I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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The Virtual Republic

Gerald Dawe
In John Hewitt’s A North Light, his memoir of twenty-five years in a municipal art gallery, edited by Frank Ferguson and Kathryn White and published in 2013 in a splendid edition by Four Courts Press, there is a wonderfully revealing moment when he recalls attending, as a delegate from Northern PEN, the reinterring of WB Yeats’s remains in Drumcliffe cemetery in Sligo on September 17th, 1948. Yeats had died on January 28th, 1939 in France and had been buried there, according to his own wishes. “If I die here bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.” (Roy Foster, W.B.Yeats, A Life II: The Arch-Poet). The delay was due of course to the intervening war. Behind the scene various Irish writers, including Thomas McGreevy, diplomats and Yeats’s family and friends, were involved and the occasion itself was by all accounts a neatly staged, poignant and dignified one, attended by many of the leading figures of the time, including Louis MacNeice, Austin Clarke (“that scrupulous poet”, as Hewitt calls him in A North Light), Frank O’Connor, Lennox Robinson, Maurice James Craig and Maud Gonne’s son, Seán McBride. Maud Gonne, Yeats’s muse light, was absent, “afflicted with arthritis” and “remained in Dublin” according to Foster. McBride was the Irish government’s Minister for External Affairs, and one-time chief of staff of the IRA. Hewitt’s setting of the scene shows a keen eye for detail and also a sense of uncertainty about what to expect as the cortege approaches Sligo town on its short journeys to the Church of Ireland burial ground five miles northwest of the city so much identified with Yeats, his poetry and his family connections: Newspapers were folded away, like two waves of breaking foam, as the feeling of an approach ran down the street. Children were hoisted on shoulders. In the stillness, for the first time, I could hear far away the cry of pipes, wild and sad, and the slow distant thump of drums. Soon they rounded the corner and came down the hill towards us. (A North Light) Ever vigilant for the telling moment or hint of tension in the air, or possible indiscretion, Hewitt remarks on the accompanying music as “the pipe band of local lads in their blue serge Sunday suits, tense and tall with dignity … came forward slowly…

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