Elaine Feeney is the Poet Laureate for Athenry, Co Galway. The town has always had a draw for the poet and novelist, bringing her back time after time.
“I have lived in Athenry almost all my life, and despite the odd jaunt to plant my feet elsewhere, I always returned,” she says. “There is a certain magnetism about this place, the remarkable history, flat land, dry stone-walls, the people – elements I often explore in poetry to excavate layers, to hear the song of generations, how the past informs the future, and how we open place to new influences.
“I look forward to responding to the town and it is a great honour to be Athenry’s first Poet Laureate, to explore my own deep connections with the west of Ireland.”
Elaine Feeney lectures at The National University of Ireland, Galway, where she is also a founding member of the Tuam Oral History Project. She has published three poetry collections including The Radio was Gospel & Rise. Elaine wrote the award-winning drama WRoNGHEADED commissioned by the Liz Roche Company.
Her novel As You Were won the 2021 Dalkey Book Festival’s Emerging Writer Prize, The Kate O’ Brien Prize and The Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize. It was nominated for Irish Novel of the Year, shortlisted for the Rathbones-Folio Prize and featured in many ‘Best of 2020’ lists, including The Telegraph, Sunday Times, Evening Standard and The Guardian. Elaine was chosen by The Observer as a top debut novelist for 2020.
Elaine presented Athenry’s Town Poem at a special event on 18 September. You can find the full text of the poem below.
Of Bog & Kings
A murmuration of starlings
swoop low over the motorway. Here, it’s rare
to draw such attention.
By the river’s amber, children
chase a knight’s shadow to the castle wall,
but it’s a trick of the mind.
Here, kings carry hurls for ash
swords, crowns invisible. In a bar on the Square
there is talk of the sick & the dead.
One’s son in London has a new
accent, another recognises each year by a lamb’s
price for slaughter.
Sometimes there’s truth.
Sometimes they sing that song
of hunger & loss. Both familiar. One has a tenner
on the 3.50, knows the wind’s turning,
Mackerel clouds announce a deluge, as
narrow streets shuttle livestock & ditches, fat & green,
At Cahertubber, cygnets take leave.
By the forge, a mare grazes where park oaks turn rusty.
It’s likely I’ll stay forever,
maybe I lack ambition, or maybe I long to claw the
bog-layers to my people, hear songs in the dark,
a rousing last chorus.
Baile Átha an Rí - Athenry
Town of the Ford of the King