Catching up with…Daithí

Catching Up With… is a new series wherby I ask 21 questions to figures from music, theatre, TV and film. First up is Galway based Clare musician Daithí Ó Drónaí.

Clare musician Daithí Ó Drónaí. Image: Daithí Facebook page

Clare musician Daithí Ó Drónaí. Image: Daithí Facebook page


Originally published by Entertainment Ireland. To read the original, please click here.

MERE MONTHS AWAY from the release of In Flight, his eagerly awaited début album, 24-year-old musician Daithí Ó Drónaí is busy putting the promotional wheels in motion for a record that he has laboured over for three years. However, a busy schedule hasn’t stopped the Clare man from particing in this year’s Trócaire Live gig at The Grand Social and supporting a charity close to his heart. 

“The line- up, this year, is really great. Trócaire ran the line up by us before we committed and we were just really impressed with the diversity of the performers. I’m just really happy to be doing it and with the type of music that’s featured for the gig, Trócaire Live seems to be going for a real good fun night: a really light- hearted night. It needs to be a celebration of Trócaire.

“We’ve a little bit of work with them before and it’s been great, but Trocaire has been with me my whole life. I grew up in Clare and the Trocaire box was always a real household thing: it’s the first thing that I think of whenever someone mentions Trocaire to me, so it’s been a charity that me and my family have been contributing for some time, as have so many other Irish people. Growing up in Ballyvaughan, there’s a grassroots feeling about Trocaire: it was always featured in our homes, our schools, our church…it seemed to be one of the main charities that I was involved in when I was a child.”

What’s been the highlight of your year so far?

Finishing my first album, which I’ve been working on for about three years.

When did you first realise you wanted a career in music?

When I started playing in bands in boarding school. Any time I wasn’t studying, I was playing bass in bands. It seemed something that was so enjoyable and required little effort.

In three words, describe the five minutes before you walk on stage.

Nervously freaking out!

How do you wind down after a gig?

I have a really strong group of friends that have been with me for a while who hang around after shows. We play late, so we’re never home early!

In three words, describe the live scene in Ireland.

Incredibly forward thinking.

Whose career do you envy and why?

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (Orlando Higginbottom). He’s got a great ethos. He doesn’t define himself by genre: he just wants to make people dance., which he’s been doing for years. That’s the way I want to go: to create dance music for dance music’s sake and not get hung up on sub genres or where it should be at any given time.

Vinyl or digital downloads?

Digital downloads for the moment, but I’ve just recently started to collect vinyl. All my favourite stuff is on vinyl, it’s fast, I can get to it immediately.

What is your favourite record shop in the world?

Bell, Book and Candle, Galway. It’s local and the people in there are so unbelievably enthusiastic about music.

Name one rare record you don’t own, but you want more than anything.

Prosumer’s remix of Murat Tepli’s ‘Forever’. I think they only printed a couple of hundred copies on vinyl. I’d love to own that one.

Name one piece of music memorabilia that you wish you owned.

Anything from that first studio that Daft Punk had in Paris. It was such a special time in dance music or anything from Studio 54.

What is the one thing in your life that you couldn’t go without on a daily basis?

I live out of my laptop. I freak out if I’m not near the laptop at any given time: I carry it every where with me. I create all my music out of the one laptop and everything that I have on the laptop is backed up by about four or five hard drives, so if I didn’t have my laptop I’d have nervous chills and I’d freak out! 

Name one record, one book and one film that everyone should hear / read / see.

Record: Swim  by Caribou. Book: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Film: Searching for Sugar Man

Name one overrated TV series and one underrated TV series.

Overrated: True Blood. I never got that show at all! Underrated: Oz. It’s up there with The Wire.

Pick the director and lead actor for a biopic about your life.

Wow…we’ll get Matt Damon to star as me and Woody Allen to direct. Who wouldn’t want to see Woody Allen making a music film? He’d romanticise it all.

Describe the perfect night in.

Playing video games until very early in the morning and nothing else.

Describe the perfect night out.

There’s a scene of people in Galway having nights out where nights out wouldn’t be the norm, which is great. Places outside the city limits like Innisheer. Galway’s always had great nights out in some form or another.

Where did you grow up and what are the best and worst things about that place

I grew up in Ballyvaughan, Clare. Best things? The scenery, which I never appreciated when I was younger: absolutely beautiful. The worst thing? If you want to go to anyone’s house, you have to drive like 15 minutes! So you’re social life is built around the internet.

What is your biggest fear?

Getting to a point where I wouldn’t be able to create anything.

Who is the person in your life without whom your life wouldn’t be the same?

Definitely my mam. When I was growing up, she shaped me as a person.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you, so far?

My whole family have an ethos of never giving up. It’s developed as constantly upgrading. When it comes to live shows or recording, I never allow myself to enjoy the level I’m on; I’m always trying to upgrade to the next level.

If you could give one piece of life advice it would be…

Do what you love. I see way too many people my own age getting stuck in jobs that they do for money. Never get complacent do what it is you really want to do. Otherwise, you’ll regret it.

Trocaire Live takes place this Saturday 10th May in the Grand Social. Tickets are €10 via entertainment.ie/tickets

God Hates Haters: Why we shouldn’t celebrate Fred Phelps death

Finally, a definition of homophobia on which we can all agree, but we shouldn’t take an eye for an eye by celebrating the recent death of anti- gay Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, writes Philip Cummins

The late, homophobic Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps (84), pictured here in 1998 in Capser, Wyoming, picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year- old University of Wyoming student, murdered in an indescribably brutal homophobic killing.


“Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher, she was NOT a Peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds.”

WHEN SINN FÉIN’S MARTIN MCGUINNESS posted the above sentiments on his Twitter account, in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s death in April 2013, it was difficult not to think of the North’s Deputy First Minister’s long history in bitter opposition to Thatcher. The abstentionist MP for Mid Ulster’s tweet was indicative of the distance that both he and the republican movement that he represents have traveled since the deepest, darkest days of the Troubles. Alleged to have been the Provisional IRA’s Chief of Staff from 1978 – 1982, during which time ten PIRA prisoners died during the 1981 Hunger Strike, McGuinness loathed Thatcher and vice- versa, I’m quite certain.

I do sympathise with the view that Thatcher’s policies inflicted unnecessary socio- economic affliction that has been felt by generations of British people and that her unwillingness- as well as that of the Irish government- to engage constructively with all sides of the political divide in the North achieved nothing only to effectively prolong the Troubles. It wasn’t until 1997 / 1998 that New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first British PM to sit at the negotiation table with all sides of the Troubles to deliver The Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Martin McGuinness, though, was right: to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death, as many millions did, was utterly tasteless, immature and inexcusable.

Unfortunately, McGuinness’ remarkably mature and responsible remarks about his one- time sworn enemy, who the PIRA had attempted to assassinate in Brighton in 1984, didn’t deter those in their millions who sang and danced their way through Thatcher’s passing, downloading ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ in their droves to bring that song to the top of the charts.

These were my very thoughts upon learning of the recent death of Fred Phelps Sr. (84), founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. A disbarred lawyer and the leader of a far right church of which all 40 of the church’s members are Phelps family members, Fred Phelps had a long history of spewing his vile and retrograde rhetoric while picketing the funerals of American soldiers. Indeed, two US Presidents enacted law into Congress to prevent Phelps from picketing at funerals of fallen soldiers: George W. Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in 2006, while Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act in 2012, both of which ensured 150 foot and 300 foot buffer zones, respectively, around the funerals of serving US soldiers.

By all accounts, Fred Phelps Sr. was a individual of an utterly grotesque character; a homophobe, a bigot and a bitterly angry man who dedicated his life to a hatred of people for a part of their identity that they could not- and should not- change.

From an Irish point of view, Phelps was certainly no friend of ours, founding the now- defunct website GodHatesIreland.com, as well as lambasting both Senator David Norris and former President Mary Robinson in a sermon in which he responded to his invitation to take part in a debate on gay adoption by UCD’s Literary & Historical Society in February 2008. Suffice to say that The Good Pastor declined on the occasion.

Over the past 20 years, Phelps’ infamy and his perceived status as a leader of a cult made him an ideal subject for documentarians. Michael Moore and Louis Theroux both focused their attentions on Phelps, the latter of whom made two documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church and, at times, seemed genuinely taken aback by intense level of the church’s bigotry.

Homophobic thugs murdered 21 year- old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard (pictured) in a brutal hate crime.

The funeral of Matthew Shepard

Difficult as it is to select the single lowest point from Phelps’ infamous role as Pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, the picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepard might just be the lowest possible level of depravity demonstrated by Westboro Baptist Church, showing it up to be the bigoted institution that has been profiled by highly respected journalists.

A 21 year- old gay man who was later discovered to have been HIV positive, Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming. Murdered in the most indescribably gruesome of circumstances by two bigoted thugs whom he had met in a bar , Shepard, undoubtedly, was a victim of a hate crime and a homophobic murder.

In the above picture, Fred Phelps is picketing Matthew Shepard’s funeral in Shepard’s hometown of Casper, Wyoming, with placards that state “No Special Laws for Fags” and “Matt in Hell”, typifying Fred Phelps’ hatred towards homosexuals and his homophobic agenda to suppress gay rights.

Again, drafting legislation against bigotry in American society- sparked, no doubt, the Westboro Baptist Church’s vile rhetoric- President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill expands the 1969 United States Federal Hate Crime Law to include crimes motivated by gender identity, sexual orientation or disability, making it the first Act in the history of federal law that allows crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation prosecutable as hate crimes.

Nate Phelps

Fred Phelps had two estranged sons: Fred Phelps Jr. and Nate Phelps (55). Nate Phelps, who now lives in Canada and is both an atheist and a LGBT activist, issued a statement in the wake of his father’s death. Posted on his Facebook page, Nate Phelps’ remarks were remarkably tempered and considered.

“Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on,”, lamented Phelps. The standout comment from Phelps’ statement, however, was his mourning not of who his father was, but of “…who he could have been”.

“I ask this of everyone: let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.”, continued Nate Phelps.

That Fred Phelps Sr. and his son Nate chose two completely different paths makes this story all the more remarkable: a father devoted to hatred and bigotry, a son dedicated to building bridges and encouraging tolerance within our society.

Why we should not celebrate Fred Phelps’ death

LGBT activists the world over will no doubt be delighted that Fred Phelps Sr., a man who personified every fibre of the bigotry and hatred that gay people have had to endure for decades, is no longer alive to spread his vile rhetoric.

However, to celebrate Phelps’ death as distastefully as did those who celebrated Margaret Thatcher’s death, or perhaps more pertinently, as distastefully as the Westoboro Baptist Church celebrated the deaths of the many homosexuals, AIDS victims, American soldiers and celebrities whose funerals they picketed, would be stooping down to the utterly depraved and unequaled level that Fred Phelps Sr. and his family have set for themselves.

Instead, we- and by we, I mean all sound- thinking people of all genders, orientations, race and creed; all of us who believe in creating a tolerant and fair society for our fellow person and a society where people are be entitled to live their lives as they choose- should educate our children that hatred of others fulfills no positive outcome in one’s life.

Phelps’ death in an Irish context

With the fires slowly burning out after the recent heated debates regarding homophobia in Ireland, sparked initially by Rory O’Neill’s, AKA Panti Bliss’, unfounded allegations of homophobia against two high- profile journalists as well as conservative Catholic lobby group The Iona Institute on Brendan O’Connor’s The Saturday Night Show as well as O’Neill’s claim on the Abbey Theatre stage, in which O’Neill suggested that “we’re all homophobic”, we can now look at Fred Phelps Sr. as a picture- perfect example of a homophobe- that is, someone who holds attitudes of extreme hatred of and an aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals- on the outrageously bigoted level occupied by the Westboro Baptist Church, which, thankfully, remains unequaled in Ireland.

To put it simply: I don’t ever remember David Quinn, director of The Iona Institute, or anyone else involved in The Iona Institute, publicly instructing young children that “queers” are evil- the product of Satan himself, no less- and that they should be treated with utter contempt; I don’t remember The Iona Institute printing signs and brochures insisting that “no special laws” be drafted to protect “fags” in Ireland.

Though I don’t fully agree with The Iona Institute’s stance on same- sex marriage, I do believe that The Iona Institute are legitimate in their opposition of same- sex marriage. The idea that a person or a group of people who oppose same- sex marriage are inherently “homophobic” simply because they view marriage as a gendered institution between one man and one woman and, for this reason, oppose same- sex marriages, is a complete misnomer.

True: if that opposition to same- sex marriage expresses extreme levels of hateful opposition, such as those levels demonstrated by the Westboro Baptist Church, then a charge of homophobia is fair and unequivocal. However, Ireland, in my opinion, has yet to experience those outrageous levels of bigotry demonstrated by the Westboro Baptist Church.

It will be this time next year when the Irish people go to the polls for the impending referendum on same- sex marriage. In the mean- time, however naïvely, we can only hope that, in Nate Phelps’ words, the teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church go the way of Fred Phelps.

Theatre Review: Scabs by Naomi Elster, Theatre Upstairs, Tuesday 13th August, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 21st August, 2013. To read the original, please click here

Big Jim on a plate: Naomi Elster’s Scabs is the latest Irish play set during the 1913 Dublin Lock- out.

In the year of its centenary, the portrayal of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out on the Irish stage continues in a way in which the historic industrial dispute draws an inescapable allegory with recent events in Irish history. Having previously featured as part of 10 Days in DublinNaomi Elster’s Scabs is given another staging in Theatre Upstairs.

While Anne Matthews’ monologue driven Lockout thoroughly explored the role of women during the 1913 Lockout and the courageous leadership shown by both James Larkin and James Connolly, Naomi Elster’s Scabs is, by comparison, a one-act play in which loyalties are tested and eventually, severed in the most cruel and brutal fashion imaginable. The action focuses on the Casey-O’Kelly’s, a young Dublin couple with one young child of ill-health, and their uncompromising stance against Audeon Kelly’s (Rob Harrington) employer.

The play begins quite similarly to Matthews’ Lockout, by immediately revising the role of women during the lockout of August 1913 – January 1914. The play’s feminist subtext is distinct from outset and offered during a spirited and impassioned monologue by Nora Casey (Áine de Siún). This feminist subtext is further strengthened Audeon and Nora’s daughter, played by nine-year-old Sarah Ninto, whose ill-health effectively forces Audeon to compromise his position as a striking worker.

Cast of Scabs, L-R: Sarah Minto, Séamus Whelan, Rob Harrington, Conor Scott

If there is one playwright who looms large in Elster’s one-act tragedy, it is Shakespeare; Elster’s laces her play with The Bard of Avon’s tragic characters. Audeon’s ambition and determination, coupled with Nora’s cold vitriol, create a vivid parallel with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is, however, a nuanced performance by Seamus Whelan that impresses most: channeling both Shakespeare’s Polonius and the late, great David Kelly, Whelan’s Doyler seems, at first, a peripheral, harmless character who is only active in the play to add color. His character develops unexpectedly and it’s how Whelan negotiates the transition that impresses most.

For all of its well-drawn, fully- developed characters, however, Scabs is thin on language. At times, it feels as if Elster hasn’t taken full advantage of the language of the era. A play set in Dublin during the early 20th century, surely, should have been an opportunity for the playwright to raid Terry Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno- English, or Bernard Share’s Slanguage. Instead, jaded clichés, in the context of Irish literature and Irish history, such as ”informer” and ”the cause” are trotted out. One doesn’t really get a sense that Elster, as a playwright, loves language: there’s little musicality in the dialogue of a play set in working-class Dublin in 1913.

Though very much a play of two halves, Scabs ultimately satisfies our continuing fascination with the 1913 Lock- out.

Star rating: 3 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Theatre Upstairs

Wrtitten by: Naomi Elster
Directed by: Liam Halligan
Cast: Robert Harrington, Áine de Siún, Seamus Whelan, Conor Scott, Sarah Minto.

Scabs runs in The Theatre Upstairs until 24 August. 1pm performances: 20th – 24th August. 7pm performances: 22nd – 24th August. to book contact: 085 7727375 or tupstairsbookings@gmail.com

Interview: Deirdre Madden, Irish Novelist

Originally featured in the print edition of The Irish Post, Tuesday 30th, 2013.

Timeless talent: Antrim novelist Deirdre Madden

STRIDING to our meeting place from across Trinity College Dublin, Deirdre Madden, once widely characterised as a uniquely North of Ireland novelist (no doubt as result of her remarkable and best- known work, One By One in the Darkness, set during the week of the IRA ceasefire in 1994) appears to be at one with the Southern capital. The Antrim native, who has lived in Dublin for decades, now, with her husband, poet Harry Clifton, teaches Creative Writing at Trinity College.

Having completed novel number eight, Time Present and Time Past, I ask Madden, described by Sebastian Barry as “The constant genius of Irish letters”, if her move to Dublin and her post as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the college’s Oscar Wilde Centre for Writing have made the process of writing novels any easier.

“I suppose it doesn’t get easier; it just feels different. You’re always changing what you’re writing about. My writing habits have definitely changed. I used to write primarily at night and I don’t do that anymore, now; I tend to write, more, now, in the morning. I suppose in the same way you are piecing things together. The more you write, the more your confidence does grow. But it’s a very slow process and you are trying to balance everything. It’s not always easy, so I am very happy to get this latest book finished.”

“When I’m teaching my students, I suppose some of the things I would advise are straightforward. I always tell my students to read their work aloud at least four times in a row during the drafting process; you pick up on the flow of the sentence- if too long, or not flowing smoothly. Reading is so important. If you’re trying something, you try to think of who else is doing what you’re doing. I think I read more as a writer now than I would have done as I was younger. It takes me a while to figure out what I have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…”

Time Present, Time Past is set, largely, in Dublin during 2006, the Celtic Tiger economy still roaring with the end to those heady days just over the hill. The protagonist, Fintan Terrence Buckley, is a 47- year- old solicitor living in the leafy suburbs of south Dublin, who’s new- found interest in photography sparks an interest in the past and how it is that we think about the past. Photography features as strongly in Madden’s latest novel as music does in, say, Nick Hornby’s Hi- Fidelity; photography is almost, you might say, another character in the book. I ask Madden why photography, of all of her interests, became such a huge part of the novel’s narrative.

I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is.

“It’s something that a lot of people have remarked on. I’ve always loved old black and white photographs and I became aware that colour photography had been developed much earlier than had been commonly thought. In a way, I’ve always preferred black and white portraits; they just feel more dramatic. And I became interested in how colour photography and colour photographs had been taken at times in history that I hadn’t been aware of. An example I would give is of a photograph from WW1: if you see those photo’s in black and white, they look very dramatic, very austere, but if you see them in color- and these are actual photographs in colour that haven’t been improved or impressed with a color filter- they’re so immediate, more contemporary, much more closer to us. That was what really interested me in featuring it so prominently in the novel. I mean the photograph on the cover of the book is actually a photograph from 1907 and that’s an original colour and I find that quite strange; I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is. That whole way of how we view the past, how we picture the past is interesting to me. And I though that photographs worked as a good medium to discuss that particular view.”

Running alongside Madden’s interest in photography is the theme of progress, which appears again and again in the novel. Madden seems to be examining what progress actually is and whether what we think is progress is actually a step forward in the right direction. In the final third of the novel, for example, we are brought to the North of Ireland, where Fintan and his sister Martina visit their grandparent’s old house, only to discover their cousin Edward has flattened the land and intents to erect a “decent, modern house”.

Though Madden stresses that she did not intend to write a Celtic Tiger novel (“novelists are not journalists”), it is hard, in the current economic climate, not to read a book set in Dublin in 2006 and think of the difference between now and then; Madden agrees and she compares and contrasts life in Ireland between “the two days”.

“I think people gained a lot during the Celtic Tiger years, but I also think that we lost a lot. People did travel more widely; they were able to take sun holidays more often, buy houses, etc. But as result, people became a lot more insular and so there was always a step back. The quality of life, now, has, obviously changed quite a bit; people are not as brash, impatient and, sometimes, rude in shops and restaurants…that whole mercenary thing, which I think that they were during the Celtic Tiger years.  People have calmed down a bit, now, so there are few things like that, which perhaps we are now reflecting on. We’ve also become more and more interested in making things, particularly this resurgence in baking, in boutique shops in pop- up shops and markets. So every time you have progress, you lose something; every time you take step back, you gain something.”

Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything

It’s on this note that I ask Madden if she feels the same way about writing as she does about the theme of progress in Time Present, Time Past; if there’s any relationship between the perceived progress during the Celtic Years and the perceived progress in writing a novel. Pausing, she carefully considers the question.

“It takes me a while to figure out what it is that I actually have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…There are times, of course, that you can go down the wrong road when an idea leads you astray; I think that most writers don’t like talking about that because it’s such a horrible experience. It’s like tossing a coin; toss a coin and the odds of it coming up heads or tails is 50/50. No matter how many times you toss it and if it comes up heads every time, logic dictates to you that, even if it comes up “heads” 10 times in a row, it should, eventually, come up “tails”. But that isn’t true. You can convince yourself that “ok, I’ve spent 6-12 months on this; the longer that I work at it, it’s bound to come good at some point” But that can leave you disappointed. You accept that instead of losing time, that you have to ask “why does this not work”. You have to know what went wrong. If you don’t, you’ll do it again. The relation of time and effort isn’t always equal.”

As the interview is finishing and we get up to leave and walk out to an unusually sunny day in Dublin, I ask Madden if, as a northerner living in Dublin for as long as she has, Dublin feels still new to her and if it felt fresh to her having written a novel set in Dublin; she smiles, looking down one of the city’s many Georgian streets. “Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything; I’m interested in what people are wearing, what the traffic is like, what people are eating…the whole fabric of life really interests me. I feel very much at home here, but when I’m traveling I find everything interesting.”

On that note, Madden returns to the gates of Trinity College, leaving me with a impression that she is, as a novelist, of her time and yet timeless; a juxtaposition that wouldn’t be out of place in one her own novels.

Time Present and Time Past is out now from Faber

Poetry Review: The Mining Road by Leanne O’Sullivan

The Mining Road: Cork poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s latest collection is available now from Bloodaxe.

Originally featured in the print edition and online editions of The Irish Post on Saturday June 8th, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Bloodaxe, 64 pp, £8.95. ISBN: 978-1852249687

CORK poet Leanne O’Sullivan’s fourth collection aligns her as closely to the Irish lyric poetry tradition as is possible.

The work of Seamus Heaney, particularly the Heaney of Seeing Things (Faber, 1991), appears again and again in poems that, quite literally, dig deep into memory, into the past, into the earth; taking what it is they need to fulfill a poetic vision. As Heaney writes in ‘Lightenings viii’, ‘…and the man climbed back / Out of the marvelous as he had known it’.

Indeed, O’Sullivan wastes no time in plunging us into the underworld of The Mining Road and opening poem, Townland, is a brilliantly subtle poem, which, like the best poems, works its magic on the reader over repeated readings.

The poem’s sound pattern creates a tension between consonants and vowels; between cutting, guttural sounds (‘A hankering in the skull, uttered and worked’) and the long, assonant ‘O’ sounds (‘Old stone walls’, ‘Old homes’), which embeds in the reader the tension between overground and underground; between past and present.

Soon, however, we are also brought into the world of the domestic: You Were Born at Mealtime, again, strengthens the idea of one’s mind constantly being in transition between two different places, finishing with the telling couplet ‘a silence quickens me, / throws open the door again’; the door, perhaps, being Seamus Heaney’s Door into the Dark.

The theme of discovery threads through O’Sullivan’s collection quite consistently. The Boundary Journey, a two part poem- the first mentioning the Atlantic ocean, the second alluding to the Irish Sea- again, finds O’Sullivan wedged between two different places, two different zones (‘Not to the boundary waters / that part our two counties’).

Perhaps the most successful poem in the collection is A Parcel, a brilliant mediation on emigration, which, like The Boundary Journey, is split into parts, again emphasizing the difference between one thing and another. True, the third and final part of the poem could easily have been cut, the poem standing strong enough on its first two parts, which describe domesticity with great vividness. It’s the feel of the parcel which is best achieved, ‘It smelled of heat and a stretch- marked pull / where the brown paper had word out / against the cardboard, its sides broadening’, writes O’Sullivan.

Subtle, slow- burning and sensuous poems that reward with successive readings, The Mining Road is a step in the right direction for O’Sullivan and, indeed, for Irish poetry.