Gogarty’s Liffey swans

December 17, 2011

Irish writer Oliver St. John Gogarty was kidnapped at gunpoint by the IRA on a cold winter night in 1923, during the country’s Civil War. His escape is the stuff of modern romantic legend. W. B. Yeats — who thought Gogarty “one of the great lyric poets of his age” — gives the following account of events:

Oliver Gogarty was captured by his enemies, imprisoned in a deserted house on the edge of the Liffey with every prospect of death. Pleading a natural necessity he got into the garden, plunged under a shower of revolver bullets and as he swam the ice-cold December stream promised it, should it land him in safety, two swans. I was present when he fulfilled that vow.

[from the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes]

George Moore called Gogarty “author of all the jokes that enable us to live in Dublin”. Even during the abduction his tongue was unstill: on arrival at the house, he is said to have asked his captors whether he should tip the driver. Conduct was for Gogarty “a series of larks”, in Ellmann’s phrase; little wonder there was soon a popular ballad celebrating his Liffey adventure.

But the gift of swans is what I like most about the story, the gesture showing both Gogarty’s poetic sensibility and his talent for myth-making. The Liffey was not just a means of escape but an entity to be honoured with a ceremonial offering of further life (though the swans seemingly took some persuasion to make the river their home).

Who knows, maybe they’re ancestors of the one that nibbled my hand on the other side of the Shannon some decades later.


Walked and kept walking

April 15, 2011

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Walked and kept walking
till I saw turnstones
feeding in soft
sunlight falling
on an empty shore.
So I waited there.

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[This was originally a tweet in the heel of winter; it wasn’t meant to become a lazy poem. To make it up to you, there are more birds here.]


Winter colours

December 11, 2010

Ireland has had record low temperatures this winter. My corner, the mid-west, has been spared the worst, but we got our share of snow, ice, freezing fog, and biting Arctic winds. All the more reason for long rambling walks…

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White snow-creature

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Blue snow with tractor tracks

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Green field disappearing

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Robin redbreast

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Orange sky over Galway Bay, with Brent Geese

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If you’re in the mood for more, here are some from last winter, and here’s the photo archive.


Autumn haiku

October 5, 2010

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Wind whisks the sea white
Whipping sand at face and hands,
Turnstones circle low.

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The haiku is yesterday’s; the photo is from February 2009. I’ve shown gulls circling low because I don’t seem to have any photos of airborne turnstones.

[Edit: After reading the haiku on Twitter, Tom Guadagno sent me a link to this lovely video of turnstones and other birds on the Welsh coast.]

Feel free to add an autumn haiku in the comments section.


On a wing and a poem

July 24, 2010

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You may glare
And cry “Unfair!”
I do not care.
I will not share.

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A damselfly in no distress
Pauses now to take a rest.

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Pink-purple funnels,
A hovering visitor:
Summer encounter.

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[Previously: Garden haiku; more poetry.]

Darling starling

May 20, 2010

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Sturnus vulgaris: an ill-fitting name
for so genial a bird (though you’re not quite tame)
From treetop to rooftop on sorties incessant
With firework-like feathers of dark iridescence.

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The second verse was worse, so I’ll spare you.

The last place I lived was populated more by smaller Irish birds such as finches, pipits, tits, stonechats and wagtails; I’d forgotten just how noisy blackbirds and starlings can be.

Not that I mind. The starlings nesting in the roof are the first thing I hear when I wake up, and they hardly stop chattering all day. Or maybe one of them is making all the noise. The only time it’s not whistling, clicking or chirruping is when it has a juicy meal in its bill.

Because I eat in the garden whenever possible, I have to beware of aerial bombardment. To date I have been splatted only once, which makes me feel very lucky, though in the immediate aftermath of these events it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the bird did it deliberately, out of mischief.


Irish winterlude

January 22, 2010

We had an unusually cold winter in the west of Ireland. Layers were worn, walks were taken, fires were lit.

It felt like this, and it looked like this:

Ghostly faces in a frozen puddle. How many do you see?

Blue tit enjoying provisions from the bird feeder.

The view across Lough Corrib on New Year’s Day.

Click for more photos