Sunday, August 25, 2013


    © 2012 Madelaine Nerson MacNamara

Voices criss-cross the silence between trains.
Eleven years old Mona Lisa processes
The length of the porcelain-tiled metro station.
Long flowered skirt, tight red scarf.
Eyes brandishing a lance and shield.
Thorough, professional, she detects a target. 

My fellow travellers set their face
Into automatic, neutral or reverse
Against the curse of street begging. 
I try magicking change into my wallet
Rummage twitching fingers 
For coins I know to be non-existent.

From the barricade 
of warm coat, yellow bench
I withstand her entreaties
Perplex her with nodded 
Smiles that don't manage 
To convince me not to mind her.

Once more I've left myself 
Be swayed, failed to fight our corner 
Despite, unlike my companions,
Lacking valid reasons for refusing alms.
Next Sunday's Gospel reading
Confirms: "Give to everyone who asks".

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Week on the Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland

by   Cecilia Lynch  ©  2013

July 2013  

I stood on the deck of the trawler facing the receding land.  Huge mountain peaks dwarfed the homes clinging to the lower slopes of the Mishkish range.  Ahead lay the Sceilg, austere and rugged, last outpost of the ancient monasteries.  The restless ocean  was alive with dolphins and whales.

View from Travara.           Photo © Victor Sullivan

I stood inside ancient stone circles, built as places of sun worship three to four thousand years ago.  The huge stones were weathered with age, some had fallen but they still pointed to significant solar and lunar events. They faced the rising sun and had also a view of the sun as it set over the ocean.  In the centre was the Altar stone, where perhaps dark deeds were done.

I explored rocky coves, unspoiled and untouched, where fish were plentiful and human presence had no influence.

I walked to isolated villages, where the houses were coloured in rainbow hues and no human was to be seen in the vicinity.  The mountains towered all around.

I watched the small fishing boats attend to the fish farms and oyster beds from my vantage point on the cliffs.

I attended the  Village Festival Country Show,  Irish dancing in the streets, set dancers in the Hall, stalls selling home-made bread, honey, cakes, wine, cheese, bric-a-brack, art and crafts, home knitting.

It is another world, a place apart from the grimy city.  It is a place of peace and serenity, unchanging, elemental and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Report on Bantry Literary Festival 2013

by Cecily Lynch

Bantry was resplendent in tropical sunshine.  People  rejoiced in the sizzling heat, went boating and swimming, entered the forests to cool down.   The literary festival was enhanced by this Mediterranean  atmosphere.

We sank gratefully into the library for the talks and into the cool and darkened hotel conference room for the evening lectures. 

Mervyn Bragg's talk was very touching and humane.  He read from his latest book, Grace and Molly.  I admired his frankness and pride in his roots in  a working town in northern England.

I particularly admired the Bantry Writing Circle's  readings, which were of a professional standard and their play which was most entertaining and comic, catching as it did the humour of the West Cork people who consider food and hospitality as the most important element in  dealing with any  crisis, be it cancer, imprisonment or death.

CNFWG presentation at Bantry Library.   Photo © Marie Guillot

The Cork Non-fiction Writers' presentation was a great success.  Victor explained very well what happens in our circle, ably helped by Marie.  Most members at the workshop had a chance to speak and give their opinions, showing participation in the discussion.  Interest was expressed by people attending the workshop  in setting up their own writing circle in their local libraries, thereby showing that the presentation was a success.

The morning talks in Bantry House were delightful. The sun beamed  as the pretty lady who sailed all the oceans in the world to highlight the spoilage of the seas by pollution, spoke about the narrow escapes she had  as her yacht was caught in storms.

Readings in the library were outstanding, especially those of Claire Kilroy who caught the dialogue of country dwellers perfectly and with trenchant humour.

The final offering was the 'Literary Tea', where Rumor Godden's eldest daughter spoke movingly about her mother's life in India after her husband left her to bring up two children on her own.  The British colonial period in India was evoked very lovingly and touchingly.

The 'Reality Show' of critiques of pieces of writing done by three working editors of publishing houses, pulled no punches.  If they thought something would not sell, they dismissed it.  Literary merit did not count. But that is reality -  real life publishing indeed, and  not for the squeamish.

'Open mike', held late at night, produced astonishingly original work.

After this feast of literary delights, I made my way to the beautiful, remote and spectacular Beara peninsula  to mull over and read  the new material. The dolphins frolicked off-shore, perhaps enjoying their own kind of  festival.

Cecily Lynch, 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Family Friend

by Madelaine Nerson MacNamara     © 2013

Out of all the squillions of footsteps received
The pavement in Paris is pining for me.
I know this to be true, ever since the day
You assert that nobody, no one is indispensable.
And I don't believe you. As surely as I live
I know my father, mother, brother are indispensable.
I rebel, protest, indignant. You brook no argument.
Untypically I don't insist. You mean well
Someone must have died, you're trying to explain.

You answer all my whys, take me out for walks.
Just beyond the corner of Avenue Victor Hugo
And Rue de Longchamps, a cleaners to the right
Why do they clean clothes when the laundryman
Comes once a week for them? I help Mum to sort them.
She ties the tricky knot on the sheet that bags them.
To the left a huge plane tree, roots and base of trunk
Cradled in metal bars. Why? And who'd cut it down?
And why? And why does it need watering?

We halt suddenly. On the ground the monstrous racket
Of  a dozen small brown birds bickering over crumbs. Why?
You lecture: sparrows always fight, they're sparrows
That's their name. I'd not known birds had names.
Apart from pigeons of course. Now how would you catch one?
Something else I hadn't thought about!
A great hope rises. ‒Well, how?! ‒Pinch of salt on their tail...
Disappointment sixty years on stings even sharper!

School begins, you pick me up, streets are like rivers
I'm not to cross alone. Holding your hand like taking a ferry.
Before you reach the edge I'm there, race back to you three times
Amazed you reckon for Mother the mileage on my soles.

My friends make their own way home, you still collect me.
One day, we wait at the bus stop on the Champs Elysées
A pigeon shits on your head. I'm shocked, disgusted
Unfazed you wipe, pronounce this a token of good luck.
I see luck instead in your soft black hat held on with a jet pin.

Later again, chancing to stroll down empty sunny Rue Spontini
We pass a long, grey building now a fire brigade barracks
You point out its opaque cellar windows, recall reports of screams
Heard far into the street from resistants being tortured.
I ask why, but you've stopped knowing all the answers. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Luxury, Utter, Utter Luxury.

A story with thermal contrasts
Being a child in a large, cold house in rural Ireland in the winters of the 1940s meant wearing several layers of clothes. Before the arrival of the Rural Electrification Scheme our lighting was by paraffin oil lamps or candles. My father considered himself 'progressive' so we enjoyed bottled propane gaslight in the kitchen and sittingroom. Cooking was done on a large cast iron range that devoured wood and peat at an amazing rate. This range also heated water to a half-hearted lukewarm for the kitchen sink and bathroom.

Beds absorbed moisture from the high humidity of the West Cork air and there was a belief that some dire malady could be contracted by sleeping in a cold, damp bed, hence a variety of hot water bottles were employed every evening. We had three or four rubber ones, one scalding hot shiny aluminum one and two heavy earthenware ones that woke everyone and set the the dog barking whenever they crashed heavily onto the wood floor in the small hours. To protect feet and other anatomical parts from burns thick, knitted hot water bottle covers were employed, some mundane, some in teddy bear style. Throughout cold winter months the daily evening chore of  filling the hot-water bottles from two large kettles was a task stoically undertaken by my father.
He appreciated the comfort of his armchair beside the blazing open fire listening to the radio, reading a newspaper or playing Lexicon with my mother. Finally he would retire to the generously hot-water-bottled, pre-heated bed, something he considered to be a necessity rather than a luxury.

My father was manager of Warners Cash Warehouse, a large shop in the sea-side town of Bantry. It stocked the products of the firm's bakery, a wide range of groceries and it also had a hardware section.  In addition, the enterprise supplied any visiting ships, a position that gave my father, known to everyone as 'Jimmy-in-Warners,' considerable stature in the town and his maritime contacts occasionally led to some very exciting adventures for our family.

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, Bantry Bay was visited by some interesting ships. Minesweepers were active in the shipping lanes off the south coast of Ireland and in the Atlantic and some called to Bantry. One very large visitor was the British destroyer HMS Devonshire and thanks to my father's contacts our family was invited on board the warship; it had several shell-hole patches after its wartime sea battles, a really memorable adventure for this seven-year-old. 

A year later a very different type of ship arrived in the harbour  and my father's status once again came into play. This time the Harbour Master and Jimmy-in-Warners had each received a formal invitation to visit the Phanthome on a fine Sunday afternoon.
This was a magnificient three-masted, luxury Tall Ship, owned at that time by the Guinness family. It had been hidden away somewhere during the war and was at last able to enjoy its post-war freedom.

The Phanthome in Bantry Bay

We arrived at the appointed time at Bantry pier where we boarded the most pristine motor launch I had ever seen; all shiny varnish and polished metal glinting in the sunshine. The ladies of the party kept expressing amazement at how clean everything was.

We had an excellent view of the fresh black and white paint-work and the three graceful masts as the launch circled the Phanthome. The smartly uniformed sailor in the bow did clever things with a boat-hook and soon we were  alongside the ship's gangway. More pristine varnish and gleaming handrails led up to the main  deck, where, after a tour of the profusion of sailing ship fittings and much neck-straining while staring upwards at the soaring masts, we were welcomed into what I believe was called The Wardroom. There I drank my first sample of green fizzy lemonade while the grownups drank other stuff and seemed to like it a lot.

Afternoon tea was served on plates, cups and saucers, all of which bore the image of the Phanthome in full sail. We had nothing like that at home; not even one plate with a picture of our house on it! I was disappointed with the fancy cakes. They were exactly the same as ones we had at home sometimes, supplied by Warners bakery, of course.

The ladies were then wafted off to see feminine things, like the library, paintings, photographs, private cabins with their beds and bathrooms.

The three men, (that included me), were escorted down steep companion-ways to see the engine room where a  powerful diesel engine drove a generator 'that could supply a town with electricity.' Valves, gauges, dials knobs and pipes were everywhere and green paint dominated the scenery with highlights of more shining brass and polished copper. On either side of the centre gangway stood a pair of huge and silent marine engines. That's cheating, I thought, this is supposed to be a sailing ship!

On returning to The Wardroom I noticed my mother was, for once, speechless. Having examined various display cases and paintings of sailing ships, mostly of Phanthome, we prepared to leave and my mother managed to find her voice and asked our host, "Please show my husband that bed."
"But of course. This way."
The cabin we entered wasn't very big and it contained one single bed, neatly made up, ready for its occupant. My father was propelled towards it and my mother pushed his hand beneath the bedclothes. He lingered there for what seemed a needlessly long time, slowly moving his hand from side to side, grinning in amazement.
"Luxury! Oh, what utter, utter luxury!" he declared, "No need for kettles and hot-water-bottles."

It was twenty five years after that visit to the tall ship that Ireland's Rural Electrification Scheme connected my parent's house to the National Grid and the power was switched on for the first time on one cold winter's day. The first electrical appliance they purchased wasn't a kettle, a washing machine or an iron. That night my parents enjoyed the luxury of an electric blanket.
"Now we're as comfortable as they were on the Phanthome!" was my father's comment.

Over the intervening years whenever I found myself in a cold bed, my thoughts would flash back to that first encounter with an electric blanket on board The Phanthome. Luxury! Utter Luxury indeed.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


 by  Madelaine Nerson Mac Namara,   © 2013


Rumour shivers
up the long snake
of mid morning
sweat frazzled scouts.

Stragglers have spied
between warm stones
a thick dry stick
spring, slither.

Vipers favour
the sandy soil
of summer paths
between tall ferns.

Such hissed warnings
coil in the mind
thrive, redundant
in snakeless lands.

Clutched, handed on
like relay wands
terror, hatred, hope
travel dry ground.

Some canes quicken
into serpents
others strike rock
light fires, divine water.