Galway Poetry Trail

Walking around Galway you might notice a series of plaques at various strategic locations, each of which has a poem inscribed on it, usually with a theme relating to the city. Together they comprise the Galway Poetry Trail which has been created in conjunction with the the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, an annual literature festival that’s been held in Galway since 1985.

During my latest visit I tried to find some time to visit some of the plaques. A number of the poems are by well known authors, including Seamus Heaney, James Joyce and W B Yeats, but others are by poets I didn’t know, so following the trail introduced me to their work. Here’s a few of them. 

This one, featuring the poem Bright City by Moya Cannon is on the bridge overlooking the harbour and the Cladagh, to which it refers.

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It’s a little tricky to read from the photo, so here it is

Bright City 

I follow the light down the canal path,
across the road and on to the Claddagh.
In a blast of morning light which has turned
canal, river and estuary to mercury,
even the cars on the Long Walk are transfigured.

Five swans beat their way in across the bay,
heavy, sounding their own clarion,
as though carrying the world’s beauty
in on their strong white backs this Saturday morning.”

(Moya Cannon)

Here’s one by Gerry Hanbury on the wall of a pub on the corner of Quay Street

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The Tribune by Gerald Dawe can be found on the wall of the building belonging to the very newspaper it refers to

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Rita Ann HigginsMen With Tired Hair can be found on the wall of Richardson’s Pub

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Galway Poetry Wall – Home

Another of the Cúirt poetry walls in Galway


Home

 By Nikola Madzirov

I lived at the edge of the town
like a streetlamp whose light bulb
no one ever replaces.
Cobwebs held the walls together,
and sweat our clasped hands.
I hid my teddy bear
in holes in crudely built stone walls
saving him from dreams.

Day and night I made the threshold come alive
returning like a bee that
always returns to the previous flower.
It was a time of peace when I left home:
the bitten apple was not bruised,
on the letter a stamp with an old abandoned house.
From birth I’ve migrated to quiet places
and voids have clung beneath me
like snow that doesn’t know if it belongs
to the earth or to the air.
Nikola Madzirov is a Macedonian poet, editor, and translator

Galway Poetry Wall – The Mower

One of the Cúirt poetry walls in Galway
The Mower by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found

A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,

Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.

Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world

Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.

The first day after a death, the new absence

Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time.

 

Poetry Walls in Galway

While I was wandering around the centre of Galway, I spotted this mural painted on the side of a butcher’s shop opposite the St Nicholas Collegiate Church.

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Later, not far away I came across 3 more murals, clustered together

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two of them facing each other on walls flanking a car park.

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I was curious. They clearly had some connection with each other, but what? And the words painted as part of the murals clearly had some meaning. But there didn’t seem to be any information about them.

On returning home, some research on the web finally revealed the answer. They had been created last year as part of the annual Cúirt literary festival. The paintings are an interpretation of poems by Philip Larkin, Dermot Healy, Nikola Madzirov and Irvine Welsh by local street artist Finbar247. Originally, there were plaques with the poems installed on the walls next to the poems but, with the exception of one, they had been removed, presumably by vandals.

There are some videos showing the paintings being created by the artist on the Cúirt website.

Book Benches in Bloomsbury

In summer 2014, a huge range of books will come to life across London, celebrating the city’s links with literature, showcasing accessible visual art from top personalities and local artists and providing entertainment for adults and children alike. (Books about town)

The benches are like giant books, opened with one half folded over to form the seat and the other upright acting as the backrest. There are four trails around the city, one of them in Bloomsbury – not suprising given the area’s literary connections. I came across a number of them as I wandered around Bloomsbury late Wednesday afternoon.
Pride and Prejudice in Queens Square
 

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The Impotance of Being Earnest

Sherlock Holmes (not a good photo as a private party was taking place preventing access)

Mrs Dalloway in Gordon Square

There were more, but I didn’t have time to seek them out.

 

Book Benches in Bloomsbury

In summer 2014, a huge range of books will come to life across London, celebrating the city’s links with literature, showcasing accessible visual art from top personalities and local artists and providing entertainment for adults and children alike. (Books about town)

The benches are like giant books, opened with one half folded over to form the seat and the other upright acting as the backrest. There are four trails around the city, one of them in Bloomsbury – not suprising given the area’s literary connections. I came across a number of them as I wandered around Bloomsbury late Wednesday afternoon.
Pride and Prejudice in Queens Square
 

1984

The Impotance of Being Earnest

Sherlock Holmes (not a good photo as a private party was taking place preventing access)

Mrs Dalloway in Gordon Square

There were more, but I didn’t have time to seek them out.

 

W B Yeats at the National Library of Ireland

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While taking the bus between Heuston station and my hotel near the Grand Canal on the edge of Ballsbridge I spotted that that there were a couple of exhibitions on at the National Library of Ireland – one about the 1913 Lockout and another about WB Yeats. I decided to visit them on my last day in Dublin.

They were both good. The W B Yeats exhibition was in the main building, which was architecturally interesting in it’s own right.

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The National Library of Ireland

I don’t know a great deal about Yeats, but like some of his poetry. So I found out quite a lot about him from the exhibition. (There’s also an Online version )

Yeats: visit the Online Exhibition

Yeats was a major figure in Irish Literary history – associated with the Irish Literary Revival, one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre and was awarded In  the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. He had a life-long infatuation with Maud Gonne who inspired many of his poems. A supporter of Irish independence, he served as a Senator for 6 years from 1922, on the foundation of the Irish Free State. Interested in Irish myths and legends he dabbled in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology. All of these facets of his life were covered by the exhibition.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s he expressed sympathy and support for fascist ideas and regimes. This was discussed by George Orwell in an article published in the literary journal Horizon in 1943. But there was no mention of this in the exhibition. This aspect of his character makes me feel uneasy, especially as I like a number of his poems. Reconciling work you admire with the views or acts of the artist isn’t always easy.

Close to the entrance there was a multimedia area where visitors could sit and listen to recordings of some of his more well known poems read by personalities Seamus Heaney and Sinead O’Connor and one by Yeats himself. The words being spoken were projected onto a screen along with relevant images. It was very well done, I thought.

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I’ll finish with one of his poems which was featured in this display, a favourite of mine.

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Blake at the John Rylands Library

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While we were over in Manchester a couple of weeks ago we called into the neo-gothic John Rylands library on Deansgate. Built in the 1890′s as a memorial to a local millionaire cotton master, today it’s part of the University of Manchester. Although it’s a serious academic resource containing many thousands of rare books, the library welcomes visitors to view the magnificent architecture and they also host  exhibitions, usually book related.

John Rylands Library

Currently, one of the exhibitions focuses on books containing prints of engravings by William Blake and others, such as the Pre-Raphaelites and members of the Arts and Crafts movement who were influenced by him.

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(Picture source : Wikipedia)

The University set a group of students, supervised by art historian Colin Todd, on detective work to find examples of books containing designs and engravings by Blake amongst the library’s collection. They succeeded in locating about 350 engraved plates designed by Blake in the collection, many of which are included in the exhibition.

The books containing the engravings include Edward Young’s poem Night Thoughts, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories Robert Thornton’s, Virgil and Blake’s own Book of Job.

Image from The Book of Job, William Blake, 1825

Blake was a highly skilled engraver and the prints are incredibly detailed. He was inventive too, developing a technique known as relief etching which allowed him to print words and images from a single plate.

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The library have had The Book of Job and Night Thoughts digitised and they can be viewed online.

 

A copy of the leaflet accompanying the exhibition can be downloaded from here.

James Joyce Museum Sandycove

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

This is the first line of Ulysses by James Joyce – a great work of fiction that introduced the “stream of consciousness” to English literature – but also a book that many a person has started and never finished.  The opening chapter is set in a Martello tower on the coast at Sandycove, a small seaside resort just outside Dublin (well, its part of the Dublin sprawl these days). The tower is one of a series of small defensive structures that were constructed on the coast in Britain, Ireland and some other parts of the British Empire during the Napoleonic wars. They’re very strong with thick brick walls and would have had a cannon on the top.

Joyce spent six nights in the tower from 9 to 15 September 1904. His friend Oliver St John Gogarty, who the character, Buck Mulligan, is based on, had rented it from the War Office. Another occupant of the tower during Joyce’s stay was an Anglo-Irishman, Samuel Chenevix Trench, who appears as the character Haines in the book.  Joyce fled the tower after he was woken by Trench who was screaming, having had a nightmare involving a panther. Trench picked up a revolver and fired several shots into the fireplace, after which Gogarty grabbed a .22 rifle and fired at a collection of pans above Joyce’s bed.

Entrance to the James Joyce Museum at Sandycove

Today the tower has been converted into a museum celebrating the life of Joyce and his masterpiece. We called in on the morning of our last day in Ireland on the way back to Dublin to catch the mid-afternoon ferry.  On the ground floor there is a small collection of exhibits including a couple of death masks, some letters and portraits and photographs. There are a number of his personal possessions including his guitar , a waistcoat made by his grandmother and his cigar case. Taking pride of place is a first edition of Ulysses, published by Shakespeare & Co in 1922.

The recreated sleeping quarters on the first floor

The first floor the sleeping quarters have been recreated, just as they would have been when Joyce stayed there. From here you can climb up a very narrow staircase up onto the roof where you get a good view out to sea and along the coast as far as the Liffey estuary. You can also make out the nearby “Forty foot” – an open air swimming pool which also features in chapter 1 of Ulysees as its here where Buck Mulligan takes his morning dip. It’s really just a partially enclosed section of the sea and originally was for men only (in the buff!) although today mixed bathing is permitted and “Togs must be worn after 9am.” People swim here all year round – they must be crazy! The “forty foot” is nothing to do with the depth or width of the pool; rather it’s named after the Fortieth Foot Regiment of the British Army who used to be stationed near here.

Looking towards the "Forty Foot"

Rocky coast at Sandycove, looking south from the tower

Humphry Davy – a man of two cultures

Its 50 years ago since CP Snow gave his Reid lecture on the “The two cultures” about the division between the arts and scientists and in many ways the division is probably more pronounced today. Science is perceived as difficult by the general public but I think that most “scientists” do very little to try to get over this barrier and help to increase understanding of science.  I studied Chemistry at University and worked in a scientific discipline all my life and my experience is that many people with a scientific education don’t have much interest in the arts and humanities. Yet, this has not always been the case. Before the 20th Century, there was much less of a barrier between the arts and sciences – “educated” men and women, (and I include self educated working class people in this category) cultivated an interest in both.

Personally, I’ve always had a passion for history, literature and reading in general. A long time favourite book is Richard Holmes‘ “Footsteps“, a book which combines biography, travel and autobiography. His biography of Shelley is also a favourite. So when I heard that a new book of his was due out that focused on the development of science in the “romantic age” I bought a copy hot off the press – even though it was in hardback, as I didn’t want to wait the extra months it would take for a paperback edition to be published (mind you a half price offer made it even more tempting!).

As in Footsteps, Holmes covers the life of more than one subject and also wanders off down sidetracks related to the main theme. One of the main topics is the life of Sir Humphrey Davy. I’ve always had an interest in this pioneering chemist so was keen to read this section of the book. He is best known for his invention of the safety lamp and he is also credited with the discovery (or isolation) of sodium, potassium and barium. But there is a lot more to his life.

Humphrey Davy came from humble beginnings in Cornwall, being born in Penzance in 1778. In 1794 he was apprenticed to John Bingham Borlase, a Penzance surgeon, but in 1798 was taken on by Thomas Bedooes (well known at the time as a Radical) to work as a laboratory assistant in the latter’s newly established Pneumatic Institution in Bristol. It was here that Davy was able to develop his talents as an experimental scientist, before finally moving to London in 1801 to work at the Royal Institution.

There was no separation of arts and sciences for Davy – he moved in both worlds, as did many other prominent artists and scientists at the time. He was a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, who took an interest in his work, as did others, including Shelley and Keats – Davy even wrote poetry himself. Men of ideas were interested in more than one sphere of knowledge and culture.

Given my work as an occupational hygienist (its O.K. – nobody knows what that is!) it was particularly interesting to read about Davy’s experiments with gases in Bristol. He explored the effects of nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide by conducting inhalation studies on himself. On more than one occasion he came close to death by exposing himself to high concentrations of carbon monoxide.

For most people Davy is known as the inventor of the miner’s safety lamp. Although this is surrounded by controversy (not least disputes about who first developed the lamp with George Stevenson) Davy was largely motivated by a desire to save lives (although the search for glory was a factor too, it has to be said) and he refused to take out a patent, even though strongly encouraged to do so. He wanted his lamp to be freely available. Sadly, although the lamp was intended to save lives it has been said that it actually caused the death of more men because the mine owners used the lamp as an excuse to send their workers into more dangerous workings. However, the ones really responsible for this were the greedy mine owners. Davy cannot be blamed for the misuse of his invention by others.

Although he had radical tendencies in his youth, he moved to the right in older age as he became part of the establishment (sadly this is too often the case – his contemporary, Wordsworth is a particularly notable example). He also had a tendency to seek glory and credit for inventions and could be jealous of others who worked with him – notably Michael Faraday who started out as Davy’s assistant. Nevertheless there is much about him to admire and Holmes, who is clearly sympathetic towards his subject, has written an educative and entertaining account of his life. And although the book as a whole is excellent, it was worth shelling out for a hardback book for this alone.