Demolition of the reputation of a writer

A few months back mentioned the setting up of the first Mitchelstown Writers Summer School, which will take place from May 30th…

A few months back mentioned the setting up of the first Mitchelstown Writers Summer School, which will take place from May 30th to June 2nd next and which will be celebrating the work of two famous writers associated with the town - William Trevor, who was born there, and Elizabeth Bowen, whose historic family home, Bowen's Court, was situated nearby until a Cork developer bought it in 1959 and promptly demolished it.

Most people would consider that an act of outrageous vandalism - though these obviously would not include some members of the Millstreet based Aubane Historical Society, whose 1993 publication, A North Cork Anthology, has come to my attention. Subtitled 250 Years of Writings from the Region of Millstreet, Duhallow, Slieve Luachra and Thereabouts, and edited by Jack Lane and Brendan Clifford, it devotes a five page chapter to Elizabeth Bowen.

Well, it does and it doesn't. The anonymous piece is entitled Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, C.B.E., though a heavy line is drawn through the title, and this is explained in the text thus: "She was not a North Cork writer, either in the sense of being a product of North Cork society, or of being interested in it and writing about it. But since the Cork Examiner keeps on about her, we include her in this anthology in deleted form, in order to explain why she does not belong to it."

The unpleasant odour of racism is unignorable. Nor is it meant to be ignored, for the writer also contends that "Elizabeth Bowen has an attribute which it is difficult for an Irish writer to acquire - she was English". She wasn't, but facts are undoubtedly of small interest to an Anglophobe in proud full sail (he also declares her "a British spy"), and he continues: "Though Bowen's Court was physically located in North Cork, it was socially and culturally a world all to itself - a little piece of Anglo Irish Dublin which was itself a little piece of the English Home Counties.

When Bowen's Court was dismantled thirty years ago, and the foundations dug up, the difference that made to Irish life was the addition of a good agricultural field to the stock of land."

We're rearing them yet. In the circumstances, I suppose William Trevor (a Protestant, you know) should feel grateful that in a book of almost two hundred pages on North Cork writers he doesn't even merit a mention.

F.S.L. LYONS's important contribution to Yeats studies was emphasised at Wednesday night's Municipal Gallery launch of the first volume of Roy Foster's official biography of the poet.

In a graceful and witty speech, Michael Yeats recalled first suggesting to the Oxford University Press that Denis Donoghue be the official biographer. When that ended in tears (Dr Donoghue declaring himself unhappy at not having exclusive, access to all the source material), F.S.L. Lyons took on the task and had done much invaluable research before his untimely death in 1983. Michael Yeats then suggested Roy Foster, "who was no longer an undergraduate". This brought a large laugh from those at the launch who felt that he still looks like one.

Marvelling at the biographer's accomplishment, Michael Yeats also asked us to consider its enormity: "Poor Roy is only halfway through."

In his turn, Roy Foster paid generous tribute to Dr Lyons (to whom he has dedicated the book) and to his widow, Jennifer, who was among the large and distinguished gathering.

NESSA O'MAHONEY, whose recent poetry reading in the Winding Stair bookshop in Dublin I mentioned last Saturday, features prominently in Women's Work VIII, just published by the Wexford based The Works and launched in the Wexford Arts Centre.

This anthology, as its title declares, is the eighth in a series, and Anne Heffernan of The Works points out that the poetry comes from all parts of Ireland, as well as from Irish women living abroad.

I'll ignore the shocking sexism behind it all (though feminists would hardly remain silent about an anthology entitled,

Men's Work) and content myself with saying that, among some very bad verse, there are fine poems here. Nessa O'Mahoney is the real thing, and so, too, on the evidence of "Open Season", is Anne MacDarby - the metaphors may be piled up on top of each other, but they're arresting nonetheless. The poem begins with a death:

When your father dies you pop open like a steamed mussel, a pea pods open to everyone like a public toilet, a post office, a game bird in season.

And it ends after a funeral Mass cards stop coming, wreaths die, the mound of clay on his grave melt away, forms filled, rooms altered, the new way of things accepted. But you jewel sore dirt got into the cut still open, it burns; it's difficult to clean.

AND still on poetry, the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Poetry Now festival, which began yesterday, continues this afternoon in Dun Laoghaire's County Hall with readings by Pearse Hutchinson, Rita Ann Higgins and Iggy McGovern. They share the platform at 2.30 pm and are followed at 4.30 pm by Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian and Aine Millar.

The evening reading in the Lambert Puppet Theatre, Monkstown, features Paula Meehan, Dermot Healy and Derek Mahon, who will read translations from the work of Denis Rigal. And at the same venue tomorrow evening, Patrick Galvin, Dennis O'Driscoll and Julie O'Callaghan will be in session. Tickets to each event are £3.