I watched the resplendent rosella with inexplicably emotional delight. Then the explanation came to me – I was feeling not just my own appreciation of its colourful plumage but somehow I was channelling the joy I knew my father would feel if he stood beside me. And in that moment, he stood beside me. The decades of time and the miles of distance and the ravages of his Parkinson’s disease all fell away in a real and imagined moment of mutual connection. The rosella cocked its head, lifted a wing, nibbled its puffed out chest for a moment, then fluttered off, and my father disappeared. Suddenly he was worlds and light years away again. Tantalising glimpses and bird calls remained. That’s all.

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Rocks are Earth’s previous thoughts: 

Scattered like abandoned ideas

Or filed in folds and strata

Like memories 

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Ancient Rain

I experienced this quite incredible and unusual concert last night – “Ancient Rain” by Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan. A rather original combination of theatre, poetry and music. I urge you to see it if you get a chance. I thought I’d trickle out a few of the poems featured (they are among my favourite Irish poems) although bear in mind the interpretations in this show were…let’s say, different. Firstly, they opened with Heaney’s wonderful poem “Digging,” one of my absolute favourites.


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.



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State-change 俳句

The sublime mind boils

with ideas which, not written,

soon evaporate 

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Mourne Mountain panoramas


Sliabh Bearnagh looking back over Hare’s Gap


From the summit of Sliabh Bearnagh looking back East across the high Eastern Mournes

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Fine filaments of life

IMG_6603.JPGI became acutely aware of the heavy rhythm of my breathing syncopated with the pulsing in my neck as my face gently broke through filament after filament of the fine filigree of first webs. I spun my pedals at a high cadence right on my limit, working my weight back and forth on the saddle to balance rear wheel traction against front wheel steering. I thought of the fine delicate strands of life under my hands and the laboured breathing of a man I’d worked to resuscitate late last night. A more desperate rhythm, balancing on the threshold of life and death. He would have felt his pulse throbbing in his neck too. Getting weaker all the time. His breathing getting faster and faster as his energy left him. As his life left him. I spoke with his family. I touched him and said goodbye. I completed the paperwork. I walked to my car and I drove home.

I drank a beer. I microwaved the dinner left out for me by my wife. I slipped under the bedclothes quietly so as not to wake her. I lay listening to the soft breath sounds of her vibrant life and felt her warmth. I took a while to drift off to restless sleep. I woke today, kissed her and my two boys and said “see you later.” I made a coffee and now I am riding my bike back to the Emergency Department the long way, through fine filaments of webs tickling my face on technical singletracks across beautiful Mount Wellington’s flanks in a dawn commute and feeling glad to be alive.

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The Quay

Barnacle encrusted stumps remain.
Thrusting, vertebral fossils
From tidal glar pools and rising silt.

The bar is no longer dredged:
Time gently smudges over noisy, dark,
Dangerous memories:
Hard men stooping –
Their iron shovels grate on coal,
Organic metronomes in coal boat bellies.

I remember dimly the last coal boat
That hove to at the quay, then slipped away,
Leaving coal dust to settle, like age.

I’d leap and dive from great stone steps
Measuring days in the high tide times.
I fished here for pollock with dead-man’s-fingers
Torn cruelly from tortured crabs.

But now, luxury seafront apartments crowd
Like schoolyard bullies on the harbour walls
And the silt rises as the stories die.

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