Tag Archives: Irish

Y- Yeats On Life…Letters To Dead Poets

For the last six weeks, I’ve been working on a series of Letters to Dead Poets, which have been inspired by my own experiences of reading these poems, being inspired by the poets as well as the happenings in my own life.  I’ve re-read poems, discovered new poets, as my footsteps have forged ahead through virgin soil. Yet, there has also been this other force, which writers through the ages have called “the muse”. Yet, who or what is it really? Could it be the spirits of poets past posting ideas into my head like letters into a mail box? Is it my subconscious mind or even God?

Irish poet William Butler Yeats had a strong belief in the supernatural, which is reflected in his response.

 …………….

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

Dear Rowena,

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W.B. Yeats

At last, I finally received your letter. I’ve repeatedly tried reaching you throughout the last month, watching as you’ve plucked out but a select few of my colleagues to receive your letters. It’s been an agonising wait, not knowing whether I would be chosen. Thank you. Your letter means the world to me. I am most honoured…and relieved!

By the way, if I ever come back on a more permanent basis, I’m going to change my name to Aardvark. I spent most of my life waiting, waiting…A,B, C,L,M,Q…! Even after death, it’s taken an eternity to get to “Y”!

Getting back to your letter, my dear, you asked so many questions. Too many, for me to respond to each one individually and give each their due. Besides, I am but a poet and “what can be explained is not poetry”.

yeats1.jpg

However, before I offer a few over-arching observations, please know that “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”

Yeats By Rohan Gillespie Stephen St Sligo

Wisdom – WB Yeats:

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.”

“This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.”

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”

“You know what the Englishman’s idea of compromise is? He says, Some people say there is a God. Some people say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two statements.”

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

“Why should we honour those that die upon the field of battle? A man may show as reckless a courage in entering into the abyss of himself.”

“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”

“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

Knowing how you’re a romantic at heart, here are a few thoughts about love:

 “Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O Never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.”
― W.B. Yeats, In the Seven Woods: Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age

“WINE comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and sigh.”
― W.B. Yeats

Of course, being an Irishman, love is also touched by tragedy…

 “A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats

By the way, the questions haven’t stopped since I reach Byzantium. Indeed, my journey has barely begun. Eternity awaits!

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

Yours,

WB Yeats

Y-Sailing To Byzantium, William Butler Yeats: #atozchallenge.

Sailing To Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

Byzantium

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats

Through the use of various poetic techniques, Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” describes the metaphorical journey of a man pursuing his own vision of eternal life as well as his conception of paradise.

Written in 1926 (when Yeats was 60 or 61), “Sailing to Byzantium” is Yeats’ definitive statement about the agony of old age and the imaginative and spiritual work required to remain a vital individual even when the heart is “fastened to a dying animal” (the body). Yeats’s solution is to leave the country of the young and travel to Byzantium, where the sages in the city’s famous gold mosaics could become the “singing-masters” of his soul. He hopes the sages will appear in fire and take him away from his body into an existence outside time, where, like a great work of art, he could exist in “the artifice of eternity.” In the final stanza of the poem, he declares that once he is out of his body he will never again appear in the form of a natural thing; rather, he will become a golden bird, sitting on a golden tree, singing of the past (“what is past”), the present (that which is “passing”), and the future (that which is “to come”).

Interpretation

Yeats wrote in a draft script for a 1931 BBC broadcast:

I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. When Irishmen were illuminating the Book of Kells, and making the jeweled croziers in the National Museum, Byzantium was the centre of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolize the search for the spiritual life by a journey to that city.[1]”

Wikipaedia

Y- William Butler Yeats: A letter to Dead Poets

Gratitude To The Unknown Instructors

WHAT they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

William Butler Yeats

 Dear Mr Yeats,

How are you? No doubt, it’s been quite a surprise to regain human form and return from Byzantium. I assure you that this isn’t some kind of belated April Fool’s Day prank. Rather, I am writing a series of Letters to Dead Poets from A-Z and you are my second last stop. I know you’re probably sick of almost always coming last. This is unless there was a “Z”. I’m sure that you and “Z” would have been the best of friends!

So, being “Y”, I had to ask you: WHY????

This journey from A-Z has become quite a philosophical journey, exploring a plethora of seemingly rhetorical questions like what it means to be a man?  Why do some people suffer so much and what is the point of suffering? What’s more, when things in our own lives go devastatingly wrong, how do we survive? How do we go on, when we want to let go? What is love and how can it last a lifetime and overcome its many challenges and hurdles? What does it mean to be happy and how do we find happiness? Why do so many creative people struggle with depression and mental health issues? Is it wise to become a poet or should we get a “real job”? Why did Hemingway shoot himself and John Lennon get shot? Why was Shelley out sailing in a violent storm and when he was cremated, why didn’t his heart burn? Indeed, why did his wife, Mary, wrap his heart up in the manuscript from Adonais and keep it in her desk until she died? You weren’t even all that close. I’m not even going to ask what happened to Shakespeare’s head. That said, I might ask if that’s really you in “your grave” in Ireland? Of course, conspiracy theories prevail!

That will keep you busy for awhile!

I must admit that I find writing to you rather intimidating, although you would think I’d be used to it by now. In 1923, you were the first Irishman awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature  for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”. However, you are one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize. Indeed, TS Eliot called you “one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them”. Indeed, I’ll defer to WH Auden’s eulogy:

Yeats By Rohan Gillespie Stephen St Sligo

Statue of Yeats by Rohan Gillespie

In Memory Of W.B. Yeats

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

[Auden later deleted the next three stanzas.]

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

WH Auden

However, it seems you understand what it’s like to have a dream which is still a work in progress:

Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

I have read your poem: Easter 1916.

Having Irish heritage myself, of course, I had to mention Ireland. While in so many ways our family are Heinz Variety Australians, a good number of our ancestors came from Ireland and brought something of Ireland with them which keeps being passed down from parent to child, in our souls as well as in our genes. My husband’s great something grandfather, Daniel Burke, helped Irish revolutionary John Mitchell escape Tasmania bound for America by lending him his horse…a role which earned him a mention in Mitchell’s Jail Journal. My ancestors somehow survived the Great Famine and came to Sydney. These Irish people were tough. After surviving the famine, their beloved St Mary’s Cathedral burned down in and they raised the money to rebuild through donations brick-by-brick. There was no falling on their sword crying “Woe is me”. No talk of how they’ve survived the famine only to have the cathedral burn down. No, they immediately started fundraising the next day and when that fledgling structure was also burned down, they started over. Indeed, John and Bridget Curtin lost three children and yet they battled on in the overcrowded hardship of Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington. Yet, they never gave up. That said, they might have drunk a bit too much…

I have never been to Ireland and am quite curious to see whether I feel a sense of home there or not. Just how Irish am I?

Humph! Despite raising poets from the dead, I still can’t quite click my fingers and travel over to Ireland in an instant. So, I am back to searching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to fund my trip.

So, this leaves me sitting about to board the train to meet up with my very last poet…Z.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Notes

Aedh was a Celtic God of Death, one of the children of Lir.Yeats seems to have used this character in some of his stories along with Ahearne and Michael Robartes and describes him as fire reflected in water.

Y- Yeats: Easter, 1916 #atozchallenge.

Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day

Coming with vivid faces

From counter or desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses.

I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club,

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will,

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill.

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful,

She rode to harriers?

This man had kept a school

And rode our wingèd horse;

This other his helper and friend

Was coming into his force;

He might have won fame in the end,

So sensitive his nature seemed,

So daring and sweet his thought.

This other man I had dreamed

A drunken, vainglorious lout.

He had done most bitter wrong

To some who are near my heart,

Yet I number him in the song;

He, too, has resigned his part

In the casual comedy;

He, too, has been changed in his turn,

Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.

The horse that comes from the road,

The rider, the birds that range

From cloud to tumbling cloud,

Minute by minute they change;

A shadow of cloud on the stream

Changes minute by minute;

A horse-hoof slides on the brim,

And a horse plashes within it;

The long-legged moor-hens dive,

And hens to moor-cocks call;

Minute by minute they live:

The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part, our part

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith

For all that is done and said.

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse—

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

William Butler Yeats

September 25, 1916

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

Although Yeats didn’t consider himself “political”, he wrote this poem about the Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion of 1916) of around a thousand Irish Republicans who wanted to secede from Great Britain and establish an independent Ireland. The insurrection was put down less than a week later, and many of its leaders were swiftly executed by firing squad. Although the original rebellion did not enjoy wide support among the general populace, the ruthlessness of the British response unnerved the Irish and led to the growth of the ultranationalist group Sinn Féin.  “I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me,” Yeats said, months later. In the wake of the courts-martial and executions of May 1916, he wrote to Lady Gregory that he was “trying to write a poem.” His simultaneous awe of and ambivalence toward the event are clearly coded in the both title and refrain. The Easter Rising is a double entendre on the holiday; the “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. Hence, the Easter Rising is simultaneously crucifixion and resurrection, reality and archetype.

Source: Wikipaedia.

Do you have a favourite poem by William Butler Yeats?

xx Rowena

 

Surry Hills, Sydney…A Sense of Place.

After arriving at Central Station, I walked through the maze of underground pedestrian tunnels taking me from Country Trains through to Elizabeth Street, where I finally set foot in Surry Hills.

There are so many incredibly ecclectic nooks and crannies in Surry Hills and what I really love about the place is just setting out and wandering around camera and notebook in hand, pen and imagination at the ready.

That said, on my previous trips, I have had a map because I was busy trying to retrace my family’s footsteps through Surry Hills and was definitely a woman on a mission. Today, I’m just wanting to unwind.

When I last visited Surry Hills, I stumbled into a fabulous vegan cafe apparently called Me & Art. However, I knew it as “the Vegan Mary” because there was a painting of the Vegan Mary out the front and while not intending any disrespect, I found it pretty funny and I love, I mean I really love a bit of quirkiness. I guess it was all this artwork which drew me into a vegan cafe because I’m not even vegetarian.

The Front of the Cafe.

The Front of the Cafe.

I am not always good at stepping out of my comfort zone with food, mainly because I don’t want to waste money and I hate wasting good money on food I don’t like…especially when I’d a good cook.

Almost Heaven: Coconut Chai Latte.

Almost Heaven: Coconut Chai Latte.

However, I must have been feeling rather adventurous because I stepped right out there well beyond the familiarity of my much love but very safe cappuccino and ordered a Coconut Chai Latte. This turned out to be so much more than just a drink. I felt like I was skydiving through fluffy, coconut clouds as I made my way through the drink. It truly was extremely divine and utterly unforgettable…as was the cafe itself.

So, here I am on a previous visit:

Enjoying my Coconut Chai Latte at the “Vegan Mary”. The fashion mags were for my daughter. These days, I wouldn’t know fashion if it bit me on the nose!

However, unlike my Dad who only has to visit a place once to find his way back, I am rather geographically challenged and while you’d have to say that Albion Street is pretty hard to miss, I somehow turned left instead of the usual right coming out of the station and veered off into Devonshire Street, having lunch at the Sly Cafe instead.

So why does someone who lives and breathes the beach end up escaping to Sydney’s urban Surry Hills, which is so cluttered with terraces that you’re lucky to have a backyard the size of a pocket handkerchief. Moreover, these days that’s a very expensive pocket handkerchief indeed!
Well…

Many, many moons ago in my life before marriage, mortgage kids and responsibility, I rented an assortment of terrace houses in the city in places like Chippendale, Glebe, Broadway both while I was an Arts student at Sydney University and also once I started working in the city. Although I never lived in Surry Hills, at times my local supermarket was there and turning back the clock about 20 years, I remember it as a rather grungy, rough sort of area, although the tide was starting to turn as “the yuppies” who’d been doing their thing in neighbouring Paddington, were moving in. Back then there was a mix of Victorian terraces and industrial complexes and Surry Hills has long been home to the rag trade.

The J Curtin Truck with my Great Grandfather and Grandfather.

The J Curtin Truck with my Great Grandfather and Grandfather.

My Dad’s side of the family, the Curtin’s, lived around Surry Hills and Paddington from the 1850s through to around 1930’s and had a stove making business at 90 Fitzroy Street until around the mid 1940s. Researching my family history, I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the history of the Irish who lived and breathed in those narrow, crooked and overcrowded streets and found myself constructing a very strong sense of place in our family history.

90 Fitzroy Street today.

90 Fitzroy Street today.

This was largely fueled by Ruth Park’s trilogy about the Darcy family who lived at Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street. The first book in the series, The Harp in the South was published in 1948. The book is rich with descriptions of Surry Hills and she really leaves you with a sense of living and breathing the lives on those streets:

“The hills are full of Irish people. When their grandfathers and great-grand fathers arrived in Sydney they went naturally to Shanty Town, not because they were dirty or lazy, though many of them were that, but because they were poor. And where there are poor you will find landlords who build tenements; cramming two on a piece of land no bigger than a pocket handkerchief, and letting them for the rent of four. In the squalid, mazy streets of sandstone double-decker houses, each with its little balcony edged ‘with rusty iron lace, and its door opening on to the street, or four ^square feet of “front,” every second name is an Irish one. There are Brodies, and Caseys and Murphys “and O’Briens, and down by the corner are Casement and Grogan and Kell, and, although here and there you find a Simich, or a Siciliano, or a Jewish shopkeeper, or a Chinese laundryman, most are, Irish.”

Irish Signs at the Porterhouse Pub, Surry Hills.

Irish Signs at the Porterhouse Pub, Surry Hills.

Although I did find a great Irish pub on one trip, contemporary Surry Hills is very cosmopolitian, ecclectic and multi-cultural.

Returning to Surry Hills after something like a 20 year gap, it was familiar yet different. More village-like than I recalled. I noticed many people out walking their dogs. Dogs which looked very well-kept… pampered designer pooches rather than the rough and ready mutts which used to roam those streets.

However, what struck me most was the trees. Urban, somewhat grungy Surry Hills has been transformed into an urban village with a green canopy. Towering paperbark trees thrive beside the terraces and I could even hear the squawks of rainbow lorrikeets among the leaves. For me, this somehow gave Surry Hills a sleepiness, an incredible beauty and it was a fabulous testimony of how an urban space can become regenerated and green.

Not unsurprisingly, I found myself equally attracted to the incredible trees in Surry Hills as the terraces and as the light dancing through the leaves and across sweeping branches, I zoomed in through the lens exploring every detail.

As if I hadn’t already found enough to love about Surry Hills, it is just so artistic and even the graffiti is better.

Welcome to the Arthole

Welcome to the Arthole

Awhile back, I stumbled into what I’ll call: “The Art Dungeon” in Campbell Street. It is in the quirkiest location underneath a vintage fashion shop which is incredible in itself with such an array of fabric, velvets, sequins and a veritable tour through flower power, sequins, pill box hats and deep purple coats.

Captured this scene in the Art Dungeon. So many things you could say...

Captured this scene in the Art Dungeon. So many things you could say…

Anyway, the art dungeon gets rented out to an stream of up and coming artists and it’s all a bit like life at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree…you never know quite what you’re going to find.

Exhibiting Artist Luke Temby from Cupco httP:\\cupco.net

Exhibiting Artist Luke Temby from Cupco httP:\\cupco.net

I haven’t been back there but when I last went, I met up with exhibiting Artist, Luke Temby from Cupco and felt like I’d been transported to a veritable fantasy world.

However, if you know me at all, you’ll know that no Rowie tour is complete without a trip to the Opportunity Shop (thift or charity store depending on where you’re from). While Surry Hills has been blessed with an abundance of pubs since its inception, I’ve only found one Op Shop: the Salvo Store at 399 Crown Street (just up from Albion Street.

I must admit that it is indeed a rare day that I walk out of an op shop empty handed but as they keep telling me, my purchases are helping the homeless and so who am I to resist such a good cause.

Speaking of being homeless, I picked up this stunning bride doll from the Salvo Store this week and naturally felt compelled to put a roof over her head. After all, we couldn’t have a homeless bride, could we?!! She is intended to be a gift for my daughter but she’s currently in my room. She needs to be looked after.

The Homeless Bride.

The Homeless Bride.

I also picked up a copy of the Masterchef Cookbook from the first series where Julie Goodwin became Australia’s first Masterchef. It was an excellent find. Rather than being full of impossible gourmet nightmares way beyond my capabilities, this book is actually very educational and informative, teaching you much of the basics…including how to cut an onion.

However, after leaving the Salvo store, my Cinderella moment had come and after mixing up the time of my medical appointment, I was rushing down Albion Street hoping to fly all the way to Royal North Shore Hospital, instead of relying on public transport.

So, unfortunately I didn’t have time for my much anticipated Coconut Chai Latte and I guess the rush took the sting out of my horror. The Vegan Mary Cafe, as I called it, was gone without a trace and there was just a bland, white-washed terrace left in its wake. Somehow, I’m going to need to get my fix and am going to try to get one locally.

I understand that time and tide stand still for no one and that I can’t take things like a coconut chai latte for granted. We must carpe diem seize the day with both hands.

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

xx Rowena

Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

DSC_4290My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.

This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.

It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!

While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.

Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.

While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.

While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!

You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/

About the Monument

Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.

Bridget Donovan wasn't on the list... missing in action yet again!!

The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.

The Plaque

The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:

“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”

Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.

Bridget would have worn something like this simple dress...Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

I have written about Bridget Donvon’s Journey more extensively in my other blog: Finding Bridget, which you can check out here: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

You can also read about our Irish night where we cooked up an Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and had it with Australian Pavlova to commemorate 160 years since John Curtin, an Irish Sailor who went on to become a Stove Maker in Sydney’s Surry Hills: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/

xx Rowena