Sligo Champion

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Poetry collection looks at our past

Two prominent figures in the War of Independence and Civil War in Sligo, Jim Hunt and Frank Carty, make an appearance in a new poetry collection titled Troubles by Sligo-born historian and poet Michael Farry.

After fighting together against the British during the War of Independence, Hunt and Carty took different sides in the Civil War.

Much later Carty asked Hunt for a reference for his military pension application and the reference supplied is part of the vast military pension records recently made available online by the Military Archives.

The author also uses the military pension records to create a poem about Sligo Cumann na mBan activity and in another "found" poem details the causes of death of twenty two Michaels from different sides in the conflicts in various places in the country during the period. This stark litany of deaths is chilling.

In other "found" poems he uses the reports written by his great grandfather, Patrick Gallagher, secretary of Killoran UIL branch 1901-1914, and the pleas in 1847 by Kate Thompson for assistance for the starving tenants of her and her husband's estate.

The centenary of commemorations has seen various worthy publications but this collection of poetry, with a strong Sligo connection, is surely one of the most imaginative. The author, a well-known historian as well as a poet, uses the freer medium of poetry with its many forms, including found poems and shape poems, to bring the period to life.

Some poems attempt to enter the thoughts of some of the participants, especially the losers. There are, for instance, poems in the voices of RIC men, Sligo-man James Gormley killed in Ashbourne in 1916 and Meath-man Patrick Perry killed in Sligo at the Cliffoney ambush in 1920.

The author makes up his own provocative "Proclamation" by cleverly combining pieces from the 1916 Proclamation, Ulster's Solemn League and Covenant 1912, Dáil Éireann Declaration of Independence 1918, the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil 1919, the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921 and the Constitution of the Irish Free State 1922 to make a coherent one sentence statement to which readers might all pledge their allegiance, or maybe not.

Readers get a different perspective in the "Sligo Novel" poems, recounting incidents in the daily life of a fictitious Sligo town resident through the period as she cares for her mother dying of tuberculosis and helps her father run the Palace Cinema.

Many poems refer to other Sligo participants and events, the famous IRA leader Billy Pilkington who later became a Redemptorist priest, the destruction of Sligo Railway Station, the killings on Benbulben and the sinking of the SS Liverpool.

Some poems are set in the present, reflecting on our commemoration of those events. In the final poem, which repeats the "go for me head on" from the well-known Seamus Heaney poem, a present-day Irish historian is attacked by all parties for his refusal to take sides.

The poem "Ballad of a Ballad Singer" is an obvious dig at the type of ballad which portrays a simplistic black and white account of history and those individuals or groups who sing them.

This collection is no such simplistic account of dead history. It is a vivid portrayal of the complexities of actual history and of the complications of commemoration.

The characters, real and imagined, inhabit a world which is immediate and vibrant, clear and relevant.

The variety, including "found" poems and shape poems, makes for a lively read. The viewpoint continually shifts, reflecting the various groups involved.

The book cover features a photograph from the National Library of Provisional Government troops outside the premises of Dudley Hanley in Sligo on Easter Sunday 1922 for the Arthur Griffith election meeting.

The author, a Sligo native, has had two previous poetry collections, Asking for Directions and The Age of Glass, published. He has also published a number of historical studies of the period including Sligo: The Irish Revolution, 1912-23, (Four Courts Press, 2012) and an article on Sligo in the monumental Atlas of the Irish Revolution (Cork University Press, 2017).

The book is published by Revival Press, Limerick Writers Centre and can be purchased in local bookshops and online at https://michaelfarry.blogspot.com/

Sligo Champion