After Closing, Clar Cemetery and Kavanagh
"Someone once said that writers are people for whom the act of writing is more difficult than it is for others. As writers of poetry, we face an even greater challenge in that our work goes straight to the heart – of the matter and of the reader – and we can never be sure if we have hit our target. We can only write and hope.
I write from the heart and because I have no other choice. My subject matter in After Closing is both random and diverse. I hope that some of what I have been moved to write will move you too. "
(John McGrath 2021.)
Poet John McGrath has brought out yet another collection of his poems. After Closing suggests an intimacy afforded only to a cherished few. With stories and secrets to be shared, Open this book and you will be locked in, happily, with John McGrath’s memories. Recollections of his younger days, the love for his mother and father, the compassion for Johnny, and the strict education from The Master will bring you warmth, joy, nostalgia, and sadness in equal measures. Then, speaking of his sons, his grandchildren, and his friends, life’s circle turns to now. It brings you straight into the heart of this most wonderful and sensitive poet.
In the words of Barbara Derbyshire – Editor, “This collection is a fine summation of the quirks and foibles of rural Irish life, with never a boring or pretentious moment; never an intrusive fall from honesty balanced on the tightrope of poetic cadence. It is a gathering of vignettes from Mayo to Kerry via Manchester as portrayed in the emigration rituals that were the experience of Irish youth throughout the twentieth century.”
Poem from After Closing:
John McGrath (published in John’s anthology, After Closing)
The world has pinned us with a warning glance,
the kind our mothers gave us long ago,
the look that was designed to let us know
that this might be our last and final chance.
So grounded, we can only hope and pray
as, day by day, we inch away from fear
and tiptoe towards a future far from clear
our wounded planet showing us the way,
that voices raised in ignorance and greed
may yet be drowned by kindnesses and care,
together we may rise above despair,
united we will find the strength we need
as, all for one, we reach beyond the pain
and dare to dream tomorrow once again.
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The Irish Hospice Foundation has collaborated with artists around the country to set up creative spaces for those struggling with loss during the pandemic. Now a venue in Galway is running a weekly drop-in centre over the coming months to allow people to explore their feelings in a safe environment. In the Ean Restaurant, every Monday, the space is transformed into The Grief Cafe.
In this environment people can talk, draw and listen to poetry, exploring sadness in a gentle, creative way. Johanne Webb is one of seven artists across the country working with the Irish Hospice Foundation. "Loss is something very close to my mind and heart. I lost my mother when I was ten; I lost my best friend before she turned 20. "The pandemic saw me lose all my work and become very ill. During this time my local community rallied around and I started to think about creating a healing space where people could come to share their deepest feelings of grief and loss. Sometimes we carry around this severe sense of grief and we've nowhere to put it. "People can come in, sit quietly and read, have a chat and a cup of tea, write some poetry or draw. Some drop by for 20 minutes; some come and stay for a couple of hours. “
* * * * *
In the graveyard at Clar in county Donegal Saint Agatha’s church bell rings on two occasions at all funerals. It announces the arrival of the hearse as it comes within view of the church and is rung again following the ‘prayer of commendation’ when the deceased person is taken to their place of rest. This gesture of respect and mourning signals to the entire community that a funeral is taking place and that a moment of silence is appropriate at that time. Now the parishioners in partnership with Clogher Le Cheile have brought out a publication, In Loving Memory. This publication records the inscriptions and photographic images of the 923 headstones in the graveyard. These date from the mid-1800s to the present day. This print edition is a sequel to the online version recently completed and available at the website; https://historicgraves.com/graveyard/st-agatha-s/dg-saga
A Finglas woman was on her way to a wedding wearing a hat which was the biggest and most elaborate ever seen north of the Liffey. A young lad shouted at her, “Hey missus, don’t go near Glasnevin cemetery in case they think it’s a wreath.”
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Clare-born Elizabeth O’ Toole is 97 years old and was 95 when she wrote A Poet in the House. Here is the first paragraph, “It was a winter night after Christmas. There had been a relentless downpour of sleet and rain all day. It was bitterly cold, chilling to the bone. Hearing our car, I ran out to welcome my husband, Jimmy. In the half-dark, I nearly fell over a sack on the doorstep. I bent down to pick it up. It was soaking wet, and it wasn’t a sack at all. It was Patrick Kavanagh. ” The Monaghan poet was not just soaking wet that night; he was in a fever, coughing blood and refusing to go to hospital. Elizabeth was a fan of Kavanagh’s poetry from her school days. He was a friend of her husband, James Davitt Bermingham O’ Toole. She was reasonably familiar with the man but wasn’t all that keen on having him as a house guest. However his plea, “Please. I don’t want to die in hospital,” didn’t fall on deaf ears. She admitted him, he recovered and stayed with her, her husband, and children for six months. At times the poet, with the reputation for being grumpy, tested Elizabeth’s patience. Like the day she was sitting by his sickbed when he stared at her and said, “ I trained a woman in London once to sit at the end of my bed all night, like a Dog.” He got his answer, “Anyone who can dish out guff like that hasn’t much wrong with them.”
Elizabeth O ‘Toole liked Kavanagh. Something many of his previous biographers didn’t share with her. From her we learn of his generosity, Faith, patience with children, and qualities virtually ignored by many commentators. She says," Much has been written about Paddy and his poetry by scholars and poetry lovers. I have now decided to share my experiences of the exceptional person who left this treasured literary legacy to us.” In ****184 pages, she introduces the reader to a Kavanagh with which most of us are unfamiliar. A Poet in the House is a welcome addition to Irish literature. Published by, wwwliliputpress.ie
See you in March.