Two Days in Ireland

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Cover: William Gurney

Two Days in Ireland by Robert Edward Gurney was published on Kindle in April 2018. For a paperback version contact me via Facebook messages. (Available soon)

Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Two-Days-Ireland-Robert-Gurney-ebook/dp/B07BY8XVNZ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523212226&sr=8-1&keywords=two+days+in+ireland

Or google: Kindle Two Days Gurney

On Air

How can you write a poem
about a town’s air?

How do you describe something
that normally goes unnoticed?

Where do you find the words
to describe something that is so welcome
you can’t help wanting to inhale it?

Some say that air
can be like champagne.

Champagne gives me a bad stomach.

You’ll hear the word “bracing”.

That isn’t it either.

Can it be compared
to a Snowdonia stream?

The air I knew in Youghal
was the opposite of icy.

Should I start with its antithesis,
air that is stale and polluted,
William Shakespeare’s
“foul contagious darkness”?

It doesn’t help.

Edmund Spenser’s ‘buxome aire’
feels much closer.

Youghal’s Air

I didn’t believe them at first,
the stories about Youghal’s air.

My room near the sea-front,
was close to a narrow slip
that runs between houses
down to a small beach.

The window was open.

I felt that I could lie there for ever
just breathing it in:
an air that was washed
and warmed
by miles and miles of ocean.

I shall never forget it.

‘Buxome Aire’

The air of Youghal
can enter your room at night
like the spirit
of a lost loved one.

She can float into your room
through an open window,
inviting a kiss.

She can let herself in,
steal across to your bed
and rub her warm cheek
against yours.

She can come in through the window
in the dead of night
inviting you to stroke her,
to feel her sweet breath.

It all depends, you see,
on how she feels.

(Kieran Groeger wanted me to call this poem ‘Florence Newton’ but the witchcraft idea wasn’t fully there in my imagination when I wrote the poem. It did occur to that the poem might be interpreted that way me but I pushed the idea aside.)

I Still Feel Guilty About It

I still feel guilty about it.

She was such a lovely person.

She was the guide
in St Mary’s Collegiate Church
in Youghal

She answered every question
that we fed her.

The date of the rafters
in the roof: 1170,
Richard Boyle’s wives’ names,
the leper’s squint.

I threw her a curve ball.

“Why did the Fitzgeralds
want to wreck the place?”

I had gone too far.

She rang her friend
in the Clock Tower.

“My friend knows the answers
to those questions.”

Immediately I pictured bodies
hanging from poles
pushed out from the windows.

We thanked our guide
and walked down
to the town.

She stood watching
and waving.

The clock was ticking.
We hadn’t eaten.
We looked at Aherne’s menu
and promptly walked in.

Later that afternoon
we looked at our watches.

The meal had been magnificent.
The clock Tower was shut.

I still feel guilty about it.

(Confession” I originally wrote the Gleesons, not the Fitzgerlads. I had a debate with Kieran Groeger about “the Gleessons”. He urged me to say “the Fitzgeralds”. I felt sure I had read somewhere that the Gleesons had “lurked” outside the town’s wall. Finally Kieran said that it was a real curve ball to say “the Gleesons”. However, I settled for the Fitzgeralds. The guide was flummoxed by my apparently doltish question.)

St Mary’s Collegiate Church

St Mary’s Collegiate Church
can take your breath away
when you first go inside it.

Your eyes are torn:

between the ancient oak roof
like an upside down ship
slapped down
on the building;

and the blues, greens and reds
of the tiles on the floor
with their coats of arms;

and Boyle’s kitsch tomb,
like a monstrous street organ,
himself lying down,
seemingly bored
and lazily looking up
towards heaven,
surrounded by his wives, his mother
and nine of his sixteen children.

Outside are the graves,
the writer Claud Cockburn’s,
for example.

You can’t miss it.
It’s one of the first you see
as you climb up to the hill.

I used to read him
when I was young.

“Youghal stands
at a slight angle
to the universe,”
he is said to have said.

There are only nine effigies of his children because the others were born in Lismore up the River Blackwater.

Summer in Youghal Harbour

First came the sprats,
filling the wide harbour
and the seagulls, in their hundreds,
wheeling and screaming,
rupturing the town’s ear-drums

and the fishermen,
dragging their catch ashore,
piling it up on the strand
between Green Park
and the Lighthouse

and the children,
shovelling fish into their boats

and the pony and trap
rattling down the alleyways

and the cats, fearlessly striding
down to the Slip

and, tailing the sprats,
the leaping mackerel

and the porpoises,
chasing the mackerel,
rolling and sneezing,
smiling and puffing

and the seals, the swile,
as they called them,
tracking the porpoises

and people splashing
and lashing with their oars
as the sharks came in,
keen on wrapping their jaws
around a fat pup

whilst out there,
at the entrance to the harbour,
brazenly bobbing and waiting to pounce,
sat the German U boats.

Paul Cant: 2018

Bravo, Bob,
Excellent poems, and each one captivating with its Gurney logic and sensibility!
And the last line of Summer in Youghal was a shock. German U boats? That burst up from your tribal fears…

Paul Cant, novelist, Cork City. See 30 lines below.

Kieran Goeger: 2018

“A lovely book. Well done! You have all the beautiful ingredients, beautifully told.”

Dr Kieran Groeger is a writer. He lives in Youghal. His publications include Youghal (Ireland in Old Photographs), The Little Book of Youghal and The Trial and Execution of James Cotter.

 Dot Coxhead: 2018

“I loved reading these poems and was immediately lost in a place I’ve never been to… Now I need to go and do a bit of research into the place and some of the characters and ideas mentioned! I am intrigued and looking forward to reading Dr Donovan’s book when it is published…Paddy would have loved this!”

“I absolutely love your writing and was transported while reading your Youghal poems.”   E-mail, 8 April 2018.

Dot Coxhead is a Retired Data Projects Manager. She lives in Milton Keynes.

Conversations about Two Days in Ireland

Me: Are there any images or poems that stuck in your imagination?

Dot Coxhead: The English captain and his knowledge of the sweet water of the Amazon far out to sea and the fact you thought Dr Donovan was trying to tell you something.The air of Youghal, featured in several of your poems.For some reason, the image of the Ferry Slip … you leaning on a rail and your father-in-law nearly losing his life there..
The brother and his naughty question about where the sun doesn’t shine and his innocence? Right off the top of my head.

Kieran Groeger: Even with the curve ball… I still like the poem ‘I still feel guilty about it’, anything which mentions Claud Cockburn is good for me (I used to repeat in emails to my children …. “never believe anything until it is officially denied”) and in The Little Book of Youghal, on 1916, I tell about the portrait of Roger Casement and Claude. So I would go for the two St. Mary’s poems. If you had sent me the proofs before going to print I would have told you to rename ‘Buxome Aire’ and call it ‘Florence Newton’ ( the witch of Youghal) and it reads really well under that name. There is a full chapter in The Little Book of Youghal on Florence Newton. I also wrote a play about her.

9.4.18.

Introduction

This book contains snapshots in time. The place is extraordinary. When Edward I of England invaded Scotland at the end of the thirteenth century he ordered Youghal to provide him with three ships, more than any other town in the British Isles had to supply.

Sir Walter Raleigh was mayor there. Edmund Spenser is said to have written part of The Faerie Queene there, possibly in Raleigh’s house, Myrtle Grove, which is still there. It is claimed that Shakespeare’s plays were put on in Youghal – in the playwright’s lifetime. It is not clear yet if Shakespeare himself set foot there.

Paul Cant (2018): “I am converted to your kind of poetry. It may not have rhyme or precious vocabulary, but it is fresh, surprising, and it has a curious syntactic and narrative rhythm, which holds it all together. Bravo.”

(Paul Cant is an Irish writer who divides his time between County Cork, France and North Africa. His novels are published under a nom de plume.)

The Poems:

Youghal Children
Fata Morgana
Summer in Youghal Harbour
I Still Feel Guilty About It
It’s a Celtic Thing
Umbrella Square
The Famine
The Sea-Water Drinkers
Two Sea-Water Drinkers
The Statue
A Brother
The First Visit
On Air
Youghal’s Air
The Famine
St Mary’s Collegiate Church
A Strange Tower
Moll Goggin’s Corner
Paddy
‘Buxome Aire’
The Streets of Youghal

 

Author’s Prologue

How can I write about a place when I haven’t lived there? The answer is simple. For many, many years I listened to my father-in-law telling stories about the place. He loved telling them. Every meal time in Wales and England would be peppered with them, every picnic, every trip in the car.

I persuaded him to jot them down. He was reluctant. The Irish Oral Tradition should not be written down, he said. Eventually he yielded and set about the task, I edited the document. We were unable to find a publisher. Broadcasters like his friend, the poet John Ormond, could not help. The stories stayed bouncing around in my head.

I have been to Youghal twice. Two days in Youghal. In my mind, however, I have been there many times. I first went there many years ago when I was interviewed for the Chair of Spanish in Cork. I took the opportunity of visiting the family house in Youghal’s Strand Street. (We don’t have the house anymore.) It was only a one day visit but so much happened.

The second visit was last year, 2017. I went there with my son. We packed so much into one day.

Two days in Youghal – but many years reading and thinking about it. Why? My wife, née Kathleen Patricia Donovan (Paddy), was a wonderful person. We lost her this year, 2018. She was so different. Never a cross word, incredibly loyal, always a fount of common sense and love. Where did it come from? From herself, of course, and, very importantly, from her family. This small book of poems, almost non- poems, you will say, I don’t mind, is a tribute to her and to her parents, George Edward Donovan and Kathleen Alma Donovan.

The poems included here were written in February and March 2018, in the days just after I lost my wife.

A third visit to Youghal is being planned and Dr Donovan’s book, Donovan’s Ireland, is about to be published.

Robert Gurney, St Albans, 29 March 2018.

Books consulted:
Kieran Groeger: The Little Book of Youghal
Les livres de Kieran Groeger sur la ville de Youghal m’ont beaucoup inspiré, beaucoup aidé. Ils sont indispensables pour ceux qui veulent connaître à fond cette ville historiquement exceptionnelle et ses environs. Je lui dois beaucoup. Dans mon livre sur cette ville fascinante, Two Days in Ireland, Deux jours en Irelande, il y a une grande influence de ce livre et de l’autre que contient tant d’images saisissantes, Cinq étoiles. (My review, Amazon France)
Patricia Cockburn’s Figure of Eight

 

I must declare an interest. I am writing a book on Youghal. It’s called Two Days in Ireland:(robertgurney.com/twodaysinireland/.

It is more or less completed. One of the advantages of Kindle is that you can add poems to a book if they occur to you after you think the book is finished.

The name “Arbuthnot” (Patricia’s maiden name) has been in my head for many years, as has that of Claud Cockburn – in the latter case, not for the usual reasons, although, of course, I read his articles when I was young and was affected by them.

For many years I have been haunted by a tombstone in Youghal graveyard that bears the words:

Claud

Cockburn

Author & Journalist

1904 – 1981

Patricia

Cockburn

Artist & Author

                                                                     1914 – 1989

 

So much behind those simple words.

Part of my interest in Youghal is the mysterious house called Myrtle Grove. Patricia lived there.When I put the book down immense sadness came over me.I felt myself saying, “if only I could have met this woman.” She comes across as immensely human and brave. My father-in-law, the Youghal inventor Dr G. E. Donovan, wrote a book called My Ireland. My son William and I are trying to get it published at long last under the title of Donovan’s Ireland, the original title having been taken. Dr Donovan often mentioned the Arbuthnots to me. The very name intrigued me – Arbuthnot – as does the name of the house, Myrtle Grove, where Sir Walter Raleigh once lived and Spenser possibly wrote some of the The Faerie Queene, and, quite possibly, where Shakespeare was entertained.

I had to read Patricia’s book. When I got hold of a copy, I couldn’t put it down. I learned so much, directly and indirectly, from its pages, about Youghal, Ireland, the world at large back then. Her approach to life, her sense of humour, her unusual background – she didn’t go to school or university – left me full of curiosity and longing to reach the next chapter and, as I have said, I felt very sad when I reached the final one, where she explains her concept of a Figure of Eight: the shape of her life.

Isabel Healy in her piece ‘Alexander Cockburn and His Family’ in her blog http://swimtwobirds.com/alexander-cockburn-and-his-family/ refers to an article she wrote for the Examiner : “A Fantastically Interesting Life”. I agree.

Figure of Eight is beautifully written.

Robert Gurney, St Albans, 24.04.2018.