Of the love poems, the two outstanding examples are by an archbishop of Tuam, Maol Mhuire Ó hUigín. One is addressed to a young man called Eoghan, but the point is to warn this youth not to fall in love with a woman, as the poet has done … “Don’t look,” is the message, “and if you find yourself looking, look away!” But as the poet goes on to describe the eye, the cheek, the lip that Eoghan may see if he looks, the calf, the instep, the foot, it is obvious that he cannot take his own advice. The misanthropy or misogyny which often comes into poems like this is absent.
There are things you can do when your husband sleeps with your sister. You can sit in your studio and imagine them together, the toad and the mouse. Him moving over her. Her on top of him. You can hear dark skin slap against honey skin; you can hear moans. But he is your toad and she is your mouse – your Diego and your Cristina – so you drown those thoughts because they bring more tears than a blood-letting.
What is truly dazzling in Heaney is his descriptive power, his almost hymn to a Conway Stewart fountain pen, or glimpses of his father performing a farmyard task, wrought to a hallucinatory, Van Gogh-like intensity. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus is a mystic of the ordinary, which he renders extraordinary, though unlike Hopkins he does not leap towards God.
French Catholic culture offered a supplementary world, and in some cases a focus for unfulfilled longings, for those who found Free State culture insufficient or repetitive. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Maria Cross can strike today’s reader as brilliantly eccentric, an anomaly; it should instead be regarded as the finest analytical product of a culture we have almost forgotten.
The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland: Interim Report stated in 1921 that Catholics “were guilty of no reprisals of any sort upon their Protestant neighbours” as a result of ongoing anti-Catholic violence in the North. This part of the report, by Protestant members of the Commission, included the testimony of Wesleyan ministers who “entirely ridiculed the idea that the southern unionists were in any danger from the southern population”. Protestant unionists, who owned “many of the most prosperous businesses in Limerick… were much more fearful of what the Crown forces would do than of what the Sinn Fein forces would do”, according to a Limerick Protestant clergyman.
Soldier, Sailor: An Intimate Portrait of an Irish Family, by Eliza Pakenham, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 312 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0297843771 Soldier Sailor has many charms. It’s a clever concept – a young member of a well-known Anglo-Irish family wishes to find out who the subjects of the oil paintings on the walls of the dining room […]