An Island of Scribes and Bards – Part 3 Limerick Literary Legends – Poets
by Kieran Beville
Kieran Beville – Proud Limerick-man and former teacher of English Literature – concludes a three part series on Irish writers, notably Limerick authors, showcasing their immense contribution to Ireland’s rich literary heritage. This week the focus is on our poets.
There is such an incredible wealth of talent in the Limerick poetry circle that it makes one curious to know if there is something special about the air in Limerick! This fair city can rightly take its place not only on the national platform but also on the global stage. I’m not claiming the list below is definitive; it is, however, a comprehensive overview of the exceptional gifting that has emerged from Limerick. The cynic might say it is a tedious catalogue without any analysis or insight to their work – that perhaps is another article (or series of articles) for another time.
So, where does one start? Should this list be in alphabetical or chronological order, or order of merit? The latter choice would be dangerous, and who am I to judge anyway. A chronological list would put the oldest first, which might not be well received by all.
For me, a soda-cake, there is only one place to start – with the Bard of Thomond … Unfortunately he’s dead, so I will never be thanked for it. After that I follow, in the interest of fairness, alphabetical order – apologies to Mark Whelan…you could always change your name by deed poll to Mark Adams!
I acknowledge my indebtedness to The Munster Literature Centre which hosts a web page showcasing these wonderful writers. Apologies in advance if I am not fully up to date with all of their work or, especially, if I have left someone out who deserves to be included – Mea Maxima Culpa – who would have thought that serving the Latin Mass as an acolyte all those years ago in the Franciscan Church would one day be useful!
Michael Hogan (1828 – 1899)
Popularly known as The Bard of Thomond, Michael Hogan was born in Thomondgate, my native place. His early works appeared in The Anglo-Celt, The Irishman, The Nation, The Munster News and The Limerick Leader. His first book, Lays and Legends of Thomond, was published in Limerick in 1861, and a significantly larger version was published in Dublin under the same name in 1867. His satirical verses lampooning prominent figures achieved widespread circulation.
A life-size statue was erected in his memory in 2005 outside King John’s Castle, where pigeons descend like the Holy Spirit to “anoint” (in a more profane manner) his head and leave their critical comments on the open book he bears in his hand. Some people agree with the pigeons that his work is sh** but he was a man of his times – that comment might ruffle some feathers!
Máire Bradshaw – best known as publisher and managing director of Bradshaw Books which started as the Cork Women’s Poetry Circle in 1985 and closed in 2016. Máire was commissioned in 1991 to write the presidential poem for the inauguration of Mary Robinson as the first woman president of Ireland. Her publications include Instinct (1988), Eurydice (1992) and L’Imaginaire Irlandais (1998). She has worked extensively as an editor.
Mary Coll – poet, playwright and broadcaster has contributed frequently to RTE Radio One and RTE Lyric FM with radio plays commissioned by RTE Drama on One. Coll has written two collections of poems, All Things Considered (Salmon, 2002) and Silver (Salmon, 2016). She has had had a couple of plays staged at the Belltable – Excess Baggage (2007) and Anything But Love (2010). Her play, Diamond Rocks: Sunset (2014) was commissioned by the Lime Tree Theatre.
Tim Cunningham (b. 1942)
Tim Cunningham now lives in Essex. His first collection of poetry, Don Marcelino’s Daughter was published in 2001 by Peterloo Poets and has been reprinted twice (2002 and 2004). Subsequently he published Unequal Thirds (Peterloo, 2006) and Kyrie (Revival Press – the imprint of the White House Poets 2009). Cunningham has published several other works, Siege (2012, Revival Press – comprised of new work and selections from his previous publications); Almost Memories (2014), and The Lyrics to the Nightingale’s Song (2016) in loving memory of his father. He was awarded the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in 2012. Although Cunningham now lives in the UK he visits Limerick often and his love for his native place is evident in his work.
Michael Hartnett (1941 – 1999)
Michael Hartnett A bilingual poet who spoke both Irish and English (Micheál ÓhAirtnéide) was born in Newcastle West. Though he grew up in poverty—at times under the care of his Irish-speaking grandmother – Hartnett attended University College Dublin for a year on a scholarship and was writing poetry by the early 1960s. He wrote poetry in English and Irish; his early collections include Anatomy of a Cliché (1968) and Farewell to English (1975). The latter announced his intention to write in Irish and led to the collections Adharca Broic (1978), Do Nuala: Foighne Chrainn (1984), and An Phurgóid (1989). He followed these with the English Inchicore Haiku (1985), A Necklace of Wrens (1987), Poems to a Younger Woman (1989), and The Killing of Dreams (1992). His Collected Poems appeared in two volumes in 1984 and 1987; Wake Forest University Press published his Selected & New Poems in 1994.
In addition to exploring the tensions between the two languages, Hartnett’s poetry shows a profound sense of the Irish landscape, a troubled relationship with Yeats’s Anglo-Irish influence, and careful treatment of the history of Ireland and England. Joan Trodden Keefe, reviewing Collected Poems, Vol. 1 in World Literature Today, wrote of his, “technical virtuosity and spiritual daring.” She observed: “Throughout the poems there is, not unexpectedly, a highly strung tension between a romantic ideal and the real world.”
Hartnett translated poetry from the Irish, including Selected Poems of Dáithí Ó Bruadair (1985) and The Poems of Aodhaghán Ó Rathaille (1999). He also translated Federico García Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads: A Version of the Romancero Gitano of Federico García Lorca (1973) and the collection Tao: A Version of the Chinese Classic of the Sixth Century (1971).
He won the American Ireland Literary Fund Award in 1975, 1980, and 1990, and the Irish American Cultural Institute Award in 1988. He lived in London, Dublin, Madrid, and Limerick. The Éigse Michael Hartnett, a poetry festival established in 2000, is held annually in Newcastle West, County Limerick, in his honour.
Tom Henihan (b. 1942)
Born in Limerick City, Tom Henihan left for the shores of Canada in 1982. There he has been resident at the Leighton Artists’ studios at the Banff Centre for the Arts (1995, 1997 and 1998). His first poetry collection, Between the Streets, was published in 1992. This was followed by, A Mortar of Seeds (Ekstasis Editions). This was nominated for a Writer’s Guild of Alberta Award in 1998. In 2002 he published a hand-printed, limited edition of Almost Forgotten (Frog Hollow Press). He later became poetry editor with Frog Hollow. Further works include, A Further Exile (2002) and After the Ritual (2006) both from Ekstasis Editions.
Michael D. Higgins
Michael D. Higgins, the current President of Ireland, although raised in Co. Clare, was born in Limerick in 1941, so, we’re claiming him, proudly! He has authored four works of poetry: The Betrayal (Salmon Poetry, 1990), The Season of Fire (Brandon, 1993), An Arid Season (Brandon, 2004), and New and Selected Poems (Liberties Press, 2011). He has also published two books of non-fiction and essays – Causes for Concern (Liberties Press, 2007) and Renewing the Republic (Liberties Press, 2011).
Ger Killeen (b. 1960)
Ger Killeen’s poetry collections are: A Trace of Exaggeration (McKerns, 1985), Construction Ahead (Sparrow Press, 1989), A Wren (Bluestem Press, 1990). This latter work won the Bluestem Award for Poetry, Lia A Léimfidh Thar Tonnta (A Stone That Will Jump Over The Waves) was published by Trask House Books, 1999), and Signs Following (Parlor Press, 2005). He is the editor of Continental Drift and won the Gertrude Stein Award for Poetry (2006). He lives in Oregon, USA and is Professor of Humanities at Marylhurst University.
Mae Leonard – poet and short-story writer is a Limerick-woman who lives in Kildare. She is a member of Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools programme. Her work has been broadcast on RTE Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany. Her awards include the Gerard Manley Hopkins Poetry Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award for her collection, Six for Gold (1988), Scottish International Poetry Awards, The Golden Pen, the Francis McManus Short Story Prize and the Belmont Prize for Children’s Poetry. I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, a collection of poetry, was published by Doghouse in 2011. Her collection for children, This is Tarzan Clancy (1986) was published by Cill Dara Writers Club. My Home Is There (1998), My Home Is There 2 (2012), My Home Is There 3 (2015) are collections of radio pieces and stories about Limerick, and published by The Limerick Writers’ Centre.
John Liddy (b. 1954)
Although John Liddy was born in Youghal, Cork, he grew up in Rathbane and is currently living in Madrid. Unlike most people from Cork John doesn’t proclaim it from the rooftops! He deserves special mention in a list of Limerick poets – not just because we often shared fellowship over a pint in the White House Bar (begrudgers please send complaints on a €50 note to Kieran Beville C/O Limerick Leader) because he is a founding editor of the literary journal, The Stony Thursday Book in 1975, and has edited bilingual issues with his brother Liam and Miguel Ortega. He has published several collections of poetry, including Boundaries (1974), The Angling Cot (1991), Song of the Empty Cage (1997), Wine and Hope (1999), and Cast-A-Net (2003). His collections of poetry – The Well: New and Selected Poems (2007), Gleanings (2010), and The Secret Heart of Things (2014) are published by Revival Press — the imprint of the Limerick Writers’ Centre. He was appointed Writer in Residence for July during Limerick City of Culture 2014. His most recent offering of poems is Madrid and other Poems.
Seán Lysaght (b. 1957)
Seán Lysaght’s first collection of poetry, Noah’s Irish Ark, was published in 1989, followed by The Clare Island Survey (Gallery, 1991). A study of the life and writings of Robert Lloyd Praeger, Robert Lloyd Praeger: The Life of a Naturalist, was published in 1998 by Four Courts Press. Three other poetry collections followed from Gallery: Scarecrow (1998), Erris (2002) and The Mouth of a River (2007). He was awarded the O’Shaughnessy Award for poetry (2007). Venetian Epigrams, translations of Goethe, appeared in 2008, also from Gallery, followed by Selected Poems (2010) and Carnival Masks (2014). Under his own imprint, he published Spenser, a verse narrative of the life of Edmund Spenser (2011). He lives currently in Westport, Co. Mayo.
Catherine Phil MacCarthy (b. 1954)
Catherine Phil MacCarthy grew up in Crecora, Co. Limerick. Her poetry collections include How High the Moon (Poetry Ireland, Sense of Place Award, 1991), This Hour of the Tide (Salmon, 1994), The Blue Globe (Blackstaff, 1998), and Suntrap, (Blackstaff, 2007). She has also authored a novel, One Room an Everywhere (2003). Her poetry collection, The Invisible Threshold (2012), was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award in 2013. She was granted bursaries in poetry from the Arts Council in 1994, 1999 and 2007/8. Her accolades include; The Fish Poetry Prize, the Dromineer Literary Festival Poetry Prize, and the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry. Anthology publications include Opening Eyes (Cambridge UP, 2009), Text (Celtic Press, 2008), Women Poets Writing in English (Seren Press, 2008), Field Day Anthology of Literature V (2002), Jumping Off Shadows (Cork UP, 1996), and Windharp: Poems of Ireland Since 1916. She is a former editor of Poetry Ireland Review.
Maighread Medbh lives in Dublin but she hails from Newcastlewest. She is known best as a poet, but has also written several novels. Her debut collection of poems, The Making of a Pagan, appeared in 1990 from Blackstaff Press. This was followed by Tenant (Salmon Poetry, 1999), Split (Arlen House, 2003), When the Air Inhales You (Arlen House, 2008), and Twelve Beds for the Dreamer (Arlen House, 2010). Pagan to the Core (Arlen House, 2014) is an enhanced edition of her first collection, featuring eighteen new poems. In 2013, Dedalus Press published Savage Solitude: Reflections of a Reluctant Loner, an exploration, through prose, aphorism and poetry, of how to be alone.
Terri Murray (R.I.P.)
Teri Murray, who sadly passed away in Feb, 2017 lived in Limerick for many years as a poet, editor, novelist and playwright. Her fifth poetry collection, Under a Linnet’s Wing, was published under her own imprint, and is preceded by Where the Daghda Dances: New and Selected Poems (Revival Press, 2010), Coddle and Tripe (Stonebridge, 1998), a joint book with her partner, the late Limerick poet Liam Mulligan, Poems from the Exclusion Zone (Stonebridge, 2001), and The Authority of Winter (Stonebridge, 2007). Other notable works include A Time Under Heaven, her play about the history of Limerick, staged at the Belltable in 1996, and a book for children, Eddy the Teddy and the Big Fat Nana, in 2003. Murray was editor for Scratches on the Wall, an anthology of Limerick writers from Tholsel Press, 1995, and is anthologised in such publications as If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (Dedalus Press, 2014), Dream of a City: An Anthology of Poetry from Limerick City of Culture 2014 (Astrolabe Press, 2014), and I Live in Michael Hartnett (Revival Press, 2013).
Ciaran O’Driscoll (b. 1943)
Ciaran O’Driscoll is from Callan, Co. Kilkenny, but has been living a long time in Limerick. He is a committee member of Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival. Starting with Gog and Magog (1987), he has published several collections of poetry, including Moving On, Still There: New and Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 2001), Surreal Man (Pighog, 2006), Vecchie Donne di Magione (Volumnia Editrice, 2006), which is a dual language edition of poems, and Life Monitor (Three Spires Press, 2009). In 2001, a childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves, was published (Liverpool University Press). Swirl, a CD of him reading some of his poems to musical accompaniment, was released in 2009. A first novel, A Year’s Midnight, was published in 2012. His accolades include a Bursary in Literature from the Arts Council, the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry, and the James Joyce Prize. He is a member of Aosdána.
Desmond O’Grady (1935-2014)
In an obituary in the Independent Emer O’Kelly referred to Desmond O’Grady as: “arguably, with the exception of Yeats, the most international of twentieth century Irish poets” – high praise indeed. I remember well his visits to The White House back in the late seventies – we were in awe of him. Born in Limerick, he lived on the Greek island of Paros for some time before eventually moving to Kinsale. He taught literature courses in Paris, Rome and the USA. His collections of poetry include Chords and Orchestrations (Limerick, 1956), Reilly (London, 1961), Separazoni (Rome, 1965), The Dark Edge of Europe (London, MacGibbon & Kee, 1967), The Dying Gaul (MacGibbon & Kee, 1968), Hellas (Dublin, 1971), Separations (Dublin, 1973), Stations (Cairo, 1976), Sing Me Creation (Gallery Press, 1977), The Headgear of the Tribe (Gallery Press, 1979), The Skaldcrane’s Nest (Gallery Press, 1979), Alexandria Notebook (Dublin, 1989), Tipperary (Salmon, 1991), My Fields This Springtime (Lapwing Press, 1993), The Road Taken, Poems 1956-1996 (Poetry Salzburg, 1996), The Wandering Celt (Dedalus Press, 2001), and On My Way (Dedalus Press, 2006). His translations include Off Licence (Dublin, 1968), The Gododdin (Dolmen Press, 1977), A Limerick Rake (Gallery Press, 1978), Grecian Glances (Cambridge MA, 1981), The Seven Arab Odes (Agenda, 1980), Ten Modern Arab Poets (Dublin, 1992), Alternative Manners (Alexandria, 1993), Trawling Tradition. Translations 1954 – 1994 (Poetry Salsburg, 1994), and CP Cavafy, Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 1999). In 1960 he was a founder member of the European Community of Writers in Rome. He was a member of Aosdána.
Jo Slade is both a painter and poet living in Limerick, where she has been County Council Writer-in-Residence. Slade is the author of several books of poems, including the French/English collection, Certain Octobers, published in France (Quimper, 1997). Other collections are published by Salmon: In Fields I Hear Them Sing (1989), The Vigilant One (1994), nominated for an Irish Times/Aer Lingus Award, City of Bridges (2005), and The Painter’s House (2013). A chapbook (The Artist’s Room, was published by Pighog Press (2010). I think she lives in Brighton. In 2014, she was joint winner of the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award.
Mark Whelan (R.I.P.)
Mark Whelan (another of my companions of the past) was born in Limerick in 1960 and with Paul Sweeney was instrumental both in the establishment of what is now known as Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival, of which he is a committee member, and in the revival of The Stony Thursday Book literary journal, for which he was editor of four editions. His collections of poetry include Scarecrow Dyptich (Anam, Press, 2003), Pushing The Pull Door (Revival Press, 2008, with illustrations by Limerick artist John Shinnors), and The Seer of Wounds (Doghouse, 2012).
I know I’m not fully up-to-date with these writers and their works and I apologise for shortcomings and omissions – space is a constraint too. I hope they and other readers will forgive an aging Limerick-man now living in West Cork but hoping to return to Limerick in the not too distant future. I am, however, a frequent visitor.
The perspective of their various works, their vision and insight is truly awe-inspiring. They have enriched my life immensely and deserve to be honoured. One practical way of doing that is to buy their books and attend their public readings.
We have much to celebrate in these literary notables and Limerick’s contribution to this country’s reputation as an island of scribes and bards is immense and living – a dynamic force shaping the imagination and soul of our beautiful city. Thanks to all of them, past and present for making Limerick a very special place.