Mary O’Malley


Connemara has one language, two tongues.
It is knowing everyone’s faults but your own.
It is never pulling together except in trouble
And then uniting.

It is not a brand name. It is a place.
It is not a postcard, nor a map.
It is not a cottage, it is a house.
A small house
With its windows blocked in.
It is every word and footprint
Of the people that came from it.
It is not the million euro cheque

The cement merchants bought it with.
It is knowing where places are
Because someone told you.
It is never using a map because maps
Are for those who know where they are going
And start somewhere else.
It is home.

It is Elephant John and the Pastime
And the streets of Cricklewood
It is Graceland and cowboys Indians and guitars.
It is South Boston and East Berlin,
It is Shane McGowan’s drugtank
And a girl in a tile shop in Galway
Saying you have the fóidín meara.1
It is being born faoi draoícht na farraige 2

It is not a private beach
It is a strand.
It is in South Boston and Levenshulme
It is a state of mind and in the mind
It lives and will stay alive: In the feet of its dancers
In the mouths of its two-tongued poets
In their broken language
In the arms of its singers.

In the pure notes of its singers
It is held carefully as an ornament
O bhéal go béal
O áit go h-áit
O Sasana go Ros A Mhíl
O Sceird ar maidin go bParis san oíche
Go mbeidh sé sínte choíche
Mar amhrán áilinn san aer. 3

1. Foidin Meara: A spot of ground where one becomes disorientated and is led astray.
2. Faoi draoicht na farraige: Under enchantment to the sea.
3. From mouth to mouth
From place to place
From England to Rossaveal
From Sceird in the morning
To Paris at night
May it be held forever
As song stretched in the air.

The Way
Out now, the years gone up in smoke,
the firebird in ashes. It’s time.
The sun is rolling up the slope,

a thousand people rang the fire brigade last night.
A five-year-old was shot, children are burning.
I could write many verses to stop this flight,

the packed red suitcase, the light’s pewter slant
on the water. And have. But back to leaving. I am.
The ice blue nights, the carapace of wit

hidden like some mermaid’s cap.
leaving the jeweled women, the men like cattle
heavy, smug. No plans, just a cheap

flight to some mythic city called Hotel
or Airport. There are no countries left
only the deep territories, the blackened hills.

At night we miss our countries and whisper secretly
how we loved their fragile borders,
their lakes, their fields too green for mercy.

You’ll go to the interior, and choose your mountain.
I’ll take the coast.
How strange setting out in the world again.

I hear the earth is not reliable, the poles
not where they ought to be. I never thought they would,
but wanted stamps, and rest among the pilgrim souls

all maps discarded, just the studded way of paintings
signposted in shells, the hope of travellers’ courtesy
and all our road unravelling before us.

At Jardin Des Plantes
The sea begins where the story has broken
and it is richer than heaven
especially in mid-ocean

where creatures like pearls hang,
dead spheres, eggs without shells.
They are preyed on by few

in their spectral world. Once a globe
of blue pulsed down faster than war,
rare as a monk shinning down a rope.

Inside the diving bell a man
who might have saved or loved them,
saw nothing. His blindness became wisdom

and they were left alone for years
until curious Frenchmen turned
their journeying minds

to the pelagic, the profound
region and saw that those milky creatures
shy as spectres in the diver’s arc

have one talent which is repulsing light
to save themselves
from notice and from death.

Decades before whole schools
on rue St Jaques and in the Marais
became empty plaques

because pearl children failed
to escape detection when Picasso
and all France closed their eyes to avoid

the light that shone on Max Jacob
and Irene Nemirovsky and found them luminous
in those penumbric times. Discovered

what the twilight creatures knew until
they too were investigated and turned
into exhibits to make us flinch or marvel

at what we manage not to notice,
until it is presented tagged and dead,
a story on a glued vase, in jagged pieces.

Europe is a turtle’s back broken
open with bricks, with gunfire,
with love songs shifting in deep time,
borders snaking in slow motion.

My country is a worn out thing,
badly cut and overpriced.
I only ever owned the coast,
this beautiful indented line.

It’s time to shake it off, loosen
the ties, not the way some statue, Phedre
say, or Maeve, before the nation
she wore and loved became a shroud

stepped out of it, went bare-breasted
and clothed herself in rags of light—
such get-up made the gods feel bested
its ‘nothing more to lose’ a threat—
but quietly, the way the people of my place
have taken boats and planes and gone
and almost always come home
for weddings, funerals and fate.

Instress in Ireland
On the Publication of the Ryan Report

From ibi to illic the road up down one is paved
with muons, pions, men in cassocks,
seeds of blight in a child’s iris deflected
distorted, trodden down when all the soul
requires is a champagne glass
brimming with claritas

and sweet neutrinos passing through
leaving such faint traces
driving through our teeming nights. All this time
they were passing through us like ghosts
about their own purposes
silent as grace, the glorious mysteries.

O Plato, Scottus, Ignatius with your rotted stalks
we should have turfed you out years before this.

“Instress” refers to a rhythm built up internally—in a line, a church, or a country.
“ibi” and “illic” are two senses of the word “there,” as written about by the poet priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Muons, pions, and neutrinos are subatomic particles identified by particle physicists.

Mary O’Malley was born in Connemara. She is the author of seven collections of poetry. The latest, Valparaiso, is due from Carcanet in 2012. She is working on a memoir of place, and a book of essays. She is a member of Aosdána, and the 2009 recipient of the Lawrence O’Shaughnessey Award. She broadcasts frequently and teaches writing at the postgraduate level.

Fionán O’Connell Born 1961. Trained as a Primary School teacher. Self-taught in photography. Married to Paula with two children Oisín & Laoise and living in Dublin, Fionán has been making a living from his work for twelve years. He has directed several television documentaries: Silverfish Productions’ The Goat in The Temple, MOS Productions’ Good Man Mary, Windmill Lane Pictures’ A Quiet Revolutionand In Search of Europe.