BORN in Belfast I grew-up on the upper north side through the 1950s and 1960s.
I moved to Galway in the seventies and lived there for the following twenty years. Today, I live along Dublin’s picturesque south coast. I was educated, firstly, at Orangefield Boys’ School (now closed, alas!), then at the University of Ulster, followed by University College Galway, (now NUIG), where I taught for many years. The playwright, Tom Kilroy, was a very influential friend and ‘mentor’, and later on, Seamus Heaney became a good friend, but I existed in a kind of limbo for many years living north and south of the border.
In the house that I grew-up in there were many anthologies of verse.
My grandmother loved poetry and was a singer who taught speech and drama. Indeed, that’s where I first encountered poetry. My mother, meanwhile, was a great story-teller who passed on stories from her mother, and great grandmother, and I picked up on that at a very early age. She had a wealth of tales about the family, going back to the early part of the nineteenth century, and a little beyond. She was anxious about my literary aspirations, though, and when I was a young man, would send me cuttings about some friends, who had done well for themselves in business and the like, as if to remind me that there was another way. When it was obvious that I was going to stick with the writing, however, she would write long letters critiquing what I had published.
Belfast in the sixties had a very lively social scene, with great music, and great clubs, in the city centre.
So, when I wasn’t out and about, I was busy reading and writing as best as I could. However, there was never one ‘style’ of writing that appealed to me. What tends to draw me in is the composure and energy of it. As a result, I love different sorts of writing, but there has to be something unexplained and questioning present, for me to go back to it again. For example, my most recent collection of poems, Mickey Finn’s Air, is a collection of ‘memory’ poems. It questions what stays with us, and why? Indeed, what are ‘memories’? My journey from Belfast, to the West of Ireland, then on to Dublin and further afield, are at the nub of this book. Last year, I also published a book of prose called The Stoic Man, which was inspired by poets and poetry that I’ve read and enjoyed, set alongside recollections of family and friends. I am, also, working on a follow-up prose book to, Of War and War’s Alarms, which Cork University Press published last year.
Writing is a great challenge, but everyone who is interested, should have a go.
The returns are unpredictable and the expectations rarely matched. So, write because you want to and not because of any other reason. If anything else comes your way, good luck. The publishing world, and the professional literary scene, can be very difficult, especially if you want to live, and to survive as a writer, without any other form of livelihood. As a poet its nigh-on impossible to do so; for fiction writers and script writers, there might be more of a chance. Many people maintain a sort of double-life, therefore, working in order to survive, while producing first class literary work.
‘Home Thoughts’ came about when I was asked to contribute to the Cúirt Festival, during Galway’s anniversary year, (2015).
I had this idea about incorporating music into my readings. In fact, when we launched my Selected Poems back in 2012, a wonderful cellist, Gerald Peregrine, played on stage with me, and others, who read from the book. Later, while speaking with Judy Murphy, a journalist friend of mine, the singer Eleanor Shanley’s name came-up. Indeed, I jumped at the chance of partnering her on stage. ‘Home Thoughts’ was the title that my wife Dorothea came-up with, for the show. In it, I read some of my poems and prose, about different places, scenes and characters, while Eleanor sings songs, to her own accompaniment, based around echoing themes. It went down very well in Galway, and then we reprised it in Belfast, last summer. Now, this opportunity in Limerick has come along. Eleanor Shanley has a wonderful voice with a stage presence and range of songs like no other.
I travelled a lot during the 1980s and 1990s, around Europe and further afield, to Australia.
After that, work kept me in Dublin mostly but there were spells in the USA, (Boston and Philadelphia), which I loved. We, also, have friends in Italy, whom we try and visit when an opportunity arises. Japan, was simply amazing but I love the west of Ireland very much and miss not being there more. Following ‘Home Thoughts’ in Limerick, there are a few dates in the diary for the Douglas Hyde Conference in Roscommon, the Hewitt Summer School in Armagh , a memorial event for the Mayo poet, Dorothy Molloy, in Ballina and a reading in Bangor, Co Down. That’s about it, which suits me down to the ground. I, also, have an idea for a book which involves travelling through favourite places, like the above. That’s something I am very much looking forward to, all things being equal!
‘Home Thoughts’, featuring poet Gerald Dawe and folk singer Eleanor Shanley, will play at The Belltable, 69 O’Connell St, Limerick on Saturday, 2May 28 at 8pm. For further information please contact the box office on 061-774774. For more information about Gerald Dawe access: www.tcd.ie/English/staff/academic-staff/gerald-dawe.php and www.gerald-dawe.net.