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Obituary: Mary Buckley Clarke

Cork-born poet who had great but unassuming skill, writes Michael McDonagh


FEISTY: Mary Buckley Clarke

FEISTY: Mary Buckley Clarke

FEISTY: Mary Buckley Clarke

In her quiet and unassuming way, writer, poet and songwriter Mary Buckley Clarke, who died last Tuesday aged 73, was always proud of Cork, where she was born on Model Farm Road. She trained as a nurse at the Mater Hospital in Belfast at the beginning of the Troubles, then worked as a paediatric nurse at the children's hospital at Crumlin in Dublin, later returning to Cork to work at St Finbarr's Hospital as an 'old-style' caring nurse with a wicked sense of humour.

Her husband Terrance Clarke, a Londoner, was some years older than her when they met in 1981 and they had a daughter Lyndsey in 1983. Terry suffered from Alzheimer's in later life and Mary spent over 10 years nursing him before he died.

Working in Belfast with a pronounced Cork accent, she observed the arrival of the British soldiers on the streets and dealt with the dreadful injuries from the violence, sometimes with soldiers with guns on the wards. That prompted her to start writing about her observations on the Troubles, which were published by the Cork Review. When nursing in Dublin, as she always loved writing, she wrote numerous articles for various publications in her spare time, such as the Cork Examiner. She then turned to poetry and that was when her sensitive observational poems started. She wrote a poem about Patrick Kavanagh called the Shoemaker's Son, which was launched at the Kavanagh Centre with music arranged by Donal Lunny. Another poem turned into a song was The Winding Of The Clock inspired by the story of The O'Rahilly at the time of the 1916 Rising. Proinsias O Rathaille was impressed by the song and gave a copy of the CD to President Michael D Higgins.

Her husband had served in the British army in World War II and they had enjoyed going to the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, where Mary noted her husband's respect for the poppy.

Before he died he had lost his memory and could not remember her name but always remembered the poppy. This inspired her to write her song Poppy Petals, that a school in England picked up and recorded.

Mary was a skilled rider with a great passion for dogs and horses and, before being prevented by ill health, she used to breed Connemara ponies and Arabian horses.

The sight of the young jockey lads exercising the horses on their early morning gallops on the Curragh inspired her to write her poem Curragh Mist. This homage to the dreams and ambitions of the young jockeys was adapted into a song and recorded by the group Irish Mist.

It was then used as the official theme for the launch of the 2008 racing season at the Curragh, where Mary was invited as a special guest to be there on Derby Day, to hear her evocative song played out over the stands.

Mary wrote a weekly reflective piece for the Cork Examiner for a number of years and in the late 1970s she broadcast a 'Thought For The Day' item as a spiritual reflection.

More recently she had been working on a children's book about tigers but ill health limited her creativity until the obscure form of leukaemia she was being treated for in Cork University Hospital took her.

To all who knew her Mary was always focused on enjoying the good days and was an inspiration with her stoical bravery in times of adversity.

To the end, which was not coronavirus-related, she kept up her inimitable great feisty spirit and humour and was caring and concerned for her family and friends. This self-effacing creative force from Cork will be greatly missed.

Mary Buckley Clarke is survived by sisters Zoe and Eleanor, brothers John and Neil, daughter Lyndsey and grandson Josh.

She was interred in the family plot with her husband at St Oliver's Cemetery, Cork.

Sunday Independent