Friday 29 October 2021


Martina Evans reviewed four poets in last Saturday's  Irish Times Magazine. 

She begins with Tipperary native Eleanor Hooker's Of Ochre and Ash, quoting from "When you dream of the dead":

Dad's by the hearth, encouraging ash back to life.

I've never lived in a house that held its heat I tell him,

unable to say I miss you in case he recollects

his death. Somewhere in the house

a child is crying. Find her, he says.

There's an awful lot in those six lines. The enigmas of ordinary Irish rural speech, its mind-challenging indirectness; what's not said; a flavour of Isabel Allende's novel The House of the Spirits; pathos; a simplicity which is not the same thing as directness (Martina Evans speaks of Hooker's 'deceptively plain writing.')

There's one guy and three gals. The guy is Raymond Antrobus and his collection is called All the Names Given.

My mother said my father had a heartless sense of humour.

That winter she fell, ice on the road...

He watched from the kerb – boozy red-eyed Dad –

laughed when she said he had a heartless sense of humour,

I think that's how he handled pain.

("Heartless Humour Blues")

This is not as full as Hooker's lines, but I like the repetition of the heartless sense of humour, and the swift character sketch of Dad, with the pinprick epiphany of the last line.

In The Sun Is Open, Gail McConnell grieves for the loss of her father, shot in front of his wife and children, a sectarian execution of 1984:

night and day he made and trees

and peas and wendy houses

tricycles sunglasses that go snap

let there be lights let lights appear

Finally, Parwana Faraz in "Forty Names", the title poem of her book, "tells the story of 40 young women shot in a cave. We know their names but not why they died, grief is expressed in their naming and the cinematic vision of that mountain place, their dresses animated, a herd of colours".

Faraz speaks of her mother who, on being exiled, 'carried her box of sewing needles and her butterfly sewing machine made in the USSR'. She advised her daughter to be 'a woman with an idea and a wallet."

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2021

Tuesday 12 October 2021


The 'Horse Outside' presents a traditional, animal mode of transport in the midst of flashy mechanical modes of transport which have become status symbols in a pathologically status-conscious society. When the sexy young woman mentions the alternative modes of transport available to her from rival suitors, the Spar-bag-masked yokel dismisses them all in favour of his equine means of conveyance: 'F**k your Mitsubishi, I've a horse outside...' This admirer of female allure comes into a highly artificial and class-conscious society like a blast from the past, like a healthy force of nature, full of primordial, unselfconscious confidence. He doesn't give a damn about the claims to a woman's heart represented by ownership of flashy cars; he believes (as I think we all do deep down) that a horse is a far superior being to a mechanically propelled vehicle. This cocky wooer is making a claim for a true gradation of status: the superiority of a living being over a piece of metal. Not only that, but the image of a horse 'outside' is a powerful one. The horse which is outside the door of the church is also outside our society, outside the wedding feast, outside the pale. It conjures up in my mind the Ancient Mariner, the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth, An Inspector Calls, The Green Knight, Death the Leveller, the Eumenides, the Reckoning. I don't think it is too over the top to say that the Rubberbandits' horse outside also conjures up death and judgement. In one of their sketches, a claim is made that the only things that ghosts are frightened of are horses. There is also the echo between 'horse' and 'hearse': 'I have a hearse outside'. The church is a scene of funerals as well as of weddings. First Love, Last Rites is the title of a book by Ian McEwan. Not only does our society shut out the horse, it also blanks out on death. In the old days, it was a horse that drew the hearse to the final resting place. This is still so in the case of travellers, who are like the horse in that they are also 'outside'. Class distinction, sex, death and disparity are, of course, the life-blood of comedy. 

© Ciaran O’Driscoll, 2014, 2021.


Limerick is well-known for its horses. They can be seen all over the place harnessed to sulkies, with a single driver holding the reins and leaning almost horizontally across the skeletal, one-seated frame. Horses can be seen grazing in fields within and on the edges of the city boundaries, piebald and roan and patchy and thrown-down looking. The Rubberbandits, a comedy hip-hop duo from Limerick, have taken the horse to their hearts. Is this because the horse might be 'a metaphor for a community centre' as one of them asks in a prank call to a psychotherapist? But as the psychotherapist says, humans are very complicated and it's hard to know exactly why the caller constantly dreams of horses as a result of a dog 'having sex with his head'. If his head was made pregnant by a dog, the caller wants to know, why is he dreaming of a horse, shouldn't he be dreaming of a puppy? 'Horse Outside', a single released by the Rubberbandits in late 2010, had phenomenal success and led to the duo's being catapulted into fame. The phrase reverberated in the English language as spoken in Ireland. It was even alluded to in an article about an architect in the Arts Section of The Irish Times. On You Tube its fame went viral and global. I remember how much all three of us loved it in my home. It struck some truly resonant chord for us. As it did for hundreds of thousands of others. I want to suggest why this might be so in the following few paragraphs. A HORSE A HORSE MY KINGOM FOR A HORSE GIVE US THE LOAN OF A HORSE SHAM SOUND MAN To be continued. © Ciaran O'Driscoll 2015 and 2021

Thursday 16 September 2021


Click on the above link to access the SurVision Bookshop directly, or cut and paste the link on to your browser.



A Single Sound 

The Wrong Kind of Dog

A Zen of Wasps

Sometimes Rain Comes Like This





The See-Through Poet

My Builder’s Opinion of Light


On the Anniversary of a Disappearance

Close Call

The Heart in the Wall

The Man Who Went to Emmaus 

Angel Hour


The Strange Behaviour of Light

Budapest Quartet


The Copper Mines of Peru

Poems That Mean Something Else

Concerning the Silence in These Parts


Nothing Happened                                    


Old Possum’s Stray

Frost on a Snowy Evening

Stony Grey Owl

A Fly

Johann Joachim Quantz’s Other Lesson

Dead Recital

Teaching ‘The Schoolmaster’


Uncreative Pages



Man in Field Talking to Cows

Once Upon October

Flight Hazard

The Threshold of Quiet

For Voyagers



Man with a Mission 


My Terracotta Buddha

A Displacement

Sublime Subliminality



Sonnet for My Wife at 08.15


I acknowledge with thanks two Arts Council Travel and Training Awards to take part in a Golden Boat Workshop Translation Project in Skocjan and Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2011, and in the Izrekanja Poetry Festival, Celje, Slovenia, in 2019.

Thanks also to the Ireland Literature Exchange for a Translators’ Bursary towards the translation of a selection of my poems, Nadzorovanje Zviljenja (Life Monitor), into Slovene in 2012; to the translators, Iztok Osojnik and Veronika Dintinjana, and the publishers, Kud France Preseren.

Thanks to Fernando Trilli and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin of Immagini d’Irlanda in Umbria, and to the Commune di Magione, Umbria, for invitations to take part in the Riflessi DiVersi Festival of Poetry in 2013, 2015 and 2017, to Iztok Osojnik for two inspirational occasions when I attended his Golden Boat Workshop. 

Saturday 7 August 2021



This is the proposed cover of my seventh collection, to be published by SurVision Books this year. If you'd like to hear a few of the poems in this gathering of the work of twelve years, I'll be reading during the LitBalm Livestream Extravaganza tomorrow night at 10pm. The Zoom Link is

It's also on Facebook Livestream. Enjoy if you can make it! There will be several other poets worth listening to, including Marc Vincenz (Chair), Andrew Joron, Charles Bernstein and Carrie Etter.





Sunday 25 July 2021


 Standing within the Grange Stone Circle which is more grandiosely titled 'The Eternal Circle of the Sun' at twelve noon yesterday, Saturday 24th July 2021, eight poets read three poems each (give or take) while the Surrealist Kevin Bateman, the organizer of the reading, recorded them for YouTube. The happening was one of a series of events conceived by Bateman – 'Events in Spiritual Places That People Have Forgotten To Visit'.

The actual event was not advertised to the public, but the recording is now available on YouTube at the following link:

The reading, in July sunshine with a pleasant cooling breeze, had to contend a couple of times with the noise of passing tractors, as this stone circle is right beside the road from Limerick to Kilmallock. But it was, for me as a participant, a very unique and treasured experience, as I think it may also have been for my fellow readers. I hope the browsers of this blog will be likewise impressed by its presentation on YouTube.

Each reader was presented with a hag stone before they left, as an amulet against witchcraft.


Friday 11 June 2021




When I was a teenager I spent several months on a farm near the village of Kilmoganny Co. Kilkenny, situated just five miles from the nearest town, Callan. During that time I became aware of some interesting things about Callan. First, Thomas Kilroy, playwright and novelist, was born and schooled there. Second, it was the birthplace of the Roman Catholic missionary and pedagogue, Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844) who established two religious orders – the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. Third, the writer John Locke (1847-1889), poet, novelist and Fenian activist, also hailed from Callan. An early school textbook contained a poem by Locke called ‘The Exile’s Return’ and part of the first stanza is as follows:

O, Ireland! Isn’t grand you look

Like a bride in her rich adorning!

With all the pent-up love of my heart

I bid you the top of the morning!

Perhaps that is where the phrase ‘top of the morning’ comes from? When former US President Ronald Reagan visited Ireland in 1984, he quoted the first verse to shouts of acclamation and rousing applause.

Fourth, the architect James Hoban (1755-1831) designed and built the home of American presidents, the White House, in Washington, D.C. which is a matter of great pride, tarnished by the fact that he was a slave owner! At least three slaves were employed as carpenters in the construction of the White House. Their names are recorded as ‘Ben’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Peter’ and appear in a James Hoban slave ‘payroll’.

What has this to do with Ciarán O’Driscoll? I know that Ciarán would want to distance himself from injustice and this is evident in his writing. You have probably guessed by now that he too was born (1943) in Callan. However, he is one of Limerick’s adopted sons! He has lived in Limerick since 1986 and he is a member of Aosdána, the Irish association of artists created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland. Membership, which is by invitation from current members, is limited to 250 individuals.

Among other writings, O’Driscoll has published nine books of poetry, a memoir and a novel. His books of poetry include Gog and Magog (1987), Moving On, Still There (2001), and Surreal Man (2006). His work has been translated into many languages. Vecchie Donne di Magione (The Old Women of Magione) was published in 2006 and a Selected Poems in Slovene translation in 2013. Ciarán’s work has also featured in special Irish issues of important European literary journals such as die horen and La Traductiere. Liverpool University Press published his childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves (2001). His novel, A Year’s Midnight, was published by Pighog Press (2012). His awards include the James Joyce Prize and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His poem ‘Please Hold’ (featured in Forward’s anthology ‘Poems of the Decade’) has become a set text for A Level English Literature.

The Speaking Trees

More recently, Ciaran published a poetry chapbook, The Speaking Trees, with SurVision Books (2018), and a selection of his work was also included in Seeds of Gravity: An Anthology of Contemporary Surrealist Poetry from Ireland, Edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky (SurVision Books, 2020). In his Introduction to this anthology, Kudryavitsky wrote: “O’Driscoll, whose work has been popular among the Irish readers of poetry ever since the 1980s, is the link between the two surrealist groupings of Irish poets. He admired Brian Coffey and Denis Devlin, and he took up where they left off, eventually developing his own unique style. According to the critic Michael S. Begnal, reviewing O’Driscoll’s The Speaking Trees, ‘His poems often conjure dream-like or visionary states... His language is clear and deliberate but describes a bizarre or surreal subject matter.’

Ciarán says “My head is full of poem-quotes as I had a phenomenal verbal memory in my youth. Lines from poems still come into my head with a sense of enchantment.” But his interest is not strictly limited to poetry. He likes traditional Irish music, opera, and watching rugby, “Especially the Munster team” says Ciarán. The Romantic poet, William Wordsworth wrote, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” O’Driscoll says, “It is this kind of retrospective view that is often the thing that sets me writing.” 

Life Monitor

One superb collection of Ciarán’s poems is Life Monitor (2009). The poems range from reflections on the poet’s progress through life to expressions of filial feeling, to energetic tirades against injustice and bureaucratic absurdity, to quieter moments of natural and social observation. Humour is never far away in these pages, but it would be a mistake to miss the deeper intent. 

Life Monitor is an expanded version of O’Driscoll’s well-known chapbook Surreal Man, bringing together the much-published ‘Magritte’, ‘The Lost Jockey’, ‘A Gift for the President’ and other surrealist pieces with a generous addition of newer poems broadening the scope of the book. In the poem which gives the book its name, the poet visits his thirteen-year-old son’s bedroom at night to check his breathing, and realises that this is a habit which has persisted since the boy’s infancy. 

Poetry is also a kind of monitor – of the poet himself and the world to which he belongs; a screen on which lines appear that indicate the extent of good or ill. This collection assembles the work of a decade, in which O’Driscoll has continued to monitor life as presented in its various epiphanies of well-being or malaise. The subjects range from the poet’s own maturing state, to the obsequious bestowal of a bowl of shamrock on ‘a bellicose American president’, to a message of comfort from speaking trees; the moods from a wry regret at domesticity’s woes, a grieving for estrangement, a tirade against robotic voices on the phone and celebrations of love.

Eamonn Grennan in his review of Life Monitor in The Irish Times (26 June, 2010) said that it is “the work of a poet in confident possession and exercise of his craft. [His] poems do what good poems should do, widening and deepening the world for the rest of us.” A review by Val Nolan in Southbound online literary journal, 2009 states, “O’Driscoll captures… moments of idyllic beauty, those we are inclined to overlook in hectic days of finances and tailbacks. ‘We have troubles, say the trees, but we don’t worry’.”

A Runner Among Falling Leaves

Critics have been effusive in their praise of O’Driscoll’s memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves. Gerald Dawe in The Irish Times said “O’Driscoll’s book is an important document: well written, brisk…it makes cool, frank and poetic observations of the intersection between personal desire and cultural possibility. At a time when we risk losing the run of ourselves in the forever ‘new’ Ireland of today, this brave, honest book should not be missed.”

Pearse Hutchinson wrote in the The RTE Guide “Ciaran O'Driscoll is a poet of the first order. This book makes it clear that he is also a consummate writer of prose. This memoir reveals much suffering as well as unusual integrity, with humour and youth in it in spite of everything, and a hard-won resolution at the end. It is an extraordinary feat. Read it.” Darragh McManus wrote of the memoir in The Irish Examiner, “A wonderfully evocative exploration of personal childhood traumas and their adult resonance…a rarity in the field.”

Thomas Kilroy, playwright and author of The Big Chapel, also wrote in praise of Ciarán’s memoir, “I grew up in the town of this memoir. It all comes back to me through O’Driscoll’s poetic eye, the back row of Egan’s cinema, the stink and sweat of Fair Days, the schoolboy jingles, the girls swimming in the King’s River. But at the heart of the book is a deeply affecting, traumatic relationship between father and son. Here the writing is terrifying and like no other memoir I have read.”

Tuesday 18 May 2021


My mother used say to me, 'Oh Ciaran, you have a terrible temper'. At other times she would say, 'And did you bottle it all up?' referring to my childhood anger against my childhood bullies, a topic I have dealt with in my memoir A Runner Among Falling Leaves. 'Passive aggressive' is how some other people have labelled me.

Perhaps because I have (potentially) 'a terrible temper', but 'have bottled it all up', I am seen as 'passive aggressive'. I don't know: my wife's mother used to say 'Ciaran is a very quiet man'. I remember when I was seven hearing my aunt discussing a photo of me with a friend of hers and saying 'he looks sad', and the friend using the words 'highly strung', which I didn't understand.

Watching a match on television I generally tend to favour the underdog, unless the Munster Rugby team or the Kilkenny Hurling team are playing. Favouring the underdog in a thriller of a match between two 'neutral' teams would possibly involve me changing sides, for example  in order to support the losing side, or the side which I perceive the ref is not treating fairly, or to go against the one I perceive to be more arrogant or fouling more.

I still take Christianity seriously, and tend to favour the meek over the ambitious. I can get quite apoplectic about people who display an unearned sense of entitlement, or whose sense of entitlement is aggressively pursued without regard for the effect it has on others. 

During lockdown, we have watched a lot more TV than usual, and I find many Television ads distasteful because they are manic, maniacally competitive and encourage children to imitate them. That sanctimoniously fanatic ad for GAA games, the one which begins with the statement 'We are born. The sides are level' is a case in point. Other ads seem to be encouraging people to prepare for life in an approaching time when civilization has broken down. While there are many excellent, artistically talented and genuinely comic ads, I also feel that there are too many aggressive, disturbing and unfunny ones on today's goggle box.

All of this is a preamble for a new poem of mine, "Entitlement", which will feature in my forthcoming collection, Angel Hour, to be published later this year. This is a 'sneak preview' of 'Entitlement', because I feel that, as readers of my blog, you are entitled to it :–)


I’ve begun to notice recently that things

don’t stay in their places the way they used,

a cup falls to the floor, an office moves,

trees disappear, glaciers flow like rivers,

and I wonder has it anything to do

with the new feeling of entitlement?

I don’t mean to cavil with human rights,

the attitude I speak of is different:

one person’s entitlement, as sure as sin,

will diminish the entitlements of others.  

And why are these self-told entitled ones

unable to calm down and take it easy

like normal human beings? I start to doubt 

if there’s a normal human being left

at all, marvel how scarce a champion

of the ordinary has become, regret

there are so many can’t be satisfied 

with a bite and sup, a roof, someone to love,

a seaside holiday, a book to read. 

Death and taxes on it! Disappointment 

is too tepid a word for what I feel

watching the striving battling contending

the jostling and the fighting till I want 

to shout For God’s sake will you all relax?

You’re creating too much anxiety!

If you want freedom, lose the rivalry,

compete against competition itself.

Sit! as you’d tell a dog, sit for a long time,

try to imagine what it’s like to be

a lone bush in the middle of a field

encompassed by the murmur of the rain.

And after that, who knows? Maybe you'll twig

what life's about. (It's not entitlement.)

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2021

Tuesday 4 May 2021


 I think one of the things that helped me during this Pandemic is the fact that I once spent ten years in a religious order. Another is that my wife and I share a sense of humour that verges on the graveyard type. It has also helped that, although I left a religious order, I haven't left my belief in God and the afterlife: matters are all going to be sorted, but not necessarily down here.

Having enough money to live on is a great help, as is having a healthy appetite and an ability to cook something appetizing, and thereby to look forward to dinner time. What else is there? Watching rugby on TV, although the home channels have by now shamefully abandoned the Heineken Cup and the Pro-14 to commercial channels. All I can watch live are the Six Nations fixtures. Hence during this Pandemic I have watched old recordings of outstanding games over and over, and depend on highlights for Heineken Cup and Pro-14.

The news at five-thirty is a must, bringing the latest Pandemic facts and figures. Together, on week evenings, we have been watching crime dramas. On weekends we play music together and drink a few glasses of wine. We have a couple of friends whom we Zoom and my siblings to phone. Our son, living in London, and his partner, have given us a grandson, whom we hope to see in the flesh post-lockdown. 

I have made strides in learning new tunes on my concertina. I have miraculously survived visits to the local grocers and the off-licence, and am now fully vaccinated. The last holiday we had was a 'staycation' in Donegal in July 2020, which was pleasant. Having had more time to write means that half of the extra time was spent avoiding writing, but I hope to publish a new collection of poems this year.

Many many people have written Pandemic poems. I, too, have written one. Even though I cannot begin to comprehend the horror that other people have suffered from Covid 19, I think there's at least a surreal line or two in this poem which point toward it. 


There’s a rip in my green trousers

just above the knee, 

a rent in the scheme of things

on the edge of my patella.

I don’t know how it got there

and can’t be arsed to mend it

or go searching for a seamstress

because when I am asked  

to recite or be a mentor,

viewers on Zoom can’t see

my body’s lower segment

and within my five kilometers 

other walkers keep their distance, 

too far to spot the tear,

because it’s the Pandemic.

And the TV took it on

to report the daily numbers

of the stricken and the slain

and told us wash out hands

or we'd become statistics

but many didn't wash

because it seemed too simple

a cure-all for such pestilence.

Some were plague-deniers,

others held raucous shindigs

and there were those unfortunates

who once only, before

they brushed an eyelid's itch,

forgot to swab their fingers

although it's the Pandemic.

And even when I go 

for groceries to the Aldi

not a soul remarks the snag

on the edge of my patella

and it’s not because they’re blind

to rips or rents in garments,

it’s because they’ve got the jitters

and the one and only detail

they look at is my mask

which is now a part of me,

it’s become my lower face.

So I’m not at all put out

by the rip in my green trousers,

I’m glad of any trousers 

because it’s the Pandemic. 

© Ciaran O'Driscoll 2021