Sunday, 23 April 2017

Black Shamrock (Shammerdoo): A Poem

By Patrick Slevin

Dermot Healy wrote – ‘We forget what we owe to what we’ve forgotten till we encounter it again out of the corner of the eye, in passing.’ 

Shammerdoo (Seamir Dubh) is a townland near Kilkelly in county Mayo. Its meaning is black sorrel, or shamrock.


Image used with kind permission of the Connolly family

I never knew him. Not the black and white
Young man. Not the Kodachrome old. With the 
Good wall behind him and the dog. The face
Ringed with lines like the map of his hill, breezes
From Paul Henry skies. 

Image used with kind permission of the Connolly family

  The grass doesn’t grow
In the mud from Mary Anne’s where he walked
Every day, only cloven prints now outlined
By green dew, and purples and blues clawing 
Out from old stones. 

We search to stoke fires with 
Burnt tongs. 
        Your past and our future collide
In the present behind this barbed wire 
           It reeks of the fields in here.

Old jacket still hanging behind the old 
Door. Springs erupt from the mattress, unslept
And rotted with rust. You say no to opening
The flea ridden hag curtain, the doll’s house

Image: © Patrick Slevin

He built you sits still on the floor. Rain briefly
Cracks on the wrought orange roof but the sleep
In this stead carries on, like all those days
Before. You remind me there was ten of 

Them once fractioned in these three rooms. I 
Stand in a doorway, it comes up to my 
Neck, I almost sit down in his chair for a
Picture, by the damp dresser, by the green

Image: © Patrick Slevin

And red tiles, clinging under the mantel,
Where a flat Christmas card warns about
Turkey, your mother’s handwriting fades in
Those misty old wishes. We both try to 

Say that sweet Irish proverb, under the
White horse and trap, holding it at angles
To the tiny window, 
later we learn 
It reads ‘Made in Japan’. 

    By some leaning
Brown bottles we pick up the tongs and
Think of the fire, the other side of the 
Hill. You sit on the remains, gently, of 
The good wall, for a minute, it all doesn’t 

© Carmel Slevin
Seem that long ago now. I raise the tongs,
Like in Zulu, and we turn in the sun,
Shining over Shammer, treading backwards,
As fields swarm round the Callaghan place.

Text: © Patrick Slevin

Patrick Slevin lives in Stockport. He has been writing poems and stories for many years.

Patrick wrote 'Black Shamrock (Shammerdoo)' for Manchester Irish Writers' event, 'Echoes of Ireland', performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre Manchester on 9 March 2017. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

1916: The Risen Word

Manchester Irish Writers marked the centenary of Ireland's Easter Rising in March 2016 with our event, '1916: The Risen Word' at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester. For '1916: the Risen Word', we wrote original poems, monologues, drama and more inspired by the events of the Rising and its aftermath. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.

We have since published many of our pieces on this blog. For Easter 2017, here is a compilation of those posts.

Poem by Bridie Breen

By Barbara Aherne

Poem by E.M. Powell

Proclaim the Dream
Poem by Rose Morris

By Kathleen Handrick

Elizabeth's Vanishing Brogues
Poem by Kevin McMahon

By Marion Riley

By Des Farry

Summer 1979
Poem by Patrick Slevin

Both Sides of the Divide
Poem by Martha Ashwell

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Elizabeth’s Vanishing Brogues: A Poem

By Kevin McMahon

Elizabeth O’Farrell was a member of Cumann na mBan, and acted as a dispatcher both before and during the Rising.  She was sent, under a white flag, to deliver the surrender to the British military on Saturday 29th April.  Despite the white flag, she initially came under fire, and was fortunate to remain unharmed.  Brigadier General Lowe demanded that Padraig Pearse deliver an unconditional surrender to him, personally.  He also admired Elizabeth’s courage, and insisted that she should accompany Pearse.  A press photographer captured the moment of this surrender, but Elizabeth, who stepped back, can only be glimpsed – her feet visible behind Pearse’s.

Later that momentous photograph was edited, to remove the offending legs and feet, and came to symbolise the eclipsing of the very significant role played in the Rising by many brave women, and even of the Revolutionaries’ vision of gender equality in a new Ireland.

This poem is about that photograph.

i.m. Elizabeth O’Farrell

The photograph of Elizabeth behind Pearse.
Twitter: National Museum of Ireland @NMIreland

A pair of tiny shoes – size four at most – 
Protruding from the hem of Pearse’s coat,
Was caught on film in the moment of defeat,
As Lizzie chose to step back in his shade.
A minor point of little weight you’d think,
But when the public tide flowed Padraig’s way
Such tiny flaws could humanise the myth,
So Lizzie’s brogues were airbrushed from the frame.

Elizabeth, I’m sure you couldn’t know
That you’d become a symbol of the shift
Of Proclamation pledges set aside
As Ireland was exchanging tyrannies.
So “civil liberties and rights for all”
And hopes of “cherishing” – was that the word? – 
“All children of the nation equally”,
Retreated for another hundred years
Behind the stole and veil, with downcast eyes
That failed to see the airbrushing of dreams.

The National Library of Ireland has an online 1916 exhibition. You can find the photograph of Elizabeth and Pearse, along with many others, in the section 'The Surrender'. You can find the section and access the whole exhibition here. 

Text © Kevin McMahon
Kevin has been a member of Manchester Irish Writers since 1998 – with a few years’ absence due to work commitments prior to his retirement!  He has contributed to the group’s publications “The Retting Dam”, “Stones of the Heart” and “Changing Skies”, and regularly performs at the group’s events.  He is a former winner of the “New Writing” award at Listowel Writers’ Week in Country Kerry, and has been shortlisted for a number of other awards for memoirs and short stories.  With Alrene Hughes, Kevin co-edited the publication of monologues arising from the “Changing Skies” project.  His scripts have been professionally performed in various venues, and he has had poetry broadcast on the BBC.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Proclaim the Dream: A Poem

By Rose Morris

Why were many of the poets and writers  of the Irish Cultural Revival at the beginning of the 20th century motivated to take up arms to fight for Irish Freedom? Why did some of them enlist to fight in the first World War?

For the latter I bring to mind Francis Ledwidge and Tom Kettle who were both preparing to fight for Irish freedom but decided instead to enlist in the British Army following John Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge when he called on the Irish Volunteers 'to go wherever the firing line extends'.

Tom Kettle wrote a poem for his baby daughter, Betty, to try and explain his own reason for deserting her and going to war in France where he died in September 1916. He wanted her to know that he didn’t die for a king or a country, but “for a dream, that was born in a herdsman’s shed” and for ‘ the sacred scriptures of the poor'.

All the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising had their dreams too and they also left behind letters and parting words to their loved ones and these lines equally live on in this shared history.


Kilmainham Gaol. Dublin, Ireland
Photo credit: Carl Mikoy via / CC BY 2.0

Whether the dream was born in a herdsman’s shed 
Or died in a stone breakers’ yard it still lives on 
 Through rhyme and reason in many a heart, 
 A revised history, a contested legacy 

Some will look back and call it sublime
Some will say it was a glorious madness
The bittern will cry in the wild sky unheard 
And Pearce will have gone his way in sadness

Patrick Pearse
Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Betty may have grown up cherishing her father’s lines 
Believing that he lies in shame with the foolish dead,
Where he fell at Ginchy, buried in some unknown grave
No honour, just blame, she a child of circumstance.

Thomas Kettle
Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The sixteen who died for Ireland’s freedom
Will be more remembered for their gallant part,
Fifteen face a firing squad in Kilmainham prison yard.
Roger Casement  to hang on the gallows in Pentonville

Roger Casement
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Tearful mothers, weeping wives, lamenting lovers 
Take away lines and letters and parting gifts 
As brave men say last farewells and give reasons,
Denying futility, claiming the supreme sacrifice

“Your life, Seán, your beautiful life.”
Mary, take these four buttons from my coat,
The only gift Mac Diarmada had left to give
Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can.

Seán Mac Diarmada
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Counting the cost, McDonagh was ready to pay 
And ‘his song floated upwards on the wings of daring’.
Ceannt faced the firing squad after his confession
Content that Ireland had shown she was a nation

Thomas McDonagh
NLI Flickr /No Known Copyright Restrictions

Heuston died on a soap box, a youthful, calm and fearless face
Joseph Plunkett went to death husband to his darling Grace
Marriage vows exchanged in the prison chapel, bayonets fixed
To the witness words of the Enniskillens chanting prayers.

Beside crucifix carrying priests they walked at dawn
To where a wooden box and sand bags marked a place,
Where they stood to wait, blindfolded and hands bound, 
Before their writhing bodies fell on blood they jointly shed. 

Kilmainham Gaol
Image by: psyberartist (Kilmainham Gaol)/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

‘Untie my hands, remove the blindfold’. 
Wishes of McBride, duty bound, the officer denied.
A white target square upon his breast, Con Colbert 
Moved it to a higher place, upon his heart to rest. 

Thomas Clarke entrusted to his wife a final message
To let the Irish people know that he and fellow-signatories 
Had struck the first successful blow for freedom
And  the next blow would win through’. He died happy.

Michael O'Hanrahan
NLI Flickr / No Known Copyright Restrictions

Hanrahan, Daly and Willie Pearce joined freely in the fight
And walked to death as brave as any that had gone before.
Men of vision, Sons of Ireland, faithful and they fought
And the dream lived on in the conscious heart of a nation.

Irish Sky
Image by: By Fabiog82 (Own work)Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Text: © Rose Morris
Rose Morris was born near Dungannon, in Co. Tyrone. Having retired from a career in Art and Design Education in Greater Manchester she now spends more time pursuing her creative interests and involvement in community projects in Manchester and County Tyrone.
She co-founded the Manchester Irish Writers group with Alrene Hughes in 1994.
Her continued involvement and sharing within that group has greatly enhanced the development of her own writing. 
Her short stories, monologues and poetry have been included in the Manchester Irish Writers’ published collections; The End of the Rodden, The Retting Dam, Stone of the Heart, Drawing Breath and Changing Skies.

Rose wrote 'Proclaim the Dream' for MIW's commemorative event, '1916: The Risen Word', which was performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester on March 10 2016. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Boots on the Ground: Researching Medieval Ireland

By E.M. Powell

The island of Ireland occupied a unique place in the medieval world. It was, as far as the millions of inhabitants of Europe were concerned, It. Nothing else existed to the west (sorry, Americas). In a seventh century letter to the Pope, Saint Columbanus refers to the Irish as the ‘Dwellers at the Earth’s Edge.’ And even by the twelfth century, Gerald of Wales, royal clerk to England’s King Henry II, still confirmed Ireland as ‘the farthest western lands…Beyond the whole horizon only the ocean flows and is borne on in endless space.’

Ireland’s Atlantic Coast, Co. Cork.
© E.M. Powell

Now, Henry had a keen interest in Ireland and, as it happens, so do I—it being the land of my birth and all. But I also have a keen interest in Henry. The first two books in my medieval thriller Fifth Knight series have featured my fictional hero, Sir Benedict Palmer, in Henry’s service. Henry first arrived in Ireland in 1171. He had already sent troops there and he wanted to stamp his authority on it. But by 1185 it was in a state of major unrest, with native Irish kings and Henry’s Anglo-Norman barons who had taken Irish lands fighting it out for power.

The King had an ingenious solution: make his eighteen year old son Lord of Ireland and send him over to sort it out. And that son was John. Yes—the John who would one day be the infamous Bad King John. It says something about a British Royal when even Disney has a pop at them. John’s portrayal as a thumb-sucking lion prince in the classic animation Robin Hood is only one of many unflattering portrayals of him.

King John, as depicted c1372 on The Great Charter Roll in Waterford’s Medieval Museum.
© E.M. Powell

Trouble is, they aren’t far off the mark. John acquired his terrible reputation by simply being John. Suffice to say, his campaign in Ireland was a disaster—a gift to me as a novelist. A further gift was that the King’s clerk, Gerald, went with John, leaving us many first-hand accounts of what went on. And so, book #3, The Lord of Ireland, was born.

Of course I couldn’t send Sir Benedict Palmer off to the earth’s edge without first checking out the locations myself. Most historical fiction authors like to get their research feet on the ground where possible, and I’m no exception, especially when it involves a trip to Ireland.

John landed at the Port of Waterford on the south east coast on April 25 1185, with three hundred knights in tow. Still standing tall on Waterford’s quay is the medieval Reginald’s Tower, part of the old city’s fortifications which date from the time of the Vikings.

Reginald’s Tower, Waterford City.
© E.M. Powell

While the Tower would have looked a bit different in John’s day, we do know precisely what he did as he stood outside it. A group of powerful Irish chieftains came to pay tribute to him as Henry’s representative, greeting him as their lord. John’s response? Well, according to Gerald, John ‘pulled some of them about by their beards, which were large and flowing according to the native custom.’ Suitably angered and very unimpressed, the Irish made for the court of one of the Irish kings, where they reported back on the insults and how John was ‘a mere youth…a stripling who only listened to youthful advice.’ Worse, they decided that rather than make peace with John, they would ‘plot to resist [John’s force]…guard the privileges of their ancient freedom’ with their lives, and ‘make pacts’ to resist him. Oh, John.

Meanwhile, John began making grants of land to his own friends— land that loyal supporters of Henry already held. The result, according to Gerald, was that those who were dispossessed ‘went over to the side of the enemy.’ But John carried on. He set about establishing castles to take control of the land. We know from Gerald that there were three sites: Tibberaghny, in Co.  Kilkenny, Ardfinnan in Co. Tipperary and Lismore in Co. Waterford. Nothing remains of these structures, which were probably made of wood.

Ardfinnan Castle: rebuilt in the 18th & 19th Centuries.
© E.M. Powell

When I stopped off at Tibberaghny to check out the lie of the land, a man with a stick just happened to be walking past. (Note: this always happens in Ireland. There is always a man with a stick.) He a) enquired in a roundabout way what I was up to (also what AMWAS always does) and b) announced he was off to climb Slievenamon (in Irish, Sliabh na mBan) the mountain in the distance.

Slievenamon, Co. Tipperary- the mountain of the women.
© E.M. Powell

This was the point where it hit home that I had an extra layer of history. Yes, I was tracking the events of 800 years ago. But those boots of the Norman invaders were already tramping through history, through a land that had its unique ancient past. Slievenamon means ‘mountain of the women’. Legend has it that Fionn mac Cumhaill, Irish hero of the Fionn or Ossianic cycle of tales, and leader of a great band of warriors, chose his bride Gráinne from the winner of a group of young women who raced to meet him at the top of the mountain. Legend also has Fionn as a pragmatist: he secretly told the lovely Gráinne of a short cut, so she’d reach the summit first.

As for new arrival John in 1185, all was proceeding very badly. There were losses of life on both sides. He (or rather, his more able men) made a few gains, but his forces were well and truly routed in equal amounts by some of the native Irish kings. His less able men drank, caroused and fought with each other. When John failed to pay them, they deserted.

One would have thought that John would have accepted some responsibility for his failings. But no. Instead, he accused one of Henry’s men of treacherous dealings with the Irish. That man was Hugh de Lacy, Henry’s first Lord of Meath.

De Lacy is a major character in The Lord of Ireland. He was also a major thorn in Henry’s side, being far too good at his job for the King’s liking. He’d taken the ancient kingdom of Meath (Mide) from the Irish and constructed many castles. One was at the site of a sixth century monastery at Durrow in present day Co. Offaly. De Lacy’s mark on the land is no more. But the magnificent ninth century High Cross of Saint Colmcille still stands there, as it had done so 300 years before any Anglo-Norman’s arrival.

The Durrow High Cross and me. The cross dates from c850.
© E.M. Powell

De Lacy’s main castle was at Trim in Co. Meath. Trim is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland and still the best preserved and is incredibly impressive.

Hugh de Lacy’s Trim Castle.
© E.M. Powell

Trim Castle Interior.
© E.M. Powell

He’d also married a daughter of Rory O’Connor, the Irish High King. Some chroniclers suggest that de Lacy was lining up to take all of Ireland from Henry. We know John scuttled off to Dublin where he stayed until returning to Henry in December 1185, complaining bitterly about the Irish and Hugh de Lacy and blaming de Lacy for his failure.

In my novel, I add an extra layer. I needed a large monastery for the murdering climax of the book. And as large holy houses go, they don’t come much bigger than the Rock of Cashel. We don’t know if John ever visited, but Henry and Hugh de Lacy had stayed during the 1171 campaign. And to my joy, two of the buildings that stand now were there in 1185. Cormac’s Chapel was consecrated in 1134, magnificent inside and out.

Interior of Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel.
© E.M. Powell

And oldest of all, its Round Tower built around 1100. No one is quite sure what the exact purpose of Round Towers was, though they probably housed bells and valuables. But the architectural shape and form of Round Towers is unique to Ireland. They do things differently at the earth’s edge, y’know.

Round Tower & 13th Century Cathedral, Cashel.
© E.M. Powell

Text & Images © E.M. Powell
MIW member E.M. Powell was born in Cork City into the family of Michael Collins. She now lives in Manchester with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. Her medieval thriller Fifth Knight series has reached bestseller lists in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Book #3 in the series, The Lord of Ireland, was released in 2016. She is also a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society. Find out more by visiting