A.C. Aitken, which seems germane to some of the recent discussion here.

I believe we are surrounded the whole time by marvellous powers, are immersed in them, closer than breathing, and I think that all great music, poetry, mathematics and real religion come from a world not distant but right in the midst of everything, permeating it. When I wish to do a feat of memory or calculation, or, sometimes, new mathematical discovery, I let slip some sort of cog and lie back in this world I speak of, not concentrating, but waiting in complete confidence for the thing desired to flow in.



Filed under The music of what happened

An Eighteenth Century Childhood (a poem by Roger Craven)

When I waf a fmall, fmall boy
I ufed to go to fleep
fometimef my fleep waf fhallow
and fometimef my fleep waf deep Continue reading


Filed under Poems

Bridget and Michael Cleary

I have a book called The Burning of Bridget Cleary, by Angela Bourke … it’s some years since I read it. It concerns an incident that occurred in 1895 in Co. Tipperary (the case is too complicated to describe in any detail; the following are the bare facts).

Bridget Cleary, a 26-year-old woman, died when her husband, Michael – a cooper – apparently set fire to the chemise she was wearing and then threw oil on it. Various people were in the house at the time of Bridget’s death, and apparently didn’t try to stop him, or didn’t try hard enough.

The case gained great notoriety internationally at the time, as Cleary claimed that the reason for his actions was that Bridget was not in fact his wife, but that ‘the real’ Bridget had been replaced by a fairy changeling. At a time of ‘Home Rule’ agitation, this was adduced as evidence that the Irish were a backward, superstitious people, unfit to govern themselves. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland

A poem written by … nobody?

In his excellent book Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour, Liam Clancy describes, among other things, his life as a young actor and ballad singer in New York in the early 1960s. At one point he tells how, one night at a party, someone had the idea that everyone should write a word or words on little pieces of cardboard, which they placed in a large paper bag. They then took turns at pulling out words and stringing them together.

After a month or so Clancy and his flatmates had transferred the words to a box, and were using it as a device for divination – i.e. asking questions and extracting sequences of words as ‘answers’. His girlfriend, Tina, always seemed to produce articulate and meaningful answers.

This use of ‘the Box’ lasted two years, and they became so obsessed with it that none of them would leave the house till it had been consulted. Eventually they started asking it for poems and, over a period of a year, received ‘a volume of poetry … with such intense imagery that it really did frighten me’. Clancy says, ‘Perhaps the most frightening piece of poetry, and the main reason why we destroyed the Box, came towards the end of our psychic adventures.’ This was it:

That night out there I saw your face

Where I knew it could not be.

And then I knew

That the thin threads

That hold the mind together had been worn through.

Will your wild face drive me to such insanity

That I go planting scarlet flowers

In the furrows of the sea?


Filed under Death, Poems

Definition of hate-mailer: ‘hopeless loser’

Why would somebody spend his time posting abusive messages to a stranger on the Internet – up to 30 in a single night? Why would one try to find out the names of that stranger’s neighbours and family members in order to incorporate them in obscene fantasies?

It can only be a sign of a diseased and paltry mind, consumed by some kind of pathological envy. Every crank message is a mere paraphrase of ‘I am a hopelessly insecure loser’, and that is how they are read, when I read them at all.

I hope that Mr Haslam, hunched over his computer somewhere in the east of England, will make a full recovery in due course, and find more productive things to do with his limited time.

If he doesn’t, he will remain the extremely pathetic loser. His life must be very miserable indeed.


Filed under Uncategorized

Michael Hartnett again

This is the seventh poem in Michael Hartnett’s A Farewell to English.

The road is not new.
I am not a maker of new things.
I cannot hew
out of the vacuumcleaner minds
the sense of serving dead kings. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland, Poems

Radio Love

[First posted on MyT]

I began to tune in to Radio Luxembourg in the autumn of 1973, at the age of 13. I can’t remember what started me … perhaps a friend told me about it … but every night I would listen to the radio in a spare room in our house in a small town in Ireland. It wasn’t background … I was doing nothing else at the time. I was concentrating on every second of what I heard, and absorbing it all. When I went to bed I would take the radio under the covers, as many others have done, sometimes straining to hear when reception was poor. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland, Music

Gold (a poem)

Satchel, Sun and turmeric;
Scarab, boat, Egyptian candlestick.
Sunbeams are a craze that’s hard to touch;
Saffron’s worth much more than what is told
And you, who did not ask for much
Will haggle for what isn’t sold,
Writhe on prongs of pondering;
Quarry, blast and pan to simply have and hold, Continue reading


Filed under Philosophy of life, Poems

Secret Map

[First posted on MyT]

I’m currently reading a fascinating book called A Secret Map of Ireland, by the Irish Times journalist Rosita Boland. The book has 32 chapters, one for each county. In each chapter the author visits a county and investigates some unusual, quirky or little-known feature, usually but not always historical (this is where I ingested a fact that I disgorged onto the site earlier … that there are 200 million eels in Lough Neagh).

Boland is a very good writer, who travelled widely in her youth (she’s not very old now … younger than me). I remember her telling once that when she was hitchhiking around the coast of Ireland for the purpose of writing a travel book, she got a lift from the Australian writer Thomas Kennealy … as it turned out, he was writing a travel book about Ireland too. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland, The music of what happened

Patrick MacGill and The Red Horizon

[First posted on MyT]

Patrick MacGill is the only person I know of who wrote books about life as an ordinary working-class British Army soldier in the First World War trenches (there may have been others).

MacGill was born in Glenties, Co. Donegal, Ireland, in 1891 … the first of eleven children of a small farmer. He left school the age of ten, and two years later was hired out as a labourer in a neighbouring county. At fourteen he went to Scotland to pick potatoes, and he later lived the hard life of an itinerant navvy, working on the railways and other big civil engineering projects. All the time he was educating himself by reading Tolstoy, Gogol, Zola and Hugo, as well as Kipling. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland, Literature