I have recently become the happy owner of the book on Cloncoose poet Pat Higgins, a folk poet of the time when people wrote poetry for the joy of it as opposed to making a career out of it or a reputation, with them often being known as a poet, but the poems remembered in their own right and often folk not knowing who the poet was that wrote them.
Such a selfless tradition that is so opposed to the modern day scramble for grants, status and publication where its as much for self importance as the art that the poetry is written, and then often written bad.
Most today is non rhyming, and while I dabble a bit in that myself, I find its easy to write badly in non rhyming verse but hard to keep that reputation in rhyming, you either write or you don’t. You cannot bluff.
The poetry of today is as often as not the network in the magazines and the events (which for me has often worked in my favour so Im not complaining as such!) as opposed to a talent recognised by an appreciating readership who spread the reputation of your works by word of mouth. Your works have the reputation, not you, and the writer would want it that way.
That is the rural rhymer tradition which I identify with and aspire to add my works to in time.
The Book and the Man
The man I first came across while walking some years back out by Lough Sallagh and Lough Cloncoose when I came on the roadside stone marking the spot where his house used to stand. I had been rtrying to find the verse he had written for some time online to little avail, plenty of references to his works, to him as the man, but little of the actual words, akin to Mary Roslaie Boyd (of an Anglo Irish Longford family through her mother Charlotte Dopping) his words were very very hard to come by.
And great was my surprise and joy when yesterday in the shop in Ballinamuck I found the book that was published by the Poet Higgins Society.
As expected, the verse was rhyming, it was local, it told the times through his eyes, an Orthodox Catholic: son of a mixed marriage, he told the story of how a rebel was helped in 1798 by his mothers loyalist family who were kind unlike the cruel Issac Clements who met his just end, the story of Bob Fergusson the Ulster Scot yeoman who on finding the rebel robbed and conned by Slouching Sean made sure justice was served, all these tales and more were read or are waiting to be read between the covers of the book, the publication of which is due to a neighbour who wrote down the words to his poems which we have today.
The Peasant Archives of Ireland
All over Ireland, ordinary folk who appreciated the talents of another took the time to collect the words of what they wrote, and they await in family papers to be discovered by future generations, a true archive of the peasantry created not for a career or fame, but for a genuine love of the culture and a respect for those who wrote the words, so it was that the works of the Poet Higgins reaches us today well more than 100 years after his death.
How many more poets remain to be discovered? I trawl the Irish Folklore Archives to see the ones from Longford, and there are many, written down by schoolchildren, telling the stories and the songs of the Irish rhymers who lived in the countryside and made verse as common and as loved as the traditional music of our land.
It is a great tradition, which some still carry on with a wry look at the world around them, and I think that the former frowning on writing poetry as not been seen as “macho” is fading, its part of our culture which we are letting die, and we and only we can bring back to life should we so desire.
The Other Poets Higgins
The other poets Higgins include Michael Twee in the Park and the infamous Poet Biggins as I call him, who creates a career out of the snide remark, populist politics and lives off of state funding his workshops and the money of folk who “want to be a poet”… everyone can be a poet, take a poem and write, and learn by sharing with fellow writers, or read to learn from the writers you admire, you don’t have to make another person rich in the process.
Kevin Higgins politics show through in his work, which apart from his support for abortion which I oppose, I would share a lot. Its the ego trip that grates not just me but a lot of others in Galway in the arts scene which he has come to a position of dominance in. While he opposed the instillation of water meters, he paid his water charge so he could get his state funding which is typical two sided of the cute hoor Irishism I abhor, and he was noticeable by his absence at the gates of the Dail at the December 9 protests, when a mere 8 or so of us were left facing down thirty odd Gardai with a few hundred with dogs in reserve.
He, like Ruth Coppinger, Gerry Adams and the rest had, as he puts it snidly about other “Politely made their point and went home”.
Too many on the left use the austerity issue to build their careers, without austerity they are not relevant, so if we had a boom tomorrow they would fade away. The only social policy they propose is abortion, which would be hated by the original Poet Higgins and his people who DID live in heard times compared to today, when the call for abortion to relive poverty while still wrong would have been understandable.
Yet another Higgins who grasps the ben is Rita Ann Higgins, who insulted Galway after collecting taxpayers money, again to push the pro abortion and anti society line which shows the folly of Galway City Council who pander to all bar the people they are meant to represent. Of course, I had a reply to her dirge!
The other bandwagon they jump on is social housing, a valid issue which was the issue of ending landlordism that makes a strong theme of the work of the Bard of Cloncoose, where a thwarted eviction attempt with the backup of the Royal Irish was carried out by the Land League of the day.
RIP John Squires and the modern day Land League
The Land League of today opposes the evictions of the modern age, and we need a bard somewhere to chronicle the evictions stopped by these activists such as Ben Gilroy and the late John Squires of Trim. Now, I am no fan of the politics of DDI / NCM as I see them as very right wing even though they don’t show much signs of racism apart from the Zionist conspiracy theories popping up every so often, but for the work they do alone, they deserve respect.
Ben Gilroy among others got Allsops, by disturbing their auctions of distressed properties, to agree that were a property was contested, they would not handle the sale. If a minuscule (and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful sense) party such as DDI and its allied movements can create such a change, why cant Sinn Fein (whose armed wing took on the might of the British Army but are powerless strangely against banks and bailiffs) and the AAA, who with the exception of Michael Fitzpatrick in Laois were strangely absent from active physical opposition of family homes down the country.
Trevor Murtagh, who sadly is no longer with us, was another of these activists who punched way above theor political weight and prehaps are the modern day holders of the Whiteboy / Ribbonmen tradition along with the Water Meter Fairies and allied groups.
The original “Fairies” were agrarian activists who attacked herds placed on lands where families were evicted to make room for livestock. When the constables came asking questions as to what happened, the people said “It must have been the Fairies!!!” and got the better of the powers that be of the time, who we overthrew only for their replacement to be as heartless to the benefit of the banks as opposed to British Protestant landlords.
The Banks, Evictions, and Poet Activism throughout the centuries
From me at the gates of the Dail, to Kevin Higgins who paid but protested water charges in Galways Westside, right the way back to the Poet Higgins of Cloncoose, poets have been to the forefront culturally if not physically in the fight for social justice in Ireland.
What is common in these times and those is the problems the banks present: today, bailed out by our taxes, the banks chuck our people out, when a reformation of the Irish Land Commission that sorted out the land issue before would do so again.
The as today, the right to property, to own and trade debts was the issue behind the issue, such as the evictions on Ralph Dopping-Hepenstals estate in Derrycassin by his brother James Henry Dopping, who was as cruel as his brother was kind.
Infamous from his actions in Donegal on the Hill estates and on the Black Jack Adair lands, he returned to administer the estate of his brother who had died by suicide (though Grank Collumb contests that). A tragic if kindly figure by the standards of the landed of the time, Ralph Anthony was forced or cajoled to mortgage his estate to a Scottish bank and other landowners by his second wife who hated the children of his first wife, and her influence folklore tells us led to the situation where to pay the banks the rents had to be collected and raised, leading to the standoffs and the tragic evictions in the east end of North Longford.
Jimmy Doppins as he was known was grandfather of the aforementioned Mary Rosalie Boyd, whose mother Charlotte was the daughter of James and his wife a woman by the name of Moore. She wrote of the world of the Boers in South Africa, some say she is to them what Robert Service was to the miners of the Yukon. Her brother was the hero of Gheluveld, a little known soldier of the Longford diaspora even though they are of the British tradition they are Irish too.
There were good Doppings, like Ralph Anthony and Lambert John, and bad Doppings like Henry James and the original Ralph, but there has rarely been a good bank, and there has always been evictions and will be as long as there are banks, and I hope there are poets like us to chronicle it and actively oppose them and other laws that hurt society.
The Poets and their Poetry
While Michael D in the park gets great acclaim for the one poem a year he writes, and Kevin Higgins whips up a storm over his established network over the campaigning poetry he writes, neither is as a joy to read as the works of the peasant poet of Cloncoose.
I have only read a few of his works, and on purpose put the book away, to have the joy in a few weeks of taking it up again and entering the world that he saw, the joys, the events, the satires of the great and mighty and of the few who deserved it locally and maybe some who didnt, as it captures a world of people who were poor even by todays standards, who still managed to hold their dignity without the modern race to the bottom socially as it seems each successive generation seek to exceed the former in how to kick against the norms of respectable society which was held up by the people of the poet of Cloncoose.
Today, in the wake of the sexual revolution, those who think its trendy kick against the Catholic church in ways that if it was the Orange Order that did it they would be accused of sectarianism.
Where the clergy did wrong they deserve to be opposed, but the norms of society and of the culture of our people deserve to be respected, as they are not by the media and entertainment industry of our lands, who have no issue with respecting the same respectability held by Islamic people and Jewish folk. While some are scared of the arrival of the Syrians, if its families I think their arrival can bolster the traditional Catholic and Church of Ireland ethos and culture of Longford that we hold dear.
Of course, the middle east has a proud poetic tradition of its own, the Sufi works of Rumi and others combat the hate of Salafism, and these new families may bring a new slant to the long tradition of folk poetry represented by Patrick Higgins, and lesser so by me, never mind the anti-social rebels such as Kevin Higgins and Rita Ann Higgins or Michael D up in the Park!!!!