The Bells of Limerick

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 205th birthday.

Frances Browne
Irish
1816 – 1879

 

Oh! bright on the silvery Shannon lies
The light of the setting sun,
And stately the city’s spires arise,
Where the isle’s last field was won!
But now, no stain of the battle’s blood
Remains, to sully that peaceful flood,—
Nor sound in the summer-evening swells,
Save that of St. Mary’s vesper bells.

There came a late and a lonely boat,
O’er the shining river’s breast;
And it bore, from a land far, far remote,
A sad and a stranger guest:—
A darker tint had tinged his brow
Than the skies that bent above him, now,
Could give their sons—and a brighter beam
Had shone on his youth, by Tiber’s stream.

His was the peerless land of song,
By the Muses blest, of yore;
But his steps had wandered, far and long,
From the bright Hesperian shore:
And his early home was a darkened spot,—
For the love, that brightened his hearth, was not;
And heavy and chill the clouds of age
Fell on his lonely pilgrimage.

But still, in his memory’s echo, swelled
A sweet and a solemn chime,—
That oft, through the golden twilight pealed,
In his own far southern clime:—
Oh! many a city and many a shore
Had the weary pilgrim wandered o’er,—
But they never sent to his aged ear
The sounds he had loved—and pined to hear!

Yet why doth the stranger start,—and turn
From his lonely musings, now?
And why doth such glowing gladness burn
In his aged eye and brow?
‘Tis only the vesper bells, again,
That ring from St. Mary’s sacred fane,—
But oh! to the wanderer’s heart they tell
Of scenes and voices remembered well!

His arm was strong, and his hope was bright,
When he tuned to melody
Those vesper bells, in the cloudless light
Of his own Italian sky;—
And now, on a distant northern shore,
That music breathed on his heart once more—
Though the strength and hope of his years were past—
As sweet as when he heard it last!

For the light of many a twilight hour,
And the breath of many a strain,
From cottage porch, and from myrtle bower,
With that sound returned again:—
And the wanderer listened, like one whose soul
Had found the path to its early goal,—
But his eyes were fixed, and his very breath
Seemed hush in the changeless hush of death!

Fainter and fainter the last low note
On the waters died away;
And the rowers paused,—for the lonely boat
By the stately city lay.
But the wanderer moved not—spoke not—still,
Though the dews of night fell fast and chill,
And strangers lifted his drooping head,—
But they found that the weary soul had fled!

Oh! strange were the yearning thoughts and fond
Round that lone heart’s ruined shrine,—
As the Hebrew’s thirst for the fount beyond
Philistia’s leaguering line!
But the sounds, that in life he loved the best,
May peal, unheeded, above his rest,—
For still, through the summer twilight, swells
The sound of St. Mary’s vesper bells!

All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters

We present this work in honor of the 80th anniversary of the poet’s death.

James Joyce
Irish
1882 – 1941

 

All day I hear the noise of waters
Making moan,
Sad as the sea-bird is when, going
Forth alone,
He hears the winds cry to the water’s
Monotone.

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing
Where I go.
I hear the noise of many waters
Far below.
All day, all night, I hear them flowing
To and fro.

A Song for the New Year

We present this work in honor of New Year’s Day.

Katharine Tynan
Irish
1859 – 1931

 

The Year of the Sorrows went out with great wind:
Lift up, lift up, O broken hearts, your Lord is kind,
And He shall call His flock home where no storms be
Into a sheltered haven out of sound of the sea.

There shall be bright sands there and a milken hill,
They shall lie in the sun there and drink their fill,
They shall have dew and shade there and grass to the knee,
Safe in a sheltered haven out of sound of the sea.

He shall bind their wounds up and their tears shall cease:
They shall have sweetest pillows and a bed of ease.
Come up, come up and hither, O little flock, saith He,
Ye shall have sheltered havens out of sound of the sea.

The first day of New Year strewed the sea with dead.
Lift up, lift up, O broken heart and hanging head!
The Lord walks on the waters and a Shepherd is He
They shall have sheltered havens out of sound of the sea.

The Too-Late Prodigal

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Edna O’Brien
Irish
b. 1930

 

I knew in fact the old home house was gone.
No longer did good oak and stone make sky
Seem bluer blue against its brown and gray,
No longer were the tall rooms stacked two high;
Even the chimney bricks were haled away—

Yet coming through the pasture firs just now,
My heart filled up with all that used to be.
For one rare moment time reversed the years,
And home was there in all simplicity,
So living real it choked my throat with tears.

It’s there, I thought, awaiting my return;
Any moment I will see the door
Swing wide! Just then my seeing heart went blind,
And eyes saw lonely space, and nothing more.
Lot’s wife and I should not have looked behind.

Beauty’s a Flower

Moira O’Neill
Irish
1864 – 1955

 

Youth’s for an hour,
Beauty’s a flower,
But love is the jewel that wins the world.

Youth’s for an hour, an’ the taste o’ life is sweet,
Ailes was a girl that stepped on two bare feet;
In all my days I never seen the one as fair as she,
I’d have lost my life for Ailes, an’ she never cared for me.

Beauty’s a flower, an’ the days o’ life are long,
There’s little knowin’ who may live to sing another song;
For Ailes was the fairest, but another is my wife,
An’ Mary—God be good to her!—is all I love in life.

Youth’s for an hour,
Beauty’s a flower,
But love is the jewel that wins the world.

The Assignation

George Farquhar
Irish
1677 – 1707

 

The Minute’s past appointed by my Fair,
The Minute’s fled
And leaves me dead
With Anguish and Despair.

My flatter’d Hopes their Flight did make
With the appointed Hour;
None can the Minute’s past o’retake,
And nought my Hopes restore.

Cease your Plaints, and make no Moan,
Thou sad repining Swain;
Although the fleeting Hour be gone,
The Place doe’s still remain.

The Place remains, and she may make
Amends for all your Pain;
Her Presence can past Time o’ertake,
Her Love your Hopes regain.

Freedom

We present this work in honor of the 85th anniversary of the poet’s death.

George William Russell
Irish
1867 – 1935

 

I will not follow you, my bird,
I will not follow you.
I would not breathe a word, my bird,
To bring thee here anew.

I love the free in thee, my bird,
The lure of freedom drew;
The light you fly toward, my bird,
I fly with thee unto.

And there we yet will meet, my bird,
Though far I go from you
Where in the light outpoured, my bird,
Are love and freedom too.

Dawn at St. Patrick’s

In honor of The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne), we present this work by one of today’s finest exemplars of the Irish spirit.

Derek Mahon
Irish
b. 1941

 

There is an old
statue in the courtyard
that weeps, like Niobe, its sorrow in stone.
The griefs of the ages she has made her own.
Her eyes are rain-washed but not hard,
her body is covered in mould,
the garden overgrown.

One by one
the first lights come on,
those that haven’t been on all night.
Christmas, the harshly festive, has come and gone.
No snow, but the rain pours down
in the first hour before dawn,
before daylight.

Swift’s home
for ‘fools and mad’ has become
the administrative block. Much there
has remained unchanged for many a long year —
stairs, chairs, Georgian widows shafting light and dust,
of the satirist;

but the real
hospital is a cheerful
modern extension at the back
hung with restful reproductions of Dufy, Klee and Braque.
Television, Russian fiction, snooker with the staff,
a sifter of Lucozade, a paragraph
of Newsweek or the Daily Mail

are my daily routine
during the festive season.
They don’t lock the razors here
as in Bowditch Hall. We have remained upright —
though, to be frank, the Christmas dinner scene,
with grown men in their festive gear,
was a sobering sight.

I watch the last
planes of the year go past,
silently climbing a cloud-lit sky.
Earth-bound, soon I’ll be taking a train to Cork
and trying to get back to work
at my sea-lit, fort-view desk
in the turf-smoky dusk.

Meanwhile,
next door, a visiting priest
intones to a faithful dormitory.
I sit on my Protestant bed, a make-believe existentialist,
and stare the clouds of unknowing. We style,
as best we may, our private destiny;
or so it seems to me

as I chew my thumb
and try to figure out
what brought me to my present state¬ —
an ‘educated man’, a man of consequence, no bum
but one who has hardly grasped what life is about,
if anything. My children, far away,
don’t know where I am today,

in a Dublin asylum
with a paper whistle and a mince pie,
my bits and pieces making a home from home.
I pray to the rain-clouds that they never come
where their lost father lies; that their mother thrives;
and that I
may measure up to them
before I die.

Soon a new year
will be here demanding, as before,
modest proposals, resolute resolutions, a new leaf,
new leaves. This is the story of my life,
the story of all lives everywhere,
mad fools whatever we are,
in here or out there.

Light and sane
I shall walk down to the train,
into that world whose sanity we know,
like Swift to be a fiction and a show.
The clouds part, the rain ceases, the sun
casts now upon everyone
its ancient shadow.

After Aughrim

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 175th birthday.

Emily Lawless
Irish
1845 – 1913

 

She said, “They gave me of their best,
They lived, they gave their lives for me;
I tossed them to the howling waste,
And flung them to the foaming sea.”

She said, “I never gave them aught,
Not mine the power, if mine the will;
I let them starve, I let them bleed,—
They bled and starved, and loved me still.”

She said, “Ten times they fought for me,
Ten times they strove with might and main,
Ten times I saw them beaten down,
Ten times they rose, and fought again.”

She said, “I stayed alone at home,
A dreary woman, grey and cold;
I never asked them how they fared,
Yet still they loved me as of old.”

She said, “I never called them sons,
I almost ceased to breathe their name,
Then caught it echoing down the wind,
Blown backwards from the lips of Fame.”

She said, “Not mine, not mine that fame;
Far over sea, far over land,
Cast forth like rubbish from my shores,
They won it yonder, sword in hand.”

She said, “God knows they owe me nought,
I tossed them to the foaming sea,
I tossed them to the howling waste,
Yet still their love comes home to me.”

Memory of My Father

Patrick Kavanagh
Irish
1904 – 1967

 

Every old man I see
Reminds me of my father
When he had fallen in love with death
One time when sheaves were gathered.
That man I saw in Gardner Street
Stumbled on the kerb was one,
He stared at me half-eyed,
I might have been his son.
And I remember the musician
Faltering over his fiddle
In Bayswater, London,
He too set me the riddle.
Every old man I see
In October-coloured weather
Seems to say to me:
“I was once your father.”