Waiting for Grace's day to dawn - on the writing of my novel Grace's Day

Friday 17 August 2018

Waiting for Grace’s Day to Dawn

First published in the Irish Times, 11th August 2018



Grace’s Day began for me (appropriately at dawn) as a single sentence – ‘There were three islands and they were youth, childhood and age, and I searched for my father in every one.’ 

I don’t know where it came from: it was there in my head when I woke on a July morning...

American Values

Tuesday 17 July 2018

American Values

I heard on the news today that Paul Ryan of the USA’s House of Representatives is critical of Donald Trump’s relationship with Putin on the basis that Russia (under Putin) does not share what he calls ‘American values’. In fact, Putin’s values have much more in common with those of the USA than either side likes to admit. What’s more, the USA has much more in common with...

Water And Its (Dis)Contents

Thursday 5 July 2018

Water and its (Dis)Contents

First published in Studi Irlandesi (Forence, Issue no. 5)

The watery hazes

It’s a foggy morning in Ireland as I begin this essay. The newspapers report weather warnings from the Meteorological Service as though fog were not an essential ingredient of winter here, not to mention part of our mythology and, some say, our personalities. The...

Repeal the 8th Amendment

Wednesday 9 May 2018

On the 8th Amendment

‘Whatever happens while you’re taking this medication,’ the doctor told me, ‘Liz must not become pregnant.’ The medication was a form of chemotherapy that was used to treat my lifelong illness (Still’s Disease) at that time, and still is sometimes. But the stark fact that ‘Liz must not become pregnant’ in a country where abortion was illegal and punishable by 14 years...

Italy 2018 Elections

Monday 5 March 2018

The British and Irish newspapers are full of the danger to the EU posed by the recent Italian elections. Some of that (on the part of British papers in particular) is wishful thinking, but in any case it is, in my view, the wrong analysis. Certainly some of the parties are sceptical of the politics of the EU, as are many Italians, and other citizens of the Union in many countries. There are a variety...

School Shootings

Friday 16 February 2018

I've been thinking about school shootings. I was a teacher once, and I remember one particular young man of 17 years who had really serious anger management problems. I can remember him shouting at me in class over some trivial thing and having to bring him outside and talk him down. He didn't hate me but he hated several of his teachers, some of them with a deep lasting hatred. He was, as we say,...

Why I oppose paying for water

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Why do I oppose paying for drinking water?

1. Firstly I oppose the idea that if we use something we should pay for it. This is fine in a transactional relationship such as when someone buys coffee and a cake, or a car. But such a relationship between the state and the person is not appropriate. Why would a person want a state to exist? To provide her and her fellow inhabitants with certain...

Prison walls for a river: walling Cork City

Thursday 30 March 2017

Walling Cork: The OPW flood plan for Cork City

Cork is a beautiful and strange city. The historic centre lies between two walls of water - the North and South branches of the river Lee. Originally a marsh divided into islands, the ghosts of the dividing channels still remain, bridged over and hidden but returning to haunt the city on rising tides at certain times of the year. It’s a busy...

Me and pot: medical cannabis and me

Monday 16 January 2017

A hard winter of the bones

For almost 50 years now I’ve suffered from a debilitating, often crippling and painful condition called Still’s Disease, a form of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis which strikes children. I contracted the disease at 12 years of age. When I search for an image for the condition I imagine ‘a hard winter of the bones’.

Fifty years of experience with almost...

On Hearing Voices

Saturday 24 December 2016

I hear voices a lot – chance remarks, odd ways of saying things. Sometimes it’s a casual phrase that I hear in a different way; I hear the oddity of it rather than the meaning. These stories are full of those oddities: ‘I bought a heart’, ‘For fun times phone dodger’ (from the inside of a toilet stall in Dublin Airport), ‘interacting with the ghosts’, ‘It was sad but sooner or later I just know this...

We are all barbarians now...

Wednesday 20 January 2016

In July 2015, at the height of the Greece/EU crisis, the philosopher of liberal capitalism, and theorist of European unity, Jürgen Habermas gave an interview to the Guardian. It was, in effect, a threnody for the idea of Europe, a lament for what his native Germany had done or undone. He identified the European non-elected institutions – the council, the commission and European Central Bank (ECB)...

The Paris Atrocity & the War of Terror

Sunday 15 November 2015

The recent events in Paris are terrible for many reasons. Firstly the sheer horror of death coming to so many in such a short space of time, young people, old people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends. This is our immediate response, and that response is amplified by the proximity and visibility in the media of Paris and France. Paris, in particular, has the quality of a mythical...

Dear Jeremy Corbyn

Saturday 12 September 2015

Dear Jeremy, I’m writing to tell you how delighted I am that you have won the Labour leadership – and so decisively too. It may come as a surprise to you to know that I and many many of my friends here in Ireland have been watching this contest with a mixture of hope and trepidation, but perhaps part of the explanation lies in the fact that my two sons and their families both live in England (and...

Open the gates. Just open the fucking gates.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

In just two days last week more people died fleeing our western-created chaos in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq than Ireland took in as refugees last year. Just to set up the base figure: Last year, Ireland granted refugee status to 130 people (see chart from Eurostat):

By contrast with that stellar record of humanitarian welcoming, last week 71 people died of suffocation in a truck in Austria,...

The Ice Moon Interviews: The State

Monday 29 June 2015

Dear readers, it’s not often we get a chance to interview an abstract entity. The last time this happened was probably during the famous occasion when Abraham got a chance to chat to God on top of the mountain. Today, The Ice Moon brings you an exclusive interview with THE STATE.

IMB: May I begin by saying how singularly honoured I am, on behalf of the citizens of the world, to have you...

Democracy is dead: relics for sale

Sunday 28 June 2015

I’m an internationalist not a nationalist. Or put it another way, I don’t believe states are a good thing in themselves, and I certainly don’t believe in all the nineteenth century rubbish about one language, one culture one nation. I think the one question that is never nowadays asked of a state is ‘Who or what is the state for?’ The reason it’s not asked is because everybody knows that the state...

The achievements of Fine Gael and Labour in Government

Sunday 24 May 2015

The referendum result was as good as things get. Six out of every ten people in Ireland have said a resounding YES to our friends and family in the LGBT community. I suspect a substantial portion of the 37% who said NO are not actually homophobic but simply couldn’t bring themselves to countenance the marriage question. That portion of the ‘no’ side should not be discounted either. The reality emerging...

Long life and Happiness: Vote ‘Yes’ for Gay Marriage

Wednesday 29 April 2015

The main argument against gay marriage made by people like Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute seems to be that there is a spiritual interdependence between different kinds of marriages - something like karma. If a gay person gets married then it sets some sort of rot, a blight, a fungal infection on every marriage in the country. This does not seem to apply to other kinds of marriages. For example,...

Four Women Who Died For Ireland: on the concept of involuntary patriotism

Wednesday 11 February 2015

When I was a boy I was chosen from the eight people in my primary school class, three of whom were boys, to read, in public, in the village of Whitegate, The Proclamation of the Republic as part of the celebration of the 1916 Rebellion. This was 1966 and I was 11. In the lead-up to the celebrations we were filled chock-full of the martyrs of Irish history, a narrative that concentrated on our fitful...

Farewell to The SHOp

Tuesday 2 December 2014

The SHOp has closed. When a shop closes in a small village it leaves an empty space in the heart and so it is with this magazine. The community of writers and readers of poetry in Ireland and around the world is no more than a village and at the heart of this village are the ‘little’ magazines in which poets see their own work published and get to read what other poets are writing and where readers...

Island of Saints and Sadists: Ireland and Abortion 2014

Monday 18 August 2014

People often ask me why I write such dark books. You’re such a sunny person, they say. I say: Look around you, what kind of a country do you think you’re living in? Here is a tale of the island of Saints and Sadists.

A young woman came to our country for help, for a home, for safety. We call them immigrants and it has become a bad word in the way that the simple trade of tinker became...

Dear friends in the Irish Labour Party...

Thursday 15 May 2014

Dear fringy in the Labour Party,  I won’t be voting for you. I have voted Labour in every election since I could first vote. I haven’t always given you my first preference – sometimes there were better left candidates – but you’ve always there in the first two or three, and first more often than not. Some of my younger friends are amazed that I voted Labour at all, but they weren’t there during the...

I have been reading The Tailor of Ulm by Lucio Magri

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Tailor of Ulm (Il Sarto Di Ulm) by Lucio Magri (translated by Patrick Camiller)

Honeymooning in 1979 on a package holiday to the Hotel Alaska, Rimini (it’s surprising how attractive the word Alaska sounds on a hot July day in Italy), I became friends with a man who ran a bar. I remember him saying to me, one day, in reply to some question I asked, ‘Sono communista io’. To make that...

Education: Giving our young people the kind of qualification they need

Saturday 2 November 2013

We hear so much nowadays about the need to find a way to measure how our education systems work. In England, for example, the government has just instituted a major educational reform that will see GCSEs graded in 9 levels to replace the antiquated 8 point scale. What’s even more shocking is that the old system of designating student achievement by letters (G- A*), which everyone must recognise as...

Twenty Thousand hits: Celebrating with Cigars

Wednesday 6 February 2013

During the night the Ice Moon passed 20,000 hits. I find that an astonishing figure. When I first began to write this blog I had no idea how many hits a website might achieve. For at least a year I had no way of recording those hits even, though I suspect the number prior to that was small enough anyway, maybe two or three a day, five at the most. Eventually I discovered statcounter.com and set up...

The McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries (2013)

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Yesterday the McAleese report on the Magdalene Laundries was published. Like many others, I expected that the report would be a whitewash. Why did I expect that?

Martin McAleese is the husband of former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. She was chosen for election by reactionary forces who sought to undo the advances achieved during the presidency of Mary Robinson, who was seen by them...

Reilly’s Jew: What ‘austerity’ really means #1

Saturday 5 January 2013

In Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish there is a phrase that fascinates me: ‘a small penal mechanism’.

‘At the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism’, he says.

The sentence came to mind recently when I heard that the Irish government was introducing a €75 charge for each round of chemotherapy. The charge is nicely judged: it will only...

Savita Halappanavar and the Doctor’s Plague

Friday 23 November 2012

When my sister was born my mother began to haemorrhage badly and was in danger of bleeding to death. My father and my aunt (a nurse who qualified in England) pleaded with the doctor to carry out a hysterectomy - then the only treatment. He refused on the grounds that a hysterectomy would prevent her having future children. In effect it would be a form of contraception. When my father threatened to...

James Connolly or The 100th Object in the Irish Times ‘History of Ireland’ series

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Irish Times has been running a series of articles called ‘A history of Ireland in 100 Objects’ and they’ve announced that the public will be asked to choose the final object in the series. I would like to propose, as the 100th object and one which encapsulates the entire history of modern Ireland since independence, the miniature figurine of James Connolly on sale in the shop of the National...

Losing faith in hope: Obama four years on

Sunday 9 September 2012

In the year of Obama’s election I had a conversation with Amiri Baraka, political activist, dramatist, essayist, chronicler of blues and Jazz and performance poet extraordinaire. I asked him what he thought of the, by then, likely prospect of a black American president. The problem with black people in the USA, he told me, is that they think voting for a rich black person will solve their problems....