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I’m glad I live in the present because, unlike the General, I’m too squeamish to be a hunter

As I grow old there is something in the gods I collect around me I am loath to renounce

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I wasn’t certain what she meant, but my brain was in overdrive with the possibilities

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It was the only release we had from anxiety

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‘You’ll kill yourself with that junk,’ the woman said as she saw me ordering breakfast. The situation escalated from there

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Years ago, when the General played the piano, I would frequently find him entirely nude in the drawing room

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I use Facebook to look in at all that intimacy without undermining my own solitude

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I could have gone in and shared my flask of whiskey with him at the fire, but I didn’t

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The trouble with Homo sapiens seems to have started when we began eating wheat and became farmers

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That’s one of the lovely things about rural Ireland: people know each other like old trees

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One night in Warsaw I was lying in bed when an old man knocked on the door. He looked distraught

“We were eating at a round table on which an image of the Polish pope was propped against a television set.” Photograph: Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

I am writing about the absence of God but I didn’t want to be too grim in the face of Mrs Squirrel’s renowned religiosity

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FRIENDSHIP WEEK: I am what my friends have made of me and I exist only in relation to them

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While waiting it occurred to me that everyone must eventually arrive at the last orgasm

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Whatever about vegetables, I’m certain that exercise is an enormous help to people who suffer from melancholy, so I bought a tread(...)

Patrick Pearse

Would romance have turned to melancholy if he had lived long enough?

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When I called to the General last week, he saw me as a turncoat. Such are the lines that get drawn when a husband and wife go to w(...)

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I was perfectly happy in that moment in the airport in Warsaw, until I realised that my hat was missing

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The American woman I met in Warsaw was frail but ferocious, and I was getting alarmed at the directness of her questions

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Beyond the loneliness of grief after death, there is nothing more cutting than the blade of awakening that opens the heart when th(...)

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There was a young couple sheltering beside me in Warsaw, watching the snow. I wanted to say, ‘You are really a lovely couple.’ But(...)

Michael Harding. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

When I bumped into the nun for a second time, I began to worry that she might think I was stalking her, or that I had a fetish abo(...)

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‘Depression arrives like a flock of crows. But you must never let them sit,’ the poet warned me

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The Londoner looked like a crow and the woman at the fire reminded me of a wren

The ash was a portal, a door into the other world. And now dieback is shutting that door.

“I could have listened to Jeanette Winterson all day, but it was a very brief interview. So I got up and brushed my teeth.” Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

One morning I had a visitor. It was a neighbour. It was as if a savage God had arrived into my little solitude and smashed it to p(...)

I have an app on my phone that can identify planes in the air and I have become familiar with various international flight paths that cross Leitrim

‘There I was, paying €60 an hour to lie naked on an ironing board with my face in a hole’

Michael Harding at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

An empiricism muffles the western world, and instead of wonder and awe we are offered the surreal and fake intelligence of streetw(...)

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Old men, in particular, used to be afflicted with low verbal ability

Michael Harding at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

At the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, an artists’ retreat, we make a faint attempt at social discourse over dinner. But it’s all a surface(...)

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‘I went to Amsterdam with the wife,’ said one of the men at the next table. ‘I thought we might do some drugs’

Michael Harding. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I was at a garden party in Kent, where people could hide away at garden tables and chew burgers, drink wine and talk about David C(...)

‘I slept well at the Eccles Hotel, and dreamed of Mr Yeats and his big libido pacing the floor as he tried to compose lines of poetry’

And so I ended up in the Yeats Suite of the Eccles Hotel, a room bigger than a small house

“I have great sympathy for W B Yeats, who went to such trouble to achieve sexual arousal, late in life, submitting himself to an exotic vasectomy in order to raise his libido”

‘Maybe Yeats never heard of chillies,’ the General said. ‘That’s the stuff that can awaken the libido into pulsating flesh’

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I met two friends in Mullingar recently. We have become wounded creatures whose attention has turned to cholesterol, back pain and(...)

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All the Lonely People: It was one of those years that was going so well I thought I’d live forever. But then one day I got out of (...)

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I suppose that’s also what Irish people like about going abroad: they begin noticing each other

Michael Harding at St John’s Point, Dunkineely, Co Donegal. Photograph: Declan Doherty

A series in which Irish Times writers go off the beaten track: ‘Southwest Donegal is my favourite refuge, to rest, or be alone, or(...)

‘One weekend I got so uneasy that I fled to the hills above Lough Allen on a Saturday afternoon. But when I got there I didn’t feel happy at all.’ Above, Michael Harding at Lough Allen. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I suppose it’s not a good sign. Solitude gets no brownie points in the secular world of compulsive collectivity

‘The poor creatures haven’t evoved far enough to conclude anything ontological about the nature of the universe’

I know the savagery of the crow is buried in my psyche, and it manifests as rage when I meet an obstacle in life or don’t get my o(...)

Though the trees are still bare they move differently. They are supple in the wind as the sap rises. Photograph: Getty

Spring wakens me early in the morning, as the dawn drags songs from the throats of little birds

Turlough O’Carolan on the old £50 note

I suppose it’s because he too was a wandering poet, drifting through the country to perform for crowds

A yellow bittern. Photograph: Thinkstock

When Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna saw the bittern in the early 18th century, the bird was dead and stretched on ice. But I suppose(...)

Photograph: Siri Stafford/Getty Images

The last time I was in a JB Keane play, I was a teacher looking for love and the local drama society was my only option

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I’m getting addicted to the remote control again, which is a bad sign. It’s as if I can’t live without some sense of control, some(...)

‘I could only hope that something would inspire me when I got to the city, to the hotel and closer to RTÉ.’ Above, Brendan O’Connor on The Saturday Night Show

I heard Brendan O’Connor telling jokes to the audience as I waited to go on to The Saturday Night Show. ‘What are you going to tal(...)

Spin the bottle. Photograph: Thinkstock

I’ve read erotic scenes in books over the years, but I never found anything in life as wonderful as the random promiscuity that co(...)

‘The Brigid’s cross is my talisman for spring, just as the icon of the Madonna carried me through the winter.’ Photograph: Declan Doherty

I am not Catholic any more, nor Jew, nor Muslim. But then neither is God

‘There is something about Romania that feels like the beginning of the road to the east, or the end of Europe.’ Above, a street scene in Bucharest. Photograph: Thinkstock

I felt unsafe in Bucharest, and the woman who showed me to my apartment was inscrutable

Positively pornographic? Photograph: Thinkstock

So the General asked me recently, changing the subject from his prostate exam

Love all. Photograph: Thinkstock

What makes it work is spontaneity and the unimportance of the subject

‘I was so moved by the simple acknowledgement of my humanity that when I saw a woman begging, I gave her three pound coins instantly.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

The ultimate reality is that we are all connected. This is a very wise idea

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

There was no stress. Gradually my cat Roxie’s head drooped and I placed her sideways and watched her inhale each final breath, lik(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

There was no stress. Gradually my cat Roxie’s head drooped and I placed her sideways and watched her inhale each final breath, lik(...)

‘The Black Madonna of Czestochowa is not a woman who does small wonders: her concerns are on a grander scale.’  Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

I don’t care when my friends try to uncouple me from the delusion that some great mother in the sky is holding us. I know as well (...)

The suitcase. Full of college note books, a camera and some letters.  Photograph: Getty

It was 1973. My American girlfriend was great at kissing. I was terrible. And in the middle of it she would ask questions that mad(...)

Anti-water charge protesters outside the Irish Water head office on Talbot Street at the end of November. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

It’s not just that our masters want money to service the reservoir system or upgrade the pipes. That would be fine. But they want (...)

‘There was no sound as delicious as my neighbour’s tractor in a field of grass as he sat steering and twisting his head to watch the rake toss the mown grass into perfect lines behind him.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

When a farmer dies in the countryside, there is a strange emptiness in the fields

A lesson in empathy on the train to Sligo

The master of the accordion, Tony McMahon (above) often repeated a single tune over and over again at concerts, using it like a chant, drawing people in. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Listening to the accordion music of Tony McMahon could allow a man to live with his own loneliness

‘It was humbling to be among so many women.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

Women are open because that’s the nature of connecting with other humans, whereas what makes me depressed is my inability to conne(...)

Sloe and steady: a blackthorn bush

The old man pointed to a bush at the gable of his house with yellowing leaves and purple berries. ‘Oh, look,’ he said. ‘A blacktho(...)

‘I have a friend with long, black hair and a precious fiddle. He pulls the bow across the low strings, bleeding a deep sound out of them, like a shaman opening a door to the other world.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

Music induces in me a clarity of thought far beyond the fog of religion or philosophy

‘On the bus to Cavan, the woman who looked like Joan Baez crossed the aisle and sat beside me.’ Above: the actual Joan Baez. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Michael Harding: It was her skin that interested me. I refused to accept she was 65

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I usually try to avoid politics, but I had been asked to collect Rafeef Ziadah

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Horses were no more than objects until finally I sat up on one and was forced to trust her. That was intimate

‘I’m very sorry about that, Mr Frog,’ I said. ‘I didn’t see you in the grass.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

I’m melancholic, so I’m constantly afflicted by depressive emotions. Frogs, on the other hand, are more committed to the present m(...)

Sheep in the Mourne mountains

It had never occurred to me that someone in rural Ireland might have been passing the winter with books on Zen back then

A light film of libidinous sweat shimmering just below his nostrils

Because my conversation with a fellow student of Irish in Donegal was so limited, we were forced to live in the present

‘It wasn’t Garth Brooks that they were afraid of.’ Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Files/Reuters

They can’t abide happy culchies coming up and screaming their heads off in Croke Park and dancing around O’Connell Street, the dri(...)

‘My favourite film of the week was Voice of the Voiceless, a black-and-white masterpiece about a deaf girl dancing on the New York subway as she looked for money from commuters’

I was in Galway. No matter what I did, I couldn’t avoid inhabiting one story or another

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

At a hotel in Clonmel, a middle-aged couple made a dramatic entrance, like a pair welded together in the hell of matrimony

Body and Soul at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath. Photograph: Allen Kiely

I used to think young people went to festivals just to get drunk or do drugs. At Body and Soul I realised I was wrong

Dermot Healy: love was the root of his books

In his most famous work, A Goat’s Song, he excelled himself in revealing the Irish male as the dreamer, the broken thing that a ma(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

A picnic is just a matter of getting to some place where you can relax, and for me there is nowhere better than the cliffs of Done(...)

‘I never read as much of James Joyce’s work as I pretended to, and one night in bed a woman caught me out.’ Photograph: C Ruf/Archive Photos/Getty

Dermot Healy once remarked that the people with the most beautiful eyes in the world often live by the ocean, which is certainly t(...)

Some clerics decided that to stay within the church was worth the effort, despite the catastrophe of child abuse and the convents full of weeping children

In college I knew priests who smoked pipes and shot pheasants, priests who would drink all night long, and chaplains who slept wit(...)

The General considers lettuce particularly dangerous – ‘especially if you’re driving a car’

‘When we sit down to eat, we need to make sure that there’s blood running out of whatever is on the plate,’ said the General

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

The young couple with backpacks became absorbed by each other like lovers in a play by Shakespeare

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

‘Lounging around in pyjamas and watching a Vietnamese monk talking about suffering is no excuse for a life,’ a friend told me

The 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, in Kildare in 2011. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Irish people are so afflicted by melancholy that even the living look like they are carrying dead weight

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

The idea of the president of all the Russias up there with claw feet shaking the chimney pot was not doing me any good at all

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

A man with a peaked cap and a long nose hopped on behind me, sat down beside me and started talking

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

After my mother died, I was able to decipher all her worries from every little note and memo and grocery list she left behind

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

A BBC drama about the first World War got me thinking

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

The brother in Ireland sometimes called Chicago, although the two spoke little except about the weather

James Joyce: ‘A writer who wore language like a straitjacket, trying to burst his way out in every cadence.’ Photograph: Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

A trip to London led me to the National Theatre’s brilliant ‘King Lear’ and to ‘Riverrun’, Olwen Fouéré’s show based on texts from(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I began gardening on St Patrick’s Day. It was a strategy to avoid parades and then I started to like it

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The General says exercise can be bad for your health

The old man in me was thinking she should go and have a wash. The young man in me was regretting we hadn’t more time

‘I love Patsy Cline (above) and Sinéad O’Connor, Anna Netrebko and Eleanor Shanley and all the other voices that have caught my heart at the turn of a stairs over the years.’ Photograph: AP Photo/TBS

My earliest recollection is of women chattering above my cot. In adolescence, my greatest comfort was the soft, posh voices of fem(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Sometimes I find stillness in old people. They sit in kitchens, pretending to watch the television, or wait on verandas in wheelch(...)

One night during January, a badger  squeezed himself in through the cat flap

I’m always amazed at who I bump into when I’m out and about – and by what they might say

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

There were huge waves in Mullaghmore on the day my friend died

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I have been remembering an old friend, who had no limits, which may be why he clung to drink so much, and why he tried suicide wit(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

I’m not getting overexcited about anything and I’m not wallowing in despair. It’s a kind of equilibrium that I usually associate w(...)

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Maybe I could have loved her more, or at least said ‘I love you’ more often, I realised too late

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Not another bungled affair at 3am with some unfortunate actress in the foyer of a five-star hotel, I thought

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