I came in contact with many great writers by journeying to various islands and remote corners of west Cavan.

Michael Harding: ‘If I ever saw that poet again,’ the ferryman said, ‘I would gladly take him on board, but he would never reach t(...)

The woman’s kindness did remind him of his own grandmother, and he was laughing and joking with her in creative sign language by the time her grandchild arrived on a moped, and took him to the nearest English-speaking hotel.

It bothers me what will happen when the entire county has been planted

I apologised for not recognising him and explained that I wasn’t wearing my glasses. ‘Why not?’ he wondered. ‘They’re broken,’ I said

Michael Harding: even as a teenager, the sorrow of things was forcing me to speak, and the best grammar available was the exquisit(...)

Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Harding: My friend in Warsaw left me in a restaurant with a frail little woman I couldn’t talk to

June Caldwell: her stories move from heart to heart with playful ease, fun and surprise. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Book Club: ‘Stories spin with such control and elegance you must read them. Feel the sweat of it. The passionate hotness of it. Th(...)

‘I don’t know why I chose cups and saucers. Maybe because he was driving a Mercedes. But it was a mistake.’

Michael Harding: In the old days everyone got a mug – apart from priests and high-ranking nuns

Minus 14 degrees waiting on a tram in Warsaw.

A flight from Warsaw to Liverpool, another to Cork diverted to Shannon and then a bus to Galway and another to Athlone . . .

When I go to Enniskillen I can’t resist picking up loads of rashers and sausages in O’Doherty’s of Belmore Street

Even though I walked a lot, it was doing me no good. Because every time I went out I ate more

All quiet on the western front

Michael Harding: ‘I ate the head off Cyril and threw him out at the gate. I could have killed him’

Warsaw is a modern city but there are churches and monastic choirs hidden everywhere. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Harding Valentine: Being alone without the Beloved can be sweet because I long to be with her

‘In my lifetime,’ he confided, ‘a lot of men who were confined to prams for long periods never got over it’

Michael Harding: I presumed he didn’t have running water in whatever galvanised cottage he sheltered in on the side of some Leitri(...)

'Marty is no exorcist. He’s more like everybodys’ best friend.'

Michael Harding: The first time I ever made love, a radio was playing Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’

I stared at the General with the anxiety of a technician watching the valve on a nuclear power reactor

Michael Harding: ‘Are you retired?’ the man asked, which caused the General’s face to turn beetroot red

‘Father Tynan was a bit of a warrior himself as he battled with the darkness of midwinter, and the snows in Arigna’

Michael Harding: The cool rains of Roscommon, and the soft sleet showers over Kilronan mountain were a gentle embrace, compared to(...)

“The following morning the flu had arrived in full force.” Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Harding: When I got home, my nostrils felt like they were in the microwave

Whether the singer was British or Irish, Muslim or Christian mattered little in the session. He was one of us because he sang

Michael Harding: ‘I was in Raqqa,’ he whispered, 'when it was beautiful. And I was in Bagdad when it was beautiful. And I was in B(...)

In hot water with the raging Brexiteer

Michael Harding: I knew that if I opened my mouth I could never unwind my rage. My anger would be incarnate in the air

'Forestry is a bitter sight in rural Ireland. It teaches a salutary lesson: That everything passes, and nothing remains the same.'

Michael Harding: Christmas brought emigrants home, and they triggered a rash of house parties and Hughie’s special song

Michael Harding has been trying to instruct his cat in the complexities with Buddhist philosophy. It’s not easy.

Michael Harding: I saw my cat bang his paws on the floor and tears came out of his eyes

Michael Harding went out with two women for dinner in Warsaw and stopped taking himself so seriously.

Michael Harding: The gales of laughter softened me too, dissolving the solemnity of all that a man tries to pretend

Michael Harding: My body had become familiar with the kind of dull grey mornings that transform the woodland into such a wet swamp that I’d expect to meet frogs the size of myself among the trees

A slanting sun two weeks after All Souls’ Day, in the month of the dead, is one of winter’s most remarkable miracles

Arnotts at Christmas. Photograph: David Sleator

The annual winter trip to Dublin was my only chance to get a word in Santa’s ear

‘Later I sat on a bench near the bridge, exhausted by mental instability; I had just spent 20 minutes working through my neurosis with a phantom.’

Michael Harding: ‘Are you with me?’ I inquired. ‘I am,’ he whispered

'There is no end to the mystery of Facebook.'

Michael Harding: For days I tried to remember his face

‘Love in old age is a koan; like a journey in the dark, or snow that has not yet fallen.’

Michael Harding: On the plane I wonder how many below are crossing the sea in dinghies, no one certain of finding love in old age

It struck me that his Jesus and my Jesus could never in a million years find the harmony that a few tunes on the flute had achieved between the pair of us

Michael Harding: Go you therefore to Ulster and tell them the Good News is for everyone

‘The further I read Sally Rooney’s book, the more real the characters became and the sentences grew plump with calm invisible things that lay softly within and needed no saying.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

If only I were at ease inside the narratives I weave around my sense of self – but I’m not

Michael Harding: ‘Parity of esteem for Hiberno-Cavan-Elizabethan-English,’ the plumber cried, as he gripped his spanner. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Harding: It’s a pity the ancient tongue of South Ulster is not given more formal recognition by governments

There is something graceful about leaving the future in the hands of the young

My cat is a sorry sight whenever some neighbouring queen comes around the yard

Michael Harding: I hope you’re not going to be like the buck eejit that worked here last summer. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Harding: It was a time of innocence, before the Troubles, before war on the Border

Michael Harding: During the Troubles I worked as a Roman Catholic priest in Fermanagh. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Harding: Whether Orange or Green, the tunes stayed the same

Michael Harding. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

I was hoping to make an impression in the world of polished grandeur

Michael Harding: In parts of the garden where even the beloved does not venture, I find a presence. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Harding: In relationships I find out who I am, not who the other person is

Downton Abbey: it’s my collusion with the posh hierarchy of hotel life that worries me. Photograph: ITV

Michael Harding: I love privacy but hate ‘Downton Abbey’ obsequiousness

She tugged my arm and said - You are like Mister Bean!

Michael Harding: I had a go at speaking Mandarin but I managed to mangle the words

I saw the Skelligs on the horizon, where a monastery of hermetic monks survived for over 500 years. Photograph: Getty images

Then the shutters finally opened and I returned to the belly of this raging world

I remembered the man staring at me through the glass window of a Topaz filling station earlier in the day

Michael Harding: The man, as devoid of emotion as Clint Eastwood on a bad day, looked at me as though he might break my arms

Cavan beating Kerry again in an All-Ireland final is about as likely as Luke Skywalker winning at chess against a Coptic monk on the top of Skellig Michael. Photograph: David Sleator

Michael Harding: She could see beneath the mask of codology that I was still a peasant of simple tastes and devotions

The plumber had come to install a new bath. The old one had been in the cottage since it was built for a bachelor farmer in 1971

Michael Harding: Getting a new bath installed is not as simple as you might think

My friend was talking about his son. “He has no time for anything but John Deere tractors. Sits in bed at night with a lamp on his iPhone gawking at agricultural magazines like they were pornography.”

Michael Harding: ‘It’s not brains you need to appreciate art,’ I shouted, ‘it’s love’

Coming up to the event he was stressed at the thought of taking his shoes and socks off and waiting at the altar for the parish priest. Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Harding: In awe of old people so detached from the world they could laugh at the frenzy of it all

We ate at a ‘place of white table clothes and wine glasses as big as goldfish bowls’.

Michael Harding: The General stared at me ... he hates looking silly in front of city people

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(...)

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