Tuesday 12 December 2017

Roscommon: A literary destination

John McGahern

The modest and subtle charms of Leitrim and Roscommon aren't perhaps for everyone, yet over the years I've become very fond of both counties -- the former through a friendship with the late John McGahern and the latter because my brother Gerry lives in the countryside near Cootehall, where John McGahern's father was stationed as a garda sergeant.

As it happens, they both feature in the just-published The Roscommon Anthology -- McGahern represented fittingly by an extract from The Barracks, while the brother, who recently finished his year as the county's writer-in-residence, has a short story (rather good, I think, but then I'm biased) called Bridie's Birthday Party.

Roscommon, as Michael O'Dea notes in the book's preface, is seen by many travellers as a place to be traversed "on the way to somewhere else", yet some of the writers featured here, like my brother, have found it so much to their liking that they now call it home, while for others it always has been home.

And in this engaging anthology, which has a fine foreword by Mary McAleese (who has a house in the county), you'll find natives and blow-ins rubbing shoulders, with extracts from such diverse writers as Goldsmith, Percy French, Douglas Hyde, David Thomson and John Waters. And of names unfamiliar to me, I especially liked the poems of Jane Clarke, while the book also has some arresting illustrations by contemporary artists.


There's a lovely and very touching poem by Seamus Heaney in this week's New Yorker. Entitled In Time, its dedication is "for Siofra" and it's dated August 18 last, 12 days before the late Nobel laureate died.

In it, he speaks of seeing her "years from now/(More years than I'll be allowed)/Your toddler wobbles gone,/A sure and grown woman". And he concludes that "An oratorio/Would be just the thing for you:/Energy, balance, outbreak/At play for their own sake/But for now we foot it lightly/In time and silently".

A welcome to the world, then, from a poet who was soon to depart from it.

Irish Independent

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