The Brother / An Deartháir

Poetry Ireland News May/June 2010

Lord Balderdash is Sixty Today

Mairg nach bhfuil ’na bhoc mhór
In ionad de phór nach fiú,
Óir chífeá á rá ar an Times
Go raibh sé seasca bliain inniu.

B’fhéidir gur gealt é lena shaol,
Is cúr lena bhéal ó dhubh go dubh:
Ní hé sin an scéal is mó,
Ach é bheith seasca bliain inniu…

(What a pity not to be a toff / Instead of being a nobody / Because you’d see it said in The Times / That he reached sixty today. // He might have been a lunatic in his time / Frothing at the mouth day and night / But that is not the story, no / But that he is sixty today…)

The author was none other than Ciarán Ó Nualláin, a brother of the immortal Myles na gCopaleen. I met him only once in the Dickensian offices of the Irish-language newspaper, INNIU. They would ignore the insult but object to the adjective. Dickensian? Can you not come up with a native equivalent, Mr Rosenstock?

I was trying to sell them a front-page story about a train crash. And yes, they did hold the front page for my eye-witness account. It was, of course, stale news by the time the newspaper hit the streets. Not that INNIU would ever do anything as vulgar as hitting the streets. 

A vivid front-page story, I thought, might lead to better things. But it didn’t. Few man-made or natural calamities came my way thereafter, none that were printable anyway. I was confined to the letters page most of the time. 

One controversy, I remember, was about the existence, or not, of the life force. INNIU was dead against the life force, or theories surrounding same. Mind you, I wasn’t much concerned which side was going to win the argument. It was my feeling then (as now) that such matters should be debated openly and freely in Irish, that we needed to recover a certain elasticity of thought, language and terminology in order not only to survive but to thrive in the modern world. 

It felt good to be a champion of ‘fórsa na beatha’ and to be shouted down by those who genuinely thought that élan vital, whatever it might be, could not possibly be in line with the philosophy of the revival.

Mind you, I didn’t see much evidence of the said life force when I called into their office with my front-page material. I got a whiff of formaldehyde, or Douglas Hyde; then again, it might only have been stale drink. Ó Nualláin (1910-83) struck me as someone weighed down by the woes of Ireland. He had worked for a while with the fascist newspaper Aiséirí. Was it there he developed his sense of humour? Aiséirí used to have headlines stating that the government should get off its posterior and move to a new capital –Tara. I’m sue that would have solved all our problems.

Those were strange times. Tarlach Ó hUid who took over as editor from Ciarán Ó Nualláin said that Ciarán didn’t even say goodbye on his last day. Nothing new there. They shared an office for 35 years without ever saying ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good night’. Ciarán wrote a novel called Oíche i nGleann na nGealt (1943), which translates as ‘A Night in the Valley of Lunatics’. The hero is a taciturn detective. Its author would have been 100 this year.

Two recent books by Gabriel Rosenstock from Coiscéim are Guthanna Beannaithe an Domhain, Iml. 2, the second volume of his anthology of sacred poetry from around the world, and Rúnimirice an Anama, Irish language versions of the selected poems of the Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov.

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