Three Irish Poets: Rooney, Gillis, Wheatley

Padraig Rooney was born in Monaghan. He is interested in poems whose idiom is part-Irish, part-something else. ‘The Harmattan’, from his next collection Dust Devils, is a dust devil itself. In this poem the narrator lays his hand on what he assumes to be frost or snow, only to find its the sand of the harmattan (the definition of which is included beneath the title).

Alan Gillis was born in Belfast. His verbal inventiveness lends itself, equally productively, to both urban and rural poems. His sonnet, ‘The Conspirator’, has the feel of two flatmates whose scheming adventures never go quite right. Beyond the cussing and boozing we can see sensitivity with rough edges. To dismiss ‘The Conspirator’ as a poem in which the poet is just trying to be hip and shocking would be lazy reading. Besides, the comical first sentence is a stroke of genius.  

David Wheatley was born in Dublin. Read’s Island, the location of his poem,’The Wandering Islands’, is an island situated just outside the Ancholme sluice, on the Humber Estuary in England. The first half of Wheatley’s poem appears to take place in, or is at least inspired by, the seventeenth century, while the second half appears to be set in the present day. The size of the island was reduced by half in the floods of 2008, making what at first might appear to be a silly, fun poem much more of a moving flashback into Read’s Island’s history.

THE HARMATTAN  by Padraig Rooney

West African trade wind picking up fine dust particles on its passage over the desert; meaning ‘tears your breath apart’.

The lawn was frosted.
Some rabbit or hare
had marched across it
and printed there

his early morse,
gone by noon.
A stabled horse
sent a plume

of morning breath
across the canal.
News of a death –
my brother Cathal

killed at seventeen,
so long ago
I believed in heaven.
Frost or snow?

I laid my hand
on a cold bonnet
and felt that sand
had landed on it,

lifted overnight
by prevailing wind.
Could that be right?
Had I lost my mind?

A northern frost
the night he died
and wind-borne dust
filming the car red?

It little matters
at this distance.
Time scatters
details in a dance

of grief and art.
A whirlwind air
descends to tear
your breath apart.



Ack wind your neck in, said Caesar
the Portugeezer. But, I mean,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Ringo.
I know, said Caesar, everyone
knows—holding forth a three-skinner
and bottle of Vimto. Like, the IMF,
muttered Ringo. There there, Caesar
cooed, wading through a percussion
of bottles and cans to lie back
in a heap on the sofa by the stereo
playing Afro Celt Sound System
Volume 3. But Ringo spluttered: the trees!
Ash … fuck … ash die … ack,
what’s it … fucking the trees … what’s that?


for Sam Gardiner

Unblocking a drain behind the privy
last St Ethelburga’s day, the scullion
found a tiddy mun, small,
wizened, and bearded; taking it
for a Frenchman he caught the beast

a smart whack on the crown
before it loped off into the Ancholme,
pausing only to execrate
Cornelius Vermuyden, whoreson
Dutchman and drainer of fenlands.

Whims of an immemorial lutulence
these estuarine islands, soup bubbles
astir in the crook of the river’s arm
where a dredger gives the sandbanks
the brush-off: slow-motion hide-

and-seekers of the floating centuries!
But – vengeance for the bog spirit –
Read’s Island is sinking, reclaimed
tide by tide where a skeleton brickworks
returns to the clay and its deer-herd’s

hoof-taps carry over the water.
Premature creatures of myth,
they stand among pewits and avocets
by the channel and drink; touched
by the ‘bright light of shipwreck’  

they will take to the water and swim.
Arriving too late to follow I make
my way to the water’s edge and find
the currents, the sunlit shallows,
impenetrable in their wake.