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Best of Irish Poetry 2009
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Songs of Earth and Light

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LIAM CLEARY

 

 

 

Liam Cleary is from Kilkenny. He publishes poems, short stories and photography. His poems have appeared in journals and magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, Crannóg, The Antigonish Review, Cyphers, The Cuirt Annual and Orbis. He is a former prize winner at the Dun Laoghaire poetry festival.

 

 

Liam Cleary

 

 

 

The Arrival of Nicholas Cummins in Skibbereen, December, 1846

‘Nicholas Cummins, the well-known magistrate of Cork, had paid a visit to Skibbereen and the surrounding district and had been horrified by what he saw. He appears to have written to the authorities, but without result, because on 22 December he addressed a letter to the Duke of Wellington, who was an Irishman, and also sent a copy to the Times.’

from The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith

 

 

They have fed no bonfires

in surrounding hills, in the black fields.

And words, like mouths,

have lost all warmth, all sweetness.

 

They do not come out to greet you.

There is nothing but agitated sounds,

your flapping cloak, December tides,

a restless shifting on a rocky shore.

 

Old Skibbereen: A creek for small vessels,

of shelter from the storm, the way

you imagined it? Fearing the worst,

you’ve brought with you from Cork

 

baskets of loaves, as much bread

as five men could carry. Too little,

too late, for hamlets in fever,

wretched with rats, with silence,

 

unhinging, the longer it lasts,

edging you towards darkness,

a doorspace a person’s frame might fill,

towards light, the letter

 

you will write to his Lordship, the Duke.

The scenes were such as no tongue

or pen can convey the slightest idea of…

No tongue, no pen, but vividly I see them;

 

mouth-gawping, illiterate men,

stubble-faced, a grave truth dawning,

as your testimony is read to crowds

in Liverpool, London, Albany New York

 

your report of the ragged Irish,

perishing under horse cloths, on beds

of filthy straw, in the stench of their hovels.

For now, though, you come upon it suddenly,

 

your welcome, the famished embrace

worst fears could not foretell: a low moaning

of bones, the desperate clutching

of demented fingers at your muck-splashed hem.

 

 

©2010 Liam Cleary

 

 

Author Links

 

Cleary poem in the Stinging Fly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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