A Paean To Ireland, Sort Of

View from A Rented Cottage in County Clare, photograph by Wesley Moore III

Although I’m certain I have a drop or two of Irish blood, I’m not of the Catholic immigrant variety with distant cousins in Kerry or Donegal. Nevertheless, ever since I saw at the age of seven Darby O’Gill and the Little People, I have loved that “little green place” and its soulful inhabitants, its poetry, music, fairies and leprechauns, its abundance of foxgloves, and those mountains in the distance so vaporous it looks as if you could puncture them with your forefinger.

And, oh my god, that rainbow I encountered in 1978 outside of Limerick!

Judy Birdsong Preparing Supper in County Cork, photograph by Wesley Moore

Ireland was the first place I went abroad at twenty-five, and I have been twice again since. In the previous century, Judy, our boys, and I rented cottages, burned peat, shopped at the butchers, drank and listened to music in the pubs, climbed Ben Bulben’s back, and crawled our way up Croagh Patrick.

Ned Moore descending Croagh Patrick, photograph by Judy Birdsong

We got to know our neighbors, so hospitable. Here below are the boys helping John Joe O’Shea shear a sheep near Bantry Bay on the Berea Peninsula in County Cork.

Ned and Harrison Moore and John Joe O’Shea shearing sheep

What truly astounds me about Ireland, though, is how an island the size of South Carolina could produce so many literary masters– Swift, Goldsmith, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, and Heaney, to name the ones who come immediately to mind.

Despite his kooky mysticism and rightist politics, Yeats is my hero, and despite his arrogance and sometime meanness, Joyce is my hero.

Joyce, of course, had his issues with his native land. For example, Dubliners isn’t exactly what you would call a flattering portrait of that city. I’m currently on Disc 30 of the Donal Donnnelly/Miriam Healy-Louie recording of Ulysses, “Episode 16,” the so-called Eumaeus episode when Bloom and Stephen seek refuge in a cabman’s shelter after Stephen has been punched out by an English soldier.

An old tar, DB Murphy comes into the shelter and asks Stephen if he knows Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, and Stephen says, “I’ve heard of him.” The seaman answers, “He’s Irish [. . .] All Irish.” Stephen “rejoins” (to use Joyce’s dialogue prompt) “All too Irish.” As a Southerner, I can certainly identify with Stephen’s love/hate relationship with his native land.

Anyway, listening to Donnelly read Joyce’s rich broth of Anglo-Saxon and French-derived words, I have gotten the cadences stuck in my head, and to purge them, I’ve composed this negative ditty, trying to stick with only Anglo-Saxon, through which I mean not to stereotype my Irish brethren but merely to make music out of misery.


Manic Irish Reeling

Slop flung from a window above

Splatters on stone in globby plops.


Curses, fists, flung and shook,

Shuffling brogans, baleful looks.


“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”


After toil a stop at the pub,

Reeking redbearded guzzling swabs

Fritter away their coppery coins

Picking scabs by swapping tales.


“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”


Baggy-eyed mothers fret

Greedy sucklings at their breasts,

Keening toddlers at their feet,

Their stillborns gone, but not forgotten,

Their overripe love on the road to rotten.


With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”


Out in the street across the way

Waifs and strays banding about.

Rail thin curs and scrawny cats.

Yelping and mewling till the sun comes up.


“With a high ro and a randy ro –


Hit it!


“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”


Brief Birdsweet Cries


One of Matisse’s illustrations for the 1934 edition of Ulysses

Fleeing Folly for Thanksgiving, I spent the four-hour drive to Greensboro, Georgia, listening to Donal Donnelly reading Joyce’s Ulysses, a book that should be heard not read, or at least read aloud.

Joyce possessies the best ear of any prose writer ever.

Dig this, from Episode 1, “Telemachus”:




Phantasmal mirth, folded away: muskperfumed.


And now this from Episode 3, “Proteus”:

He lay back at full stretch over the sharp rocks, cramming the scribbled note and pencil into a pocket, his hat tilted down on his eyes. That is Kevin Egan’s movement I made nodding for his nap, sabbath sleep. Et vidit Deus. Et erant valde bona. Alo! Bonjour, welcome as the flowers in May. Under its leaf he watched through peacocktwittering lashes the southing sun. I am caught in this burning scene. Pan’s hour, the faunal noon. Among gumheavy serpentplants, milkoozing fruits, where on the tawny waters leaves lie wide. Pain is far.

And no more turn aside and brood.

His gaze brooded on his broadtoed boots, a buck’s castoffs nebeneinander: He counted the creases of rucked leather wherein another’s foot had nested warm. The foot that beat the ground in tripudium, foot I dislove. But you were delighted when Esther Osvalt’s shoe went on you: girl I knew in Paris. Tiens, quel petit pied! Staunch friend, a brother soul: Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all.

Yeats’s “Who Goes with Fergus” is stuck in his head like a catchy tune. His mind animates the world around him.  You listen and enter that world, a world come alive, a better world.

It’s so addictive I feel like getting in the car and driving around this lovely late-autumn neighborhood to hear the lilt of the words in my failing ears.

He capered before them down towards the forty-foot hole, fluttering his winglike hands, leaping nimbly, Mercury’s hat quivering in the fresh wind that bore back to them his brief birdsweet cries.

donal donnelly

Donal Donnerly

Packing for Mars


You may have been asked what one book you would want to have with you if you were stranded on that proverbial desert island, you know, the one with ever ripening fruit falling from the trees and bacteria-less fresh water bubbling from springs and handy flint lying around for sparking palm frond fires, an island where you could kick back and be sedentary rather than spending all day searching for edible grub worms.

desert island

My suspension of disbelief won’t allow it. I’ve found a better hypothetical opportunity for selecting a limited library, a trip to Mars. According to Tom Kizzia of the New Yorker, NASA is prepping astronauts for a Martian mission, a voyage that would take them “a hundred million miles from home, no longer in close contact with mission control.”

“Staring into the night for eight monotonous months,” Kizzia asks, “how would they keep their focus? How would they avoid rancor or debilitating melancholy?”

Lauren Leveton heads NASA’s Behavioral Health and Performance program, and if I were to be chosen for the 3-year round trip to Mars (because of planetary motion, you’d be stuck on the surface for months), I’d love for her to allow me to bring three hardback bound books, ancient non-electronic artifacts with paper pages that turn and can be annotated with a sturdy #2 pencil. She might begin by telling me to choose one poem, one novel, and one play. As much as I love non-fiction, I would want works that recreate the Earth and its denizens as vividly as possibly, which means dramatization.

The Poem

Of course, you’d want an epic, something worthy of your own journey, and the obvious candidates the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid leap to mind; however, I don’t read Linear B Greek or Latin, so I have to rule those three out. My poem must be in English, so nothing’s lost in translation, and the obvious choice seems to be Paradise Lost, which contains all time and space, justifies the ways of God to men, describes not only Eden’s earthly paradise but also many an exotic non-mythical locale in ravishingly beautiful baroque language. Also.he’s managed to embed much of the Bible and Greek mythology into the mix. You get as much of pre-18th century human history as possible in a mere 10,000 lines.

Dig this epic simile that vivifies the number of fallen angels rolling on the fiery seas of Milton’s hell:

[Satan] stood and call’d

His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t

Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks

In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades

High overarch’t imbowr; or scatterd sedge

Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orion arm’d

Hath vext the Red-Sea Coast, whose waves overthrew

Busiris and his Memphian Chivalry,

While with perfidious hatred they pursu’d

The Sojourners of Goshen, who beheld

From the safe shore their floating Carkases

And broken Chariot Wheels, so thick bestrown

Abject and lost lay these, covering the Flood,

Under amazement of their hideous change.

dore # 2

The brilliance and beauty of these lines amaze, the fallen angels compared to fallen leaves, then floating sedge on the Red Sea, the setting where Moses escaped the Pharaoh’s army, who like the Fallen Angels dared defied Yahweh.

But no, it’s not Paradise Lost I’m packing but Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself :

The smoke of my own breath,

Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread,

crotch and vine,

My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the

passing of blood and air through my lungs,

The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and

dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,

The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the

eddies of the wind,

A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,

The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs


The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the

fields and hill-sides,

The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising

from bed and meeting the sun.

Every time I read it, it makes me come more alive, and I absolutely love its catalogues. Walt would remind me of the cities farther and farther away on the out, closer and closer on the way back:

The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of

the promenaders,

The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb,

the clank of the shod horses on the granite floor,

The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls,

The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous’d mobs,

The flap of the curtain’d litter, a sick man inside borne to the


The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall,

The excited crowd, the policeman with his star quickly

working his passage to the centre of the crowd,

The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes,

What groans of over-fed or half-starv’d who fall sunstruck or

in fits,

What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry

home and give birth to babes,

What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what

howls restrain’d by decorum,

Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made,

acceptances, rejections with convex lips,

I mind them or the show or resonance of them — I come and I


And also he’d be right there in the capsule with me:

Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the


Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and

the diameter of eighty thousand miles,

Speeding with tail’d meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest,

Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in

its belly,

Storming, enjoying, planning, loving, cautioning,

Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing,

I tread day and night such roads.

song of myself

The Novel

No time wasted here. Despite Faulkner’s great achievement, it’s Joyce’s Ulysses, which brings to life the human condition like no other work I know. I can shoot the rapids of Stephen Dedalus’ consciousness, or Leopold Bloom’s, or his wife Molly’s. I can walk the vivid streets of Dublin, day and night. I can adjust to and savor each new style as Joyce shifts from one episode of the Odyssey.


The Play

Although I virtually have it memorized already, I’d bring along my old pal, the Danish Prince. He’s a lonely sort, and as Harold Bloom says, the most intelligent human ever. I suspect I’d prefer his company to my fellow astronauts, technical folk who remind me of camp counselors, and Hamlet is a worthy companion for Walt and Leopold and plays no small role in Ulysses. And, yes, the poetry!

Uh-oh, Dr. Leveton has informed me I can take only one!

Given the above, which one would you choose?