The historian John Paul McCarthy immediately caught my attention in his column in the Sunday Independent p.16 10/02/13 with his mention of William Carleton in the sub-heading. He is writing about the poet Liam O Muirthile from Cork. Under the heading “Language of love and friendship”, he says that Liam’s latest collection of peoms is in the humane Carleton tradition. He goes on to make a very interesting comparison of the works of both men. I am therefore publishing his comments here because of my interest in Carleton.
It is good to see the work of Liam O Muirthile getting recognition. I worked with him in the RTÉ newsroom in Dublin, where he was part of the Nuacht team. After he left RTÉ, he devoted his time to literature and he used to have a regular column in The Irish Times.
Liam’s latest work is called An Fuíoll Feá – Rogha Dánta or Wood Cuttings, new and selected poems, published by Cois Life and there’s more about it on their blog. Gabriel Rosenstock has translated the poems. The book is available in harback and softback (€30/€20). It also comes with a CD of O Muirthile reading some of his work.
Here is an edited version of what John Paul McCarthy has to say on the subject:-
“In his essay on Irish swearing, the great Victorian chronicler of Gaelic Ireland, William Carleton, said “the Irish language actually flows with the milk and honey of love and friendship”. Irish for him was the medium of prayer and domestic tranquility. That aspect of Irish has struggled to get a hearing in our time, if only because of the relentlessly political focus that has disfigured large parts of modern Irish letters. The introspection of the Gaeltachtai has not helped matters either. Liam O Muirthile’s latest collection of poems, An Fuioll Fea-Wood Cuttings (Cois Life), is very much in the humane Carleton tradition though.
O Muirthile’s Irish is the Irish of the city street, the factory floor and the urban tavern. His focus is on what Patrick Kavanagh once called “ordinary plenty”….
Like Carleton again, O Muirthile found politics to be inescapable. He translates parts of Wolfe Tone’s diaries in a series of poems before tending to the Guildford Four. The Firing Squad suggests some fundamental ambivalence about revolutionary aristocrats, especially the ones who plague people with their consciences in pubs.
The last poem of this collection then, Thuaidh (or North) draws these disparate threads together. The poet is commemorating an ancient IRA ambush, and proceedings are rather hijacked by an abrasive northerner. “‘Daoine boga sibhse theas,’ arsa cara. ‘Muidne thuaidh cruaidh.'” (You lot are soft down south, we’re hard in the north)”.