The Poetry Programme


The Poetry Programme (RTÉ Radio 1) commissioned me recently to write a sequence of ten radio essays on contemporary Irish language poetry. Ba mhór an pléisiur dom tabhairt faoi, agus réimse dánta éagsúla a chur os comhar a lucht éisteachta. I chose poems around themes like Love, Illness, Grief, Folklore, Memory, Beauty and the Grotesque, and included the work of many poets, including Pearse Hutchinson, Seán Ó Ríordáin, Afric Mc Aodha, Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Nuala Ní Dhomnaill, among others. I was very pleased to be able to bring these beautiful works in Irish to a broader audience.

Here’s an extract from my radio essay on the theme of Resonance, broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 last year:

In her book The Faraway Nearby, a lyrical contemplation on our relationship with narrative, Rebecca Solnit examines our perception of the constructs of present and past, in ways that feel particularly relevant to contemporary Ireland. She writes:

 “The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.” 

How do we, as Irish people, reconcile our present existence in light of our shared past? The historical  teachings of the clergy still vibrate seismically in our present, those repercussions still reverberate. Each time that a scandal is exposed, we listen with renewed shock, outrage and not a small amount of numbness. Last summer, a mass grave was discovered in Tuam, where hundreds of unnamed babies had been buried.  Sadly, Tuam is not alone: all around the country, the bodies of many more unbaptised infants are buried in other un-consecrated sites, traditionally known as cilliní.

In Christian theology, Limbo was the place where souls of unbaptised infants were said to rest. In Latin, the root of this word refers to a border or threshold. The belief of the time was that those who died without baptism could not enter heaven as they hadn’t been absolved of original sin. It is difficult to fathom the grief of losing an infant, compacted by being prevented from burying the child in a family plot.  Catholicism’s eventual turn against the concept of limbo was welcomed, but that reversal also had  its repercussions… it left families to rewrite a personal grief alone, when the original religious explanation had been removed. 

In order to explore this theme, I chose Derry O’Sullivan’s heartbreaking poem, ‘Marbhghin 1943: Glaoch ar Liombó’, a meditation on the aftermath of this change in doctrine, and how grief and pain can infiltrate several generations of a family. You can read the poem, along with a translation by Kaarina Hollo, here.

To listen to a recent essay on the theme of Grief, featuring the work of Caitlin Maude and Liam Ó Muirthile, click here.

Thanks to presenter Rick O’Shea, and to Claire Cunningham at Rockfinch Productions for her guidance and support throughout the production process.


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