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  • Belfast books

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:04 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Club Leabhar Choiscéim Feirste will launch Scéalta Ban ó Thuaisceart na hÉireann (Coiscéim) by Silvia Calamati tomorrow at 1pm in Cultúrlann MacAdam-Ó Fiaich, Belfast. Seán Mac Aindreasa, who if memory serves me correctly is one of the leading lights at Irish Pages, has translated the work into Irish from Calamati’s original book, Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland. And talking of books, I am going to be immodest and mention that I have two books in English out: Cold War (Lagan Press), a collection of translations of some of my poetry (yes, I know, deep breath!) and Milltown (Lagan Press), a Belfast novella – which is the shortest book you are ever likely to read!

  • Belfast reading in La Boca

    July 27, 2010 @ 2:16 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The McCracken Summer School will host a Writers’ Night this Thursday at 7.30pm in La Boca bistro, Fountain Street, Belfast. The writers reading are Fionntán de Brún, Gréagóir Ó Dúill, Pilib Cummings and Seán Ó Muireagáin. All welcome.

  • Caitríona’s new collection

    @ 10:47 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    I was delighted to receive a copy of Caitríona Ní Chléirchín’s first collection of poetry, Crithloinnir (Coiscéim), today. It’s a beautiful collection and a very well-produced book. This is the fourth first collection by a young poet I have read over the past year and Caitríona’s book will go up on the shelf with the work of Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, Simon Ó Faoláin and Aifric Mac Aodha, three other very talented poets. The new generation has arrived.

    I will leave the last word to Caitríona (who writes, now and again, for this paper and Comhar magazine, which I edit):


    Báisteach ag titim ina smionagar óir
    tráthnóna aisteach;
    siúlaim abhaile
    faoin tuar ceatha

  • A wiggle of wagtails

    @ 10:35 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    One of those days last week: heavy rain; thunder; lightning and then, after the lot, ten wagtails in the garden, a-waggling away. Ten! Have never seen so many in the one spot. What is the collective noun for wagtails? A wiggle of wagtails?

  • Eavan in Armagh

    @ 10:31 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Got along to the opening day of the John Hewitt International Summer School yesterday in Armagh to hear poet, Eavan Boland, give the opening address. Very glad I did too because her talk was first class – intelligent, moving and thoughtful on the poet’s role and issues of identity, on the stresses and strains between “I” and “we”. Boland spoke of her work in this paper in which she wrote of Hewitt’s work and of her own personal connection with him and her (favourable) responses to his poetry over the years.

    In the course of her talk, she quoted Hewitt’s poem, Mosaic:

    A man may objectively inherit
    a role in history,
    reluctantly or with devotion,
    soldier, functionary, rebel,
    engaging himself as an instrument
    of required stability or urgent change.

    But the bystanders accidently involved,
    the child on an errand run over by the army truck
    the young woman strayed into the line of fire,
    the elderly person beside the wall when it fell
    are marginalia only,
    normally excluded from documents.

    History is selective. Give us instead
    the whole mosaic, the tesserae,
    that we may judge if a period indeed
    has a pattern and is not merely
    a handful of coloured stones in the dust.

    Very good start to the school which will continue until Friday. (In fact, the former Editor of this paper, Conor Brady, will give a talk on the media and Northern Ireland this coming Friday morning. Good man, Conor Brady. He gave me a job! The man knows talent!)

  • After the rain, the thrushes

    July 16, 2010 @ 12:39 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Bad weather in buckets here now. Rain bouncing in the back garden. Stops – as only Irish rain can – and out comes the sun and a family of four thrushes to catch those poor worms as they rise to the surface after rain. (Do worms fear drowning?) Have never seen four thrushes together in the garden. Delighted. A real Cith is Dealán moment.

  • Yes, Derry!

    July 15, 2010 @ 7:40 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Derry named as first UK City of Culture. Some might think that is bordering (!) on the ridiculous but why not? Derry has been a cultural interface between the islands of Ireland and Britain for many centuries – not just because of Plantation and the Williamite war but also as far back as the time of Colm Cille.

    Compare and contrast too the very quiet and united way in which the Derry wans got on with their bid in comparison to the disastrous Belfast campaign a few years ago to promote the city as an European city of culture. That is certainly one thing I as a Belfastman have noted over my many visits to the city and amongst my friends there – they do have a great pride in their town and do pull together, more often than not, to promote it. It’s a win, hey.

  • Thank goodness for Meath

    July 14, 2010 @ 4:18 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Thank goodness that Meath have done the decent thing by not offering Louth a replay. Had they done so, I would have had to face the appalling sporting vista of having to say something nice about the cuddly ones from the Royal County. It would have been too much to bear. As it is, I can continue to put Meath up there amongst my least favourite footballing counties. Phew!

  • Escape from Enniskillen

    July 12, 2010 @ 5:47 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    I did not march today – but cycled. Was it Slade who sang that they wished it could be Christmas every day? Well, as far as this cyclist is concerned, I wish it could be the 12th every day. Over two hours of cycling and met fewer than five cars. The roads were mine, all mine. Well, that is not entirely true – there were other cyclists on the highways and byways who, like me, could not believe how quiet it was – whatever about Belfast and the unpleasantness there. (The Sperrins were stunning in the sun shine. Try saying that quickly!)

    I went under three Orange arches on my travels – blessed myself every time – and was surprised by how few houses were flying union flags this year in the areas of Down/Armagh/Antrim in which I was. Yes, there was plenty of bunting in public places – no surprises there – and there were union flags and, yep, one Israeli flag to be seen on older houses. However, the more modern developments were remarkable for the virtual absence of Orange regalia.

    And talking of things Orange. I saw Armagh’s other Orangemen – aka Armagh senior Gaelic football team – assert their traditional marching rights over Fermanagh’s championship hopes in Enniskillen yesterday. (Don’t mention 2004! Don’t mention 2004!) It was a dire game of football, made even worse by the traffic chaos getting in and out of the town. Suffice to say, after the game, my father-in-law and myself lost the bap after waiting for the guts of an hour and moving yards. We decided to head cross country, in search of a new north-eastern passage to Armagh. Expect to see my new film soon on TG4 – Escape from Enniskillen/Éalú as Inis Ceithleann. Have now seen parts of Fermanagh and Tyrone I hope never to see again.

  • ‘Back to Uncertainty’

    July 9, 2010 @ 10:42 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    The 23rd annual John Hewitt International Summer School will take place in Armagh between Monday 26th July and Friday 30th July. This year’s theme is “Back to Uncertainty: Considering Other Possibilities.” Contributors will include David Park; Eavan Boland; Sharon Olds; Blake Morrison; Terry Eagleton; Joseph O’Connor; Conall McDevitt, MLA; Dennis O’Driscoll and Malachi O’Doherty.

  • From Armagh to Outer Space

    July 7, 2010 @ 11:39 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    Armagh must be the only place in Ireland where you can spend the morning exploring the mysteries of an  Iron Age fort and the afternoon marvelling at the wonders of Outer Space. Yes, the children are on their holidays and the day trips begin. Thankfully, it is no hardship to take them to Eamhain Mhacha/Navan Fort and then onto Armagh’s marvellous Planetarium for a star show.

    Appropriately enough my eldest child and myself spent a good bit of the very warm day lying on the grass and staring up the clouds from Navan Fort before making the five-minute drive to the Planetarium. The fort may not exactly be the pyramids – all right, it is nothing like the pyramids – but there is a sense of the ancient on its slopes. The Planetarium, on the other hand, has state of the art technology to transport you to the furthest reaches of the universe. The children and I have seen all the shows a couple of times by now. However, that sense of excitement as the lights dim and the commentary begins is still there. If you have not been to Armagh before, it is well worth a visit. See if you can spot Cú Chulainn and then go and look at the constellations. (In fact, book yourself in for two shows at the Planetarium. They only last half an hour and you can busy yourself looking at the exhibitions in between.)

    Anyway, if that was not enough, I took the eldest on a trip to Belfast’s newly refurbished Ulster Museum. As a student at Queen’s I could have walked around the place blindfolded so often was I in it. Nice to see Sir John Lavery’s wonderful paintings back on the walls and nice to see that I, eh, managed to get lost in the new layout. What a pleasure too to see so many tourists and hear so many different languages in the place – Japanese, Spanish, French and Italian. The place was positively cosmopolitan and a great change from the dark old days when the continental teaching assisants at Queen’s were the only (welcome!) hint of the exotic in Belfast.

    Ah, Belfast is changing – thank goodness!

  • Le Tour ar an tolg

    July 5, 2010 @ 10:55 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    This time last year I was watching Le Tour poolside north of Paris with a couple of bottles of Kronenberg 1664. Thankfully, I still get the beer but have to make do with the comfort of my tolg (sofa) to enjoy the action on TG4. Páidí Ó Lionáird and Pádraig Ó Cuilinn are back doing the speechifying and very good it is to hear them both. Still, it is a pity that they had to cut short Sunday’s action to go to Wimbledon and, in so doing, missing the crashes at the end of the stage that wrecked the whole peloton. Those wild fierce cross-winds that had been expected to tear the peloton to shreds did not appear and there seemed, to my untutored eye, to be too many cyclists in too small a space. Still we are off – though  having just read Paul Kimmage’s riveting account of professional cycling, Rough Ride, I am a little more sceptical of the whole thing.

    Back in Ireland, something to defy all scepticism and lift the heart. Charly Shanks, Clann Éireann, Co Armagh, and Lorraine Havern, Saval, Co Down, won the Men’s and Women’s Open titles (respectively) at the One-Wall Handball Championships in Mayo over the weekend. Congrats to both; I know they both put in much hard work day and daily to improve their game. It is great to see them getting some recognition for their efforts.

  • Don’t forget the Finns

    July 1, 2010 @ 2:19 pm | by Pól Ó Muirí

    I notice that Irish neutrality has popped up again in the letters’ pages. Just right too. It has been a while since we have all been reminded about how cowardly it was for the Republic not to fight in the second world war – and let us also name and shame Sweden and Switzerland for not fighting in WW2. (I bet they are sorry now because you can’t get any of their soldiers on Medal of Honour.) How anyone can drive a Volvo or wear a Swiss watch from the land of the cheese-eating, meatball-munching neutrality monkeys is beyond me. (I swear I am going to throw my lovely Tissot in the bin as soon as this rant is over.)

    Still, do we go far enough in our condemnation of Irish neutrality? Ignore the jibes of northern nationalists who wonder aloud were Orange marches stopped during WW2 in an effort to help the war effort or to spare unionist blushes about their being so many able-bodied Ulstermen still not in the British army. Ignore too that other northern nationalist slur about the number of fine fellows who managed to make it into the B-Specials to guard Maghera but who couldn’t quite make it to El Alamein. (Come to think of it, why are there no B-Specials in Medal of Honour either? Surely, a gap in the market there for Irish software firms?)

    No ignore that and let us focus our attention on the fact that the British did not keep us safe from German rule only – but also from Italian rule, Hungarian rule, Romanian rule, Bulgarian rule, Austrian rule, and, worst of all, Finnish rule. Yes, all those countries fought with the Germans – though everyone forgets about the Finns. Imagine if it had not been for the British armed forces (alone!) we would all be throwing javelins and have compulsory Italian in our schools. Ó, a Mhuire na nGael, mi chiamo Paolo agus piove oggi.

    So, if not fighting is to be regarded as an unforgivable sin, never to be forgotten, then how should we regard fighting – on the wrong bloody side? We are not talking about picking the losing team in the world war either. Surely, we should remind every Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Finn – don’t forget the Finns – that we meet just what a poor choice they made? We should refuse to shop in Spar, eat goulash and ignore every bella donna con bella figura that we meet in protest against the fact that, yes, they fought – but on the wrong bloody side: “Listen, Elena, you are a hot Italian babe but I just can’t go out with you until you answer me truthfully: did your papa invade North Africa?”

    Surely, not fighting on the wrong side (even if we didn’t fight on the ‘right’ side) gives us a bit of moral superiority over the Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Romanians and Finns? Don’t forget those conniving, sleekid, Tadgh an dá Thaobh, Finns. And please no posts about the Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Romanians and Finns fighting on the wrong bloody side due to historical circumstances because some smart arse will only point out that Irish (Swedish and Swiss) neutrality was down to the same thing.

    But, most importantly, let us not forget – the Finns.

  • Be the ball!

    @ 11:13 am | by Pól Ó Muirí

    National one-wall handball championship takes place this weekend in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Was down at the local club last night and the lads – and ladies – were taking advantage of the fine weather to hone their skills. A lot of discussion about the new ball and how it is virtually impossible to spin it, thus reducing the game to a big shoot out. Still, Mr Charles Shanks did not seem to lack the guns to retain his senior title. Would not like to come between Charly and the front wall – you could easily lose a kidney!

    There is no doubt that one wall is the purest form of the game – ball, wall, players – and it is no surprise that it is so popular. (Admittedly, I don’t play it having spent 30 years trying to play the 40×20 game. I am just too old to play another form of the game badly!) Of course, the lack of good 60×30 alleys is also a factor in one wall’s growth. No one wants to play indoors this time of year and playing one wall at least gets you out in the fresh air. Still, it is a pity there are not more playable 60x30s; they are uniquely Irish. Good luck to all this weekend. Be the ball!

    (And Tour de France starts on TG4 this Saturday. Páidí Ó Lionáird and Pádraig Ó Cuinn back in the saddle – or a broom cupboard in Baile na hAbhann – to offer more advice and commentary on Le Tour.)

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