Daniel O’Donnell and Ms Majella McLennon on their wedding day  at St Mary’s Church, Kincasslagh, Co Donegal. Photograph: Eric Luke

Michael Harding: Wise woman’s words in Donegal put a spring in my step

“When I was young, there were lots of derelict houses in the countryside whose inhabitants had long ago dissolved into the air, abandoning their homes to the ivy that choked the decaying walls.”

‘I must have loved currents . . . and I still can’t resist anything with a dried grape in it’

“I don’t have my pennies,” I confessed, and so she returned to me £4.95 in a collection of coins that filled the palm of my hand.”

Michael Harding: Random encounters are the perfect medicine for melancholy

“My beloved knows a tomato to be a tomato. She calls the potato a potato... This practicality may be a mark of all women in their multitasking virtuosity, or it may be unique to my beloved”

Michael Harding: Darkness envelops me in the evening but my beloved does not fear that demons haunt the house

‘My body tingled in the mornings and I couldn’t stop walking. I thought I had found a magic cure for depression’

Michael Harding: I made a mistake about my vitamin dosage and began to feel fidgety

Michael Harding: “I became Prufrock in my swimming togs, as Magda listened with what seemed to be compassion.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Harding: Magda arrived in a shining black costume, sat down and asked had I been talking to myself

The confessional intimacies of the women on their phones overwhelmed him. Photograph: iStock

The iPhone changed everything. These women were different. Their narratives were emotional

A good instrument will draw from the most mediocre student their best ability. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Michael Harding: 'I am a bad musician, but I play for the strange sensation of being alive'

‘I checked empty rooms, knowing that in a few weeks the locks would be changed and the property handed over to a new owner.’

Michael Harding: Gathering up the discarded ornaments and junk, I thought I saw my mother again

On the third night I couldn’t sleep. I began thinking more about the mouse. After all, he was a sentient being.  Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mouse in the attic shared my passion for apples. What else did we have in common?

He laughed like the Dalai Lama, although his greasy pony tail and grey stubble suggested a man more at home with rock and roll than monastic chanting. He lit a joint and smiled.

Michael Harding: The ultimate teaching is that there is no teaching, according to the 70-year-old with a greasy pony-tail

Every time I wake to go to the toilet I can’t resist looking at my phone to see if he has tweeted anything new since midnight

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

'Advice from a poet a long time ago when I was young and chaste and full of inhibitions'

A few sheep stood on a frosted slope in the far distance, and I noticed two rams moving among them and then taking a run at one of the lady sheep. Which didn’t work out so well.

Disappointment is everywhere and is not helped by listening to negativity on the airwaves

Every time I try to walk to an exit I always end up back where I started

 Donald Trump: “I wait for the next president of the United States to blow his trumpets with sound and fury. It’s like waiting for an attack of bile.” Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Harding: he will make America new again in his own brash style of naked greed

Parting glance: Kieran Coyne and his son Conor (2) watching the flights come and go at Ireland West Airport, Knock, Co Mayo, before Coyne’s brother Declan returned to Birmingham. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus

Loved ones bid farewell as emigrants leave Ireland following Christmas visits

She brought her face up close to mine and I could feel her breath on my cheeks when she spoke.“Do you want to shag?” she whispered.

New Year’s Eve, 1972. Of course we didn’t dare, but I’ll never forget the offer, or the girl

Donald Trump’s flights of hyperbolic guff and fanciful bolloxology don’t disturb the Cavan mind.

Moonlight annoys the Trump because he associates it with Islam, hence his rants against Muslims, according to a wise Cavan man

‘My friend is not old. He is not yet ready for a nursing home. But when he saw the diggers on his neighbour’s land he feared the worst’. Photograph: Getty Images

In rural Ireland it’s the animals as much as humans that make a person sociable

“Where are all the other little people that were in the crib?” I asked. “They went off on the bus,” Melody said cheerfully.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A child rearranged my crib, leaving only the donkey, ‘because it’s a stable and he’s a donkey’

No escape from Trump: Cecily Strong as Melania during the “Melania Moments” sketch on  Saturday Night Live. Photograph: Ralph Bavaro/NBC

‘When I lie in bed, unwired from internet or iPhone, I worry about nothing’

“You’re the bull,” the Cavan woman said. Above, Michael Harding in The Field. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

There was no point explaining that we tell lies all the time. It’s called codding. 

Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh. Photograph: The Wiltshire Collection/National Library of Ireland

I wanted to go to the poet and tell him how beautiful Monaghan can still be

“The first longing I ever had was for a bee. I was 9 years old and I had a jamjar and thought that if I could get the bee inside, then my life would be perfect.”

Our columnist revisits his childhood and muses about being as secular as Beckett

Michael Harding as Bull McCabe in John B Keane’s ‘The Field’

Wearing an ‘Irish’ cap, Michael Harding was sneered at on the Dart. He should have had a copy of Waiting for Godot under his arm (...)

Sole searching. Photograph: Nina Hilitukha/Getty Images

Here we are, holding the song and the pain together with the sly beat of a foot on the floor

My friend had travelled the world; I had remained in Ireland, clinging to the rivers, lakes and hills of my childhood, writing sad memoirs and never wandering very far from home. Photograph: Brian Farrell.

Meeting years later, we were older and in less danger of setting each other on fire

Rain always inclines me to imagine the great Mother of God as she was on that great night of drizzle long ago when she surprised the people of Mayo. Photograph: Jack McManus

The nuns from Minsk never appeared, but a man came like an angel from heaven and built a shed for my logs

Photograph: iStock

It’s difficult to speculate on the meaning of life as people come and go with little bags on wheels

Photograph: iStock

How to be a Man: Sometimes masculinity can feel mechanical

An image came to my mind of the phone lying in a ditch where it would never be found again until the damp had eaten into the screen and destroyed it forever.

We’re using Google maps to find Auntie Mary’s lost phone in a ditch in Westmeath

Clowns! That’s what we need. More clowns

Clowns were seen as the laughing stocks who would never make anything of themselves

Twin beliefs. Photographs: iStock, Alan Betson

I know the universe is empty but I still slide back into a devotional life if I’m given half a chance

Photograph: Getty Images

All the orthodoxies of Christianity were to my mother as naught compared with her conviction in this single truth about banshees (...)

Michelangelo’s David. Photograph: Roberto Munoz/iStock

Imagining young men without clothes is no problem, but the older men are, the harder it gets to fantasise them out of their suits (...)

Photograph: iStock

There is always a hint of something invisible in a room where human remains lie in repose

Photograph: iStock

I got out of bed and checked the laundry basket, pressing my nose into each sock and assuring myself that the smell was definitely(...)

Farnham Estate in Cavan

I began to feel not so much like a lord of the manor as a monkey in heaven

Leland Bardwell. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Michael Harding: Bardwell’s life was a poem and her poetry was simply the truth spoken with passion

Michael Gove. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Michael Gove sounded like a cross between a schoolmaster in a Harry Potter story and a ferocious Christian Brother recently escape(...)

Photograph: iStock

In a few moments the fish had been filleted into two halves of white flesh, from which a pastel of pale-pink blood seeped out on t(...)

The sheep stayed overnight at the door of my studio, and in the morning their droppings were everywhere. Photograph: iStock

It was a single-syllable knife that often sliced the air in front of my face to shame and silence me

Michael Harding is glad he lives in the present because, unlike the General, he's 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

Photograph: iStock

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

Photograph: iStock

It was the only release we had from anxiety

Photograph: iStock

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

Photograph: iStock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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?

Photograph: Thinkstock

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(...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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(...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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(...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

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(...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

‘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(...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

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 (...)

Photograph: Thinkstock

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

Photograph: Thinkstock

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 (...)

More articles