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A happy and poetic St Patrick’s Day to you all

March 17, 2015
A Happy and Poetic St Patrick’s Day to you all.   For #poetryread, I have chosen four poets and two musicians. There are poems that are songs and songs that are poems!  It is just a little dip into the ocean of Irish poetry, but I hope you enjoy.

2015 is a big year for poetry in Ireland – 150 years since WB Yeats’ birth in Dublin, 1865 and a year-long program #yeats2015 is planned.  Yeats’ poetry is best read aloud.  #YourYeats invites you to add your recording of a Yeats poem to soundcloud with the aim of creating the largest online archive of his poetry.  You can explore some of the contributions and add your own here.

Sausages are also part of the celebration.   After the message came from The Irish Times late one night in 1923 to confirm he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and after the interviews were over, he and his wife searched the cellar for a bottle of wine but finding it bare they cooked sausages to mark the occasion instead!   This silent slice of history shows Yeats arriving in Stockholm to receive the honour.

Yeats was a major literary figure, influencing many other artists.  Mr Mike Scott of the Waterboys is one of them.  Watch as Mike remembers a trip to Sligo as a boy and tells how several of the poems seemed to be “crying out for a tune.”

In 2011 The Waterboys released a whole album of Yeats set to music –  An Appointment with Mr Yeats.  But my favourite is an adaptation of The Stolen Child for Fisherman’s Blues in 1988.   The track was recorded on the west coast of Ireland and features local Gaelic singer Tomas Mac Eoin as the narrator.  Scott described his voice as “a sound hewn from rock yet full of a warm broken humanity.”   In 2014, The Guardian included Mac Eoin in their list of “little-known musicians behind some of music’s most famous moments”.  Scroll down to number eight and you will also get a little taste of the song.

Incidentally, Fisherman’s Blues includes a cover version of the Van Morrison (born Belfast, 1945) song Sweet Thing which has some of my favourite words. Last year a book of selected Van Morrison lyrics Lit Up Inside was published. More from Van later.

Recently, national broadcaster RTE ran a campaign to choose A Poem for Ireland.  A shortlist of ten poems from the last 100 years (including Easter 1916 by Yeats) was selected and this month the best-loved poem announced.  I was pleased that Seamus Heaney (born Co Derry, Northern Ireland, 1939, died 2013) was selected for the sonnet When all the others were away at MassIt is a beautiful poem and was my choice, too.

The last two poems I have chosen have the theme of home, leaving and returning.   Eavan Boland (born Dublin, 1944) was also on the RTE short-list for her poem Quarantine.  Listen to her poem The Emigrant Irish read by Irish actor Fionnula Flanagan.

I love the last lines:   And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.

I think of my father and mother with four small children setting off for Australia.  Their bravery, and of all who cross the world for a new life, will always astound me.

The Emigrant Irish has been quoted in the US Congress and the Irish Parliament.  Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, left a light in the kitchen window of her official residence as a symbol of remembrance of the Irish all over the world.

Our last poet is Sinead Morrissey (born 1972, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland), Belfast’s first Poet Laureate.  Here she talks about the literary significance of Queen’s University where she teaches.  She reads her poem In Belfast, a meditation on a living, breathing city –  her home.

So, stay a while and listen to a song about belonging, Van Morrison’s Irish Heartbeat.  This new recording features Mark Knopfler and is from a forthcoming album, Duets, Re-working the Catalogue.

A Happy St Patrick’s Day to you and yours!

Kathleen Alexander

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