Friday 18 October 2013



8pm Launching by artist John Shinnors, Flannery's Bar, Catherine St.

9.30 pm Garbiel Fitzmaurice and Open Mic at the White House Bar


1.00 pm Reading by Ron Carey, the Hunt Museum

7pm Launch of The Stony Thursday Book, 69 O'Connell St (formerly the Belltable)

8pm Jo Slade, Marco Viscomi, Adam Wyeth at 69 O'Connell St


1.00 pm Reading by Kerrie O'Brien, the Hunt Museum

7pm Ciaran O'Driscoll celebrating 70 years, 69 O'Connell St 

8pm Biddy Jenkinson, David Wheatley at 69 O'Connell St

9.30pm Poetry Films, 69 O'Connell St


1.00pm Tribute to poets no longer with us: Dennis O'Driscoll, Pearse Hutchinson, 
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, 69 O'Connell St

8pm Anthony Cronin, Hugh Maxton, 69 O'Connell St


Tuesday 1 October 2013


Riflessi DiVersi (a pun on ‘Reflections in Verse’ and ‘Diverse Reflections’) is an annual poetry festival held in Umbria – specifically, in the provincial capital Perugia and the nearby town of Magione. The festival takes place in early autumn, and is now in its eighth year. The 2013 festival ran from 25th to 28th September inclusive, and included two public readings, visits to two schools and a reading for 200-plus pupils in the Palazzo dei Priori, Perugia. The poets were Pat Boran and myself (Ciaran O’Driscoll) from Ireland, and Maria Rosaria Luzi and Antonio Carlo Ponti from Umbria. The translators were Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (Italian to English) and Rita Castigli (English to Italian). Music was provided by the violin-cellist Andrea Rellini. The director of the festival is Fernando Trilli, founder with the late Paul Cahill of its organizing body, Immagini d’Irlanda in Umbria. The reading in Magione on 26th September was honoured by the presence of the new Irish Ambassador to Italy, Mr Bobby McDonagh, who said that his attendance at Riflessi DiVersi was his first ambassadorial visit outside of Rome.
The 2013 festival marks the beginning of a collaboration between Riflessi DiVersi and Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival, a linking which involves, among other things, an exchange of poets on a yearly basis.
As one of the participants this year, I was hugely impressed by the warmth of the atmosphere and the rapport between all participants, making the twinning of Riflessi and Cuisle entirely appropriate, as our Limerick poetry festival has always aimed to be a friendly and unpretentious occasion.
I was particularly impressed by the secondary school students in the Palazzo dei Priori who braved coming up to the podium from among their 200 colleagues to ask questions and express their views on poetry, and also by those who approached each poet individually afterwards to say how happy they were to experience living poets face to face, and how the session had opened their minds to an entirely new dimension. The enthusiasm of these young people who came forward to talk to us after the reading will remain long in my mind. 

A view over Perugia from the top of the Torre del Cassero di Porta Sant'Angelo, where a public reading took place on Friday evening, 27th September.

Irish poet Pat Boran chats with my son Conor before the Friday evening reading.

During my own reading at the Torre del Cassero, Friday evening. To my left is my translator, Rita Castigli.

My thanks to the Ireland Literature Exchange for their financial support.

Photographs by Margaret Farrelly.

Wednesday 21 August 2013


We are just back from a pleasant, interesting if financially challenging week in Oslo, which must surely be Europe's, if not the world's, most expensive city. Our hotel accommodation was a cramped 'studio apartment' hardly much bigger than a single bedroom. There was a hob with two rings, a microwave oven, two cups, two glasses, two spoons. We would have had to pay heavily extra for any additional cutlery, pots, pans, etc, so we did without them. We had brought our own coffee pot and coffee, and I bought a croissant or two at the nearby 7/11 for breakfast. We lived on one proper meal a day, treating ourselves twice to a splurge in a top-class restaurant. For lunch, we filled bread rolls with ham and cheese in the morning and brought them with us on our various excursions, and bought a few bananas. Matters were almost on a military footing.
We bought weekly transport passes at a reasonable price, and they covered buses, trams, the Metro (or T-bane) and the ferries to the inner islands of the Oslo fjord. Visiting these islands on days of good weather was probably the highlight of our stay, though the Munch Museum, the Ibsen Museum and the amazing architecture of the Opera House were close runners-up.
The islands are environmentally protected, there are small sandy or shingly beaches, hardly any shops or cafés (on some islands there are no retail outlets at all). You can easily and quickly walk around most islands and the views of the fjord and the city are quite stunning from several vantage points. The small beaches reminded me of childhood holidays in Schull, West Cork. The islands we visited were Langoyene, Hovedoya, and Gressholmen.
It was on these islands that we encountered the barnacle geese, beautifully shaped and plumaged creatures, herbivores that moved sedately through grass, cow-like in their grazing.

There are restrictions on the sale of liquor in Norway. While you can buy beer in any super- or mini-market, wine and spirits can only be bought in designated stores, which close at 6 pm. (And I thought it was bad when Ireland brought in a law closing off-licences at 10 pm!) 
I eventually saw a wine store in the Oslo train station, and made sure to get there before six o'clock the following day, rather than spend €8.00 per glass for a a few nightcaps of plonk in the hotel bar. Hence the rather exhausted look of triumph on my face in the photograph below. The price for those bottles (of Italian wine) was comparable to prices in Irish off-licences.

Wednesday 26 June 2013


The robots haven't gone away, you know. That's probably why the poetry editor of 3 Quarks Daily posted my poem 'Please Hold' in his Sunday Poem slot quite recently. In fact, 'Please Hold' has been my most published poem of recent times, having first appeared in Southword, a Cork-based magazine, then in The Forward Book of Poetry 2009, then in the Anthology Poems of the Decade 2002 – 2011 (Forward/Faber, 2011). It was uploaded to Youtube from a reading I gave in the White House Limerick, and also from a Reading at Ó Bhéal, Cork. I published it in my collection Life Monitor (2009), from where it has been selected to be translated into Slovenian for a collection just published in Ljubljana. And here it is again, from 3 Quarks Daily. 
'Please Hold' is an apoplectic rant in verse about the 'new-fangled' impersonal telephone system on which you'd be lucky ever to hear a real human voice. Invasion of the robots! 


JUNE 02, 2013
Please Hold

This is the future, my wife says. 
We are already there, and it’s the same 
as the present. Your future, here, she says. 
And I’m talking to a robot on the phone. 
The robot is giving me countless options, 
none of which answer to my needs. 
Wonderful, says the robot 
when I give him my telephone number. 
And Great, says the robot 
when I give him my account number. 
I have a wonderful telephone number 
and a great account number, 
but I can find nothing to meet my needs 
on the telephone, and into my account 
(which is really the robot’s account) 
goes money, my money, to pay for nothing. 
I’m paying a robot for doing nothing. 
This call is free of charge, says the mind-reading robot. 
Yes but I'm paying for it, I shout, 
out of my wonderful account 
into my great telephone bill. 
Wonderful, says the robot. 
And my wife says, This is the future. 
I’m sorry, I don’t understand, says the robot. 
Please say Yes or No. 
Or you can say Repeat or Menu. 
You can say Yes, No, Repeat or Menu, 
Or you can say Agent if you’d like to talk 
to someone real, who is just as robotic. 
I scream Agent! and am cut off, 
and my wife says, This is the future. 
We are already there and it’s the same 
as the present. Your future, here, she says. 
And I’m talking to a robot on the phone, 
and he is giving me no options 
in the guise of countless alternatives. 
We appreciate your patience. Please hold. 
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Please hold. 
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Please hold. 
Eine fucking Kleine Nachtmusik. 
And the robot transfers me to himself. 
Your call is important to us, he says. 
And my translator says, This means 
your call is not important to them. 
And my wife says, This is the future. 
And my translator says, Please hold 
means that, for all your accomplishments, 
the only way you can now meet your needs 
is by looting. Wonderful, says the robot 

Please hold. Please grow old. Please grow cold. 
Please do what you’re told. Grow old. Grow cold. 
This is the future. Please hold.
by Ciaran O'Driscoll
from the journal Southword
Posted by Jim Culleny at 07:41 AM | Permalink

Thursday 18 April 2013


Here is the beginning of my novel, A Year's Midnight, as main characters 
George and Barbara arrive in Italy for a year of self-development, away from it all.

George stood in the bar of the Autostrada Servizio, irritably puzzled 
as to why he was not being served. He was being ignored yet again. 
This was the story of his life. Furthermore, he didn’t understand what 
was going on. Was there, or was there not, a queue? 
Barbara understood that there was a queue, but that it wasn’t an 
orderly queue. Or that there was an order, but it didn’t take the form of 
a queue. She didn’t subscribe to George’s theory of cosmic conspiracy. 
It had been a tiring day. They had named it the Day of the Hun- 
dred Tunnels, driving from Provence through Ventimiglia on the Italian 
border, past Genoa, and they had just veered inland towards Florence. 
There was farther to go, a couple of hours more to the town, and then 
they had to find the remote farmhouse. But they felt they should stop for 
a while, chiefly because of Alan, who was hungry and whingey in the 
back seat. Besides, it was hot – for them, that is: a beautiful afternoon in 
early September, a mere thirty-three degrees. 
The bar was crowded. The queue that was not a queue had several 
tails. A large woman up at the front was arguing with an impassive bar 
attendant. Brandishing a lottery ticket, she turned frequently to shout at 
other customers in the same accusatory tone with which she addressed 
the mask of a face on the other side of the counter, arguing her point to 
everyone present, to the nation and to the world. 
Purple-faced, George turned to Barbara, raising his eyes, mouth- 
ing an obscenity. 
‘Welcome to Italy, George,’ she said. 
‘Welcome to bloody chaos, you mean.’ 
‘Don’t worry, it’ll be quieter where we’re going. Much quieter.’ 

Ciaran O'Driscoll, A Year's Midnight, Pighog Press (2012)

Available from and, in print and on Kindle.

Wednesday 10 April 2013


The taximan drove in silence, and George certainly didn’t feel like small talk. They kept to minor roads, and were very shortly out of George’s familiar surroundings and driving through villages and small settlements, up and down mountains, hugging forested precipices and sudden clear drops where a river flashed in the depths. If he had been in a receptive mood, the passenger would have enjoyed the scenery: the blue-grey Appenines, furred by forestry, the folds like flesh-folds of huge animals, the fur still flecked with snow. But on this particular trip, the animal appearance of the mountains only fuelled his baleful fantasies.
Time passed, and they were down on the level again, on a windswept plain. On one side of the road deserted villages clung to slopes of rocks, ghostly white walls with eyeless dark of windows, decayed buildings, abandoned homes, villages of the dead, of vampires, of werewolves. The mountains now lay like huge animals in folds of flesh on the other side of the plain. The car was shaken and buffeted by the wind, the roaring wind that blew in this huge, desolate space.
‘Where you from?’ the driver barked suddenly, shaking George out of his melancholy. When he looked for some sign of engagement, however, the taximan was eyeing the road intently as if he was driving through fog, as if he had never spoken.
‘I said where you from? Why you not answer?’
‘I’m from Ireland,’ George volunteered meekly. ‘But I have been living in…’
‘Why you come here?’
‘I needed a break.’
‘You need a brek? Why you come here if you need a brek? Why you need this brek?’
‘From writing.’
The driver took his eyes off the road, looked at his passenger for the first time since the journey began. ‘You is writer. You need a brek. And you come here.’ He emitted a dry, cracked laugh.
‘I’m sorry now that I ever came.’
‘Is too late.’
There was a long silence. They were beginning to ascend again, and now the driver had good reason to squint intently at the road, because the sun, about to go under, was glaring blindingly down from the rim of a mountain. It was dark by the time he spoke again.
‘There was a writer, inglese, I knowed him. He come here. He go fucking crazy.’ The driver touched his temple with a middle finger. ‘He go fucking crazy, like you.’
‘I’m not crazy.’
‘Yes you is. You is fucking crazy. Why you come here if you not crazy? Why you want a brek? What is problem? Problem is you is crazy, then you come here, you is more crazy.’
‘That’s about the size of it,’ murmured George. ‘Professor Piero could not have put it better,’ he added, to himself rather than to the driver.
‘Professor Piero,’ the taximan said with a tone of resigned contempt.
‘You know him?’
‘Yes, I know him. He also crazy.’ Finger to the forehead again. ‘He serious crazy. He dangerous. Now I see why you is crazy. You go to Professor Piero. Why you go to Professor Piero?’
They were speeding downwards. The tyres ratcheted sickeningly against the rim of the road. George caught a glimpse in the headlights of a yawning drop.
‘Will you slow down?’ he shouted, his anger spurting through at last. ‘Who the hell are you, anyway? Why are you asking me all these questions? It’s really none of your fucking business.’
‘You want me slow down? I slow down. Is all right. We nearly there. Calmo, calmo. But why you go to Professor Piero?’
‘The dogs brought me to him. Maybe you know the dogs, too, since you seem to know everything. And maybe you know Tessa. And Rogero and Mathilde. And maybe you know that I was sexually abused as a child, by my uncle.’
‘Yes, I know everything. They all crazy. Rogero, Tessa, Mathilde, Professor Piero. They all serious pazzi. You bet they is crazy. Like you. Maybe the dogs not crazy – it not matter. You uncle, maybe he crazy, but he not fucking you. No sesso. Is all in you head, because you crazy. Is so simple. Why you blame you uncle because you is fucking crazy? But we here.’
The car screeched to a halt. George could see nothing in the headlights but a grass margin and trees.
‘I leave you here,’ said the taxi driver. ‘Is maybe two, three kilometers on sentiero, liddle road. It go up, up, up. Soon you see fire. Follow fire.’
‘I can’t see anything.’
The driver slapped his forehead in frustration, started the engine, reversed furiously, lurched forward and stopped again. A narrow path between the trees appeared in the headlights.
‘Get out, please.’  
George got out, suddenly changed his mind, lunged at the taxi driver, grabbing him by the lapels of his jacket and bringing his face up close to his own.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded. ‘You better tell me, because I’ve had enough shit from you in a few hours to last a lifetime. Who are you?’
The taximan placed a hand on one of George’s tightly gripping knuckles. He recoiled at the touch, as if electrified.
‘It not matter,’ the taximan said, adjusting his jacket. ‘I bring you where you need to be, is all. Now I go. Now you go on liddle road. Up, up, up. Soon you see fire. Follow fire. You crazy. Soon maybe you is more crazy, or maybe you not crazy any more. In bocca al lupo, best of lucks.’
George watched the headlights of the car until they disappeared. As if on cue, a crescent moon came out from behind the clouds and gave him enough light to begin his ascent.

From A Year's Midnight, Ciaran O'Driscoll, Pighog Press 2012

Friday 5 April 2013



If fate ever happens to take you on the N63 between Roscommon Town and Galway City, or in the opposite direction, and you find yourself in need of refreshment, do drop in to the Treat Café in Lackagh, Co Galway, near Turloughmore. The café is situated in a roadside complex of various businesses including a DIY store, a supermarket, a beauty salon, a hairdresser’s, a car wash, a pub, a pharmacy and medical centre. Services include a post office and ATM, and there is a spacious car park. The whole complex is redolent of a modern version of feudalism, designed to meet most of the needs of the locals, and is the creation of one family, the Flynns, whose provenance in this location goes back to 1842, when they opened a bar and grocery store. The current lord and lady of the manor are Julien and Emma Flynn.

The Treat Café in Lackagh is a people-friendly space, without the musak so characteristic of modern pubs and eating places, blaring so that you can hardly hear yourself or your table companions. The staff, too, were cheerful, prompt and friendly. The decor was interesting: the mauve, red and yellowy green on the walls and lampshades were echoed in the varied upholstery of the chairs, and yet the face of an ancient clock, with Roman numerals and filigreed hands, peers down from a wall. Perhaps the clock is a reminder of the long history of Flynns of Lackagh , hanging there in the middle of a more contemporary, faintly funky decor.

Our coffee was excellent. My wife declared that her slice of carrot cake was the best she had ever tasted. My rock bun, unlike most rock buns I have recently encountered, did not disintegrate into crumbs at the first touch of a knife, and the inner part was soft and consistent in texture. It was crowned with a glacé cherry. I enjoyed it. (I should say here that more substantial fare may be had at the café.)

All in all, a most satisfactory and refreshing break as we drove back from a music festival in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, to Limerick City.  

Tuesday 12 March 2013


The mother of an Umbrian friend makes a pasta called umbricelli, a slightly thicker kind of spaghetti. Here she is separating the strings from one another in case they stick. The blur on her right hand is probably caused by the rapidity of her movements. I was told that the derivation of umbricelli is not from Umbria but from a dialect name for a worm, umbro, which derives from a worm's brownish colour (umber), hence the name is cognate with vermicelli, from verme, the standard Italian name for a worm. But it may be that Umbrians prefer umbricelli to vermicelli or spaghetti because of the sound association with the name of their province.

Photo taken on my Nokia C2-01

Tuesday 19 February 2013


05 February

The Agustinian nuns at Chiesa dei Santi Quattro washing and cleaning out their Peugeot hatchback in the forecourt. In their good habits, not their work ones!

Went to Piazza del Populo in the little electric bus 117. It tore through sidestreets. I walked back along Via del Corso, turned left and found myself at the Spanish Steps. Went into the Keats Museum just to allay a niggling doubt that I may have left my wallet there. I hadn’t. Lots of designer shops in this area, Margaret would have had a ball. Among them familiar ones from everywhere (global capitalism): Bally, Zara, Yamaha, Mango, Dolce & Gabbana. The survivors of ‘one capitalist kills many’ (Marx).

It was damp but mild. A light rain falling intermittently. Dull but lively. I had a tuna and tomato panino and a glass of Chianti outside a cafe named after its street, ‘Cafe Frattina’.

07 February

I’m getting to like the constant sound of the screaming, scavenging seagulls around Villa Irlanda. Sometimes it’s a witch’s cackle, sometimes a hearty but cynical laugh, sometimes a dog barking (or is that an actual dog barking?). I am beginning to rein in towards home and looking forward to it, which is a good sign that I have more or less achieved what I set out to do. May the Lord spare me any serious hiccups during my last few days! 

When I was in Despar today, at the bread counter, an Asian man came in a bought a single bap. It was weighed, put in a paper bag and sealed with a price tag. Cost 15 cent, I think. 

Yesterday afternoon, on my way to the presidential reception in the Irish Embassy, I got off the 75 bus at the junction of Via Fratelli Bonnet and Via G. Carini and went into a bar gastronomia on the corner for a glass of wine and an egg and turkey sandwich. Two young women (around 20 y.o.a) came in, one pimply with lank fair hair, wearing a black hoody with BASS HEAD in white on the back, carrying a shoulder bag and two hula hoops, the other one shorter, in red and black. The first had an Irish accent, spoke English and was clearly also learning Italian words from the other. The Irish lass with the candy-coloured hula hoops ordered a grappa and a Jameson, the other had a grappa. ‘We should get some wine,’ the Irish one said. ‘We can get it in Despar,’ said the other. ‘We should get it in a wine shop,’ said Hula Hoops. Sweet and twenty and determined to get pissed. Going to a party at the nearby American Academy??

On my way home from the embassy, I got a very sweet smile from a girl in a takeaway pizza place in Largo Argentina, and we shared a wordless joke: the way she picked up on her fork the tiniest piece of smoked salmon that had fallen off my pizza slice and put it back on.

11 February

Overheard from the Bore in the Breakfast Room this morning: ‘...Dickie was her cousin. Dickie Plantagenet was her cousin...’ 

Thursday 7 February 2013


07 February

I shook hands with the President of Ireland at the Irish Embassy on the Gianicolo Hill last night. Later he was rushed home to disinfect his hands. No, he was rushed home to be on hand (Oh God) to sign legislation to deal with the IBRC crisis which kept the Dáil up all night. I just heard about this from a Cork woman and her daughter at breakfast here in Villa Irlanda. 
I thought Michael D. looked rather tired and spoke with far less gusto than he’s known for. With hindsight, now, I can see that one of his slips of the tongue was classically Freudian: ‘confusion’ for ‘cohesion’. This drew a laugh from the crowd as the President immediately acknowledged it with some witticism. I wonder how many of the guests at the reception at Villa Spada were aware of Ireland’s parlous state, with IBRC’s €12 billion assets in danger? I know I wasn’t.
One TD summed it up succinctly: ‘This is going to be a long night.’

Wednesday 6 February 2013


01 February

Went to Termini today to get train tickets for Umbria. My initial impression there was that the last thing they want to sell is a train ticket. The station is full of designer shops, restaurants and cafés, and even has a few supermarkets, including a Despar (= Spar). The multinational heavies are actually pushing the real function of the station into the background.
It took me quite a while to find Informazione and longer to find Assistenza Clienti,which is where they sell tickets face-to-face. There are, be it said, a large number of automatic dispensers of train tickets, but unauthorized people come in off the street to help you work these machines if you have difficulties (for a gratuity of course).
At Assistenza Clienti, you have to get a queuing ticket in order to buy a train ticket. I went up to some women standing outside the ticket offices and asked ‘É una fila?’ (‘Is it a queue?’) They looked at me expressionlessly, and I realized that they were oriental and didn’t understand me. Eventually a man pointed me to the dispenser for the tickets that put you in a numerical ‘queue’ for the train ticket desks. It took me a while to figure the whole business out, but I have to admit that for a huge station like Roma Termini, it is an excellent arrangement. You don’t have to form a physical queue, just stand around and wait for your number to come up on a screen, which also gives you the number of the sportello (desk) you should go to. You might even be able to go for a coffee and come back, having gauged approximately how long it could take for your number to come up. 
My number was B416 and the last number in the B category to show on the screen was around 350. (The B category is for Inter City and Regional Trains). It was about an hour before my turn came, but I was able to go out for a smoke and keep my eye on the progress of my number. The process seemed to speed up when three or more people went to the same desk, but they usually took longer than a single person, so the quick advance of the numbers was a bit of an illusion. 
I watched a ticket official chatting to a woman and fumbling to put two tickets into an envelope for her, and thought that this scene would be great if the hero of my new novel was on the run from his Eumenides to catch a train that was leaving in five minutes and was also bursting to go to the toilet!

Friday 1 February 2013


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

by e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Monday 28 January 2013


23 January

I was sent on a fool’s errand by the receptionist yesterday (I should have phoned the place beforehand): she browsed the net for ticket outlets for Saturday’s Mahler Concert in the Parco della Musica and said there was an outlet in Largo di Torre Argentina, in a large bookshop called Feltrinelli. Off I went de shúil mo chosa past the Colosseum, down to Piazza Venezia, past the Vittoriano monument (nicknamed the typewriter or the wedding cake). I turned dutifully left into Via del Plebiscito and before I knew it I was in Argentina, which was ‘frantic with traffic’ (as The Rough Guide knew).  After a few swivels of the head I saw Feltrinelli’s, crossed the road carefully and went in. I was directed to the ticket office by an uniformed person and was told that tickets for that particular concert were not for sale there, I’d have to get them from the concert hall in Parco della Musica.

Rule One: Never assume that you can get tickets for a particular concert at a general ticket outlet.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk among the imposing monuments, palaces and churches in spring-like sunshine. There was definitely a touch of spring yesterday, with a few showers, the kind of harbinger of better times you also get in Ireland towards the end of January, a transient kind of quickening, an unusual mildness and luminosity. All the same, I took a bus back to the Colosseum, the 87. I have been warned that the buses are just as pickpocket-infested as the Metro. But on this particular trip I was surrounded by solid decent citizens, and one woman helped me to validate my ticket, as I was pushing it into the machine wrong side up. I have validated tickets on Italian buses hundreds of times, but it was an unaccustomed type of machine.

This afternoon, coming back from a solitary pint in Finnegans, an Irish pub off the Via Cavour, after jotting down some lines of a potential poem, I passed the pavement-sleeper with raised knee I had seen earlier by the railings of the public park across the main road from the Colosseum. He was now totally covered by a pink blanket or cloth which had assumed the shape of an egg, as if he had disappeared back into the womb. A few meters further on, a few fresh hawkbit flowers nodded on their green stems inside the railings of a park. These sights, coming one after the other, gave me the strangest inarticulate feeling: a mixture of sadness, joy and an intuition of fate.

Saturday 19 January 2013


19 January

Motivation on the blink today. A dull morning with damp penetrating cold. In Rome. Did I really need to come here for this? I have put on my long johns. This laptop is getting on my nerves, constantly making unwanted windows appear. I am going out to see the fourth century Church of the Four Saints, pointed out to me by my Roman friend Claudio when he was taking me back to his high-rise home last night for a pleasant few hours of reminiscence and dinner. 
When I am out this morning, I also intend to purchase a corkscrew, and suss out the Shamrock Bar down near the Colosseum, as it has billed TV viewing tomorrow of the match between Munster and Racing Metro, a must-see if at all possible.


The long johns were not a great idea: it seemed quite cold, but I warmed up from walking around, and then I got too warm for comfort. I am glad to say that I achieved all three objectives of my morning walkabout, which is good for my morale. On the other hand, it rained incessantly for the two hours I was out. The rain gave rise to my being frequently assailed by peripatetic street-vendors, droves of them, who were making hay while the sun shines by selling umbrellas. I found them quite annoying, particularly when one of them interrupted me as I was asking directions for the Shamrock Bar. They had the effect of steeling my resolve not to buy an umbrella, which meant that I got rather soaked in the end.

The Chiesa dei Santi Quattro Coronati (to give it its full title) was a gloomy place but of great antiquarian atmosphere, and there were notices at the entrance about the various restorations it underwent since the 300 ADs. The portico was quite bright, but the inside so dull I couldn’t properly see the frescoes behind the altar, many of which seemed to show naked men suffering extremes of torture (it wasn’t waterboarding), and I presume these unfortunates were the four blesséd martyrs. The cupola showed the usual eschatological depiction of the gathering of the saints in heaven with the Trinity represented in the centre.
The centre aisle was covered with majolica-like tiles which I couldn’t properly admire because of the gloom. 
The four saints were martyred in the 300s at the command of the emperor Diocletian, for refusing to worship idols. 
I suspected I’d find a corkscrew in a shop whose fascia proclaimed Ferramenta & More, and indeed there was an entire rack of them just inside the door. The one I bought - a ‘hands-up’ type - cost €6.30.
Off I headed towards the Colosseum, searching for the Shamrock Bar. I like to locate places beforehand, to get the befuddlement over with in advance of the time I want to be there. Sure enough, I found the Via del Colosseo (where the internet map assured me the watering-hole was located) but  the street took an indeterminate unsigned turn sharpish left. Befuddlement ensued and was not assuaged by asking directions from a middle-aged woman (it was at this point I was interrupted in my conversation by an umbrella vendor). The woman did not know where the Shamrock Bar was (probably didn’t know what I was saying and got a bit nervous of me). I was about to turn back up the street, which had now become a downhill cobbled laneway with small cars parked plentifully on either side, when I noticed two flags hanging limply from a building further down. One of the flags was a tricolour which might have been either Irish or Italian, but I soon saw that the building was Hotel Perugia. 
I went further down and was greeted by a young man coming out of an office. ‘Can I help you?’ He had a Dublin accent. He pointed out the Shamrock Bar and told me that one or two of the barmen play rugby for an obscure Roman XV, therefore the bar would be almost certain to show Heineken Cup games. He also told me that the the only ‘real’ Irish pub in Rome was quite near, on Via Cavour: Finnegans. He added that he ran a travel agency, and that if I wanted a tour of the Vatican, he could arrange one, or indeed any other kind of Roman tour that I fancied.
It is now half past twelve, time for lunch. Still raining: I’m afraid I may eventually be compelled to buy an umbrella.

Rome Journal © Copyright Ciaran O'Driscoll 2013

Thursday 17 January 2013


Yes, it happened, and on only my second day in Rome at that. It must have happened on my return journey from Piazza di Spagna, because I took the wallet out of my back pocket to pay the modest fee of €4.50 to visit the Keats-Shelley Museum, and went straight back into the Metro station after my visit. I didn’t notice a thing, must have been an expert that did it. Luckily, my wallet didn’t contain my credit cards, as I got fed up of getting them damaged from sitting on them and now carry them in a zipped pocket in my jacket. This meant, of course, that I was able to get more money as soon as I noticed that my wallet was missing. 

The contents of my wallet, to which I must now bid a fond goodbye, as I must eventually bid goodbye to life itself (poor Keats had to at the age of 25), were as follows:
€120 in cash.
A damaged Mastercard. I have since got a replacement, which is in the aforementioned zipped pocket.
Several other cards of dubious value to the robber, such as those for Limerick City and County Libraries, for Irish Voluntary Health Insurance, a long-expired one for EU Health Insurance.
A number of long-standing calling cards given to me by people I did not get around to calling.
A card which will raise the barrier for the robber if he or she ever wishes to drive into Curragh Chase Forest Park, County Limerick.
An expired, and therefore invalid, driving licence.
A number of receipts for recent purchases.

I did not like the Rome Metro when I travelled on it today, and obviously I like it even less now that I’ve discovered its overcrowded and claustrophobic atmosphere has led to the stealing of my wallet. Tomorrow I intend to investigate travelling by bus and tram.


17 January

I got lost but was redirected accurately by a most helpful woman at traffic lights. ‘Buona giornata’ she said in parting (Have a good day in US English). I had succeeded in finding a Spar supermarket, where I bought the following items for my midday snack:
1 lemon
Slices of Scottish smoked salmon (about half the price of Alaskan smoked salmon, which I was initially offered, no flies on me ho, ho!)
2 Ciabattine (small ciabattas)
A packet of rocket.
A packet of Edam slices.
At Villa Irlanda, I can make myself a cup of tea or coffee in the dining room and have my midday snack there. I need to be careful not to attract ants in my bedroom by leaving food around. Yesterday, I even found a bunch of ants gathered round a leaf that must have come off my shoe! These creatures (not quite sure if they’re ants but they look like ants) seem to be everywhere in Rome: I remember encountering them in a hotel bedroom back in 1993).
I also found an ATM machine that accepted my card this morning.
That’s two pluses and one minus so far today. When I got lost, I was going in a perpendicular direction to where I should have been going, thinking I saw the Colosseum in front of me, but it was a set of more modern buildings that looked vaguely Collosseum-like.
Old men and women of various nationalities were sitting on the pavement, backs against the walls of buildings, holding plastic or styrofoam cups up for alms. Could have been Limerick. 
The weather today is dull but dry. Correction: it was raining when I went out for a smoke to allow the cleaner do my room. Revise to showery. But the receptionist, Chiara, tells me there may be snow later; it’s already lying deep 60 km north. However, a resident of one of the cottages in the grounds here assures me that next week will be better.
This afternoon, I plan to take an exploratory trip on the Metro, maybe to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, and the little museum where Keats died.

Wednesday 16 January 2013



16 January

Pouring rain this morning. Met AM, who told me it was snowing earlier. Sound of seagulls during the night and now. Didn’t associate Rome with seagulls. I’m sitting at my desk in my room in Villa Irlanda, an adjunct to the Irish College, a quaint and curious place, very sparsely populated by guests (given the time of year, I suppose). Seems relaxed, though.
Got my WiFi Password and User Name from the director, AM. Cannot access either of my blogs except to read what’s already on them. I’ll probably post excerpts from this journal when and if I can. 
I’m looking at a mosaic type painting of the Virgin with her breast on fire, on the wall in front of me. Above her hangs a flat TV screen. Behind me a small, exquisite chandelier hangs from the high ceiling. The walls are painted whitish. I’m sitting at a lacquered brown desk which is marginally too high for my chair. Behind me a double bed where I slept well last night, alone and, as I anticipated, quite lonely. But this is something that has to be done: convince yourself.

One of the good things about going away that I have always found is the perspective it gives. Thoughts enter your head that didn’t find the occasion to when you were at home. Once you go away, it’s obvious that they had been seeking an outlet. Coming into your head simultaneously with the other thoughts is the thought of how obvious the other thoughts are, and you wonder why you hadn’t thought them before.

No sooner had I got on the airport express in Dublin than they began coming into my head. An awful lot of writing issues. Meanwhile my eyes were idly taking in the passing scene as we drove through Dublin city centre: why is that man standing in the middle of the traffic, gesticulating at the bus driver?And those three grotesque pop art sculptures of heavily booted animals, cast in bronze –what are they doing beside Busáras, marching one behind the other like Daddy Bear, Mamma Bear and Baby Bear?Are they somehow, in some quirky interpretation, an image of the New Ireland? 
Pondering over all the convoluted and unresolved writing issues that were now articulating their theses and antitheses, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing ‘A Year’s Midnight’, and how much I still like it, despite a very stressful year of confused efforts at promotion and the learning curve of meeting indifference. (Although it was reviewed in the TLS.
At this stage I was having cod and chips in the ‘Food Hall’ in Dublin Airport (reached via a serpentine itinerary, but well signed). I concluded that if I find something to write that I enjoy as much as writing 'A Year's Midnight', it'll suit me fine. As old EP put it, 'What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross.'

False memory: coming here in the courier's Mercedes last night, I suddenly remembered leaving my small black cabin bag on the ground at a Ciampino Airport taxi rank, and forgetting it. But I had in fact put it in my larger bag as soon I took the latter off the baggage carousel. In “A Year’s Midnight”, the main character George has a number of false memories; now, it seems, the author is beginning to have them as well.

Back to today. It stopped raining for about two hours around lunchtime and I was able to go out and get some bearings on where I was. I discovered that Villa Romana is about five minutes' walk from the Colosseum in one direction and from St John Lateran in the other. I bought a lunchtime panino with prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and rocket in a small delicatessen, which had a quote attributed to Virginia Woolf on a wall poster:  “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 
'É vero,' I said. 'Si, si,' said the proprietor.

Now the rain is back, with an occasional rattle of thunder and screech of a seagull.

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2013