Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems: November 2017

‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Belfast 1979/Charlotte 2016’,by Gavin Bradley; and ‘Chronicler’ and ‘Plaster Mary, In Memory’, by Aisling Ní Chionnaoith



We are not yet the rough men of the North.
Not yet scornful of the frost, and canny to the moods of the wind.
Our sanctuaries are built with unlined hands,
and pine splinters in the soft palms,
of merchants, tailors, clerks, trying to ignore the tongues
that still recall the taste of sea salt in a catch,
and the kisses of warm, blushed, country women.

Here, at the end of the world, God is too close.
He does not reside in damp, lit churches,
heavy with people, thick with comfortable mutterings,
but is bound to wild animals,
hunts in sprawling forests, and aches for company in lonely tundra.
He is in the blood and the stones and the fire.
We build high walls, in case we should see him.

In some Rue in Paris,
in some Avenue in London,
the women run contented fingers through fine fur,
and gleaming eyes over the envious;
the heavy musk, swallowed by sweet Moroccan scents from nearby perfumeries.
Here, at the end of the world, we are waiting to forget.
We are waiting to become the rough men of the North.
Somewhere outside, God howls.
Gavin Bradley

Belfast 1979/Charlotte 2016

I loved you in the riots.
I found your hand in a writhing barricade of
people stripped down to capricious squalls
of confusion and hate.
Heard your small sighs as the approaching footsteps
echoed off the closed shutters and empty cars
and created ugly music in the blue night
with the cries of mothers and the tincture of shattered glass.
I kissed the small scar on your lip,
illuminated by petrol bombs and angry midnight fires.
Dead children, dead wives, dead fathers
sang in the once-dead blue night,
as I plucked the heathers of your cheap perfume
to lay at the feet of the dead and dying.
Gavin Bradley

Gavin Bradley is a Belfast writer, musician and palaeontologist living in Canada. His poems have appeared in the ‘Glass Buffalo’, the ‘Open Ear’ and the ‘Caterpillar’ literary magazines; his short stories have appeared in ‘Frozen Fairy Tales’, ‘Ignis Fatuus’ and ‘Weird Tales Vol 3’. He is working on his first collection of short stories and poetry


To Mary B Dunphy, Ballycullane, Co Wexford. Principal of Ballycullane National School, forced to retire at 60, in 1938, because of new legislation. Before she retired she handwrote a book of local folklore for the Irish Folklore Commission

And the Annals of Wexford, 1938, say:
here is a woman, virgin at 60, or else
a scandal neatly contained,
writing a book.

Late schoolroom dark,
a neat cottage, tea on the stove
forgotten, she writes –

of war, of ghosts, the card-playing devils,
the meetings with black dog and death-coach,
Famine and Yeoman, and in postscript
her own brushes with death:

a forbidden stroll, a shower
of Black and Tan bullets
in a schoolroom –

And what, now, is left?
Her work, her name, the fact
that of all her parish, she wrote
their histories.
Aisling Ní Chionnaoith

Plaster Mary, In Memory

I grew to know every inch of her;
crumbling plaster Mary in our cold sports hall,
broken lightbulb at her feet, by the snake
whose meaning I never knew then,
and those pacifying hands rusted down to wire.

Squeaks and echoes and cracking varnish and I
hanging back always, her pitted white robes
sheltering my excuses. Or my back to her,
sliding off the sill of the high narrow windows,
gazing at nothing in place of a confiscated book.

I was never her child. Never paraded dainty
in my white dress, no satin shoes to ruin with mud.
But I knew her best. I keep her memory.
And perhaps, now, she keeps mine: Our Lady now
of broken windows, buckled floors, pray for us.
Aisling Ní Chionnaoith

Aisling Ní Chionnaoith is a disabled poet from Athlone. She attended UCD and studied history and Celtic civilisation, as well as working for a time in the National Folklore Collection. Her work is informed by these experiences and deals with themes of folk history, place, loss and belonging. Based in Limerick, she is working on a novel set in an early Irish convent