Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Mary Devenport O’Neill poem GALWAY

Posted in Mary Devenport O'Neill Irish poet and playwright, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 28, 2016
This is a brief letter I sent to the Galway Advertiser about the poem GALWAY by Mary Devenport O’Neill suggesting that the first verse be included in the Galway Poetry Trail which was initiated by Tom Kenny of  Kenny Books.
Mary devenport o neill

http://www.kennys.ie/news/category/galway-poetry-trail/

Galway Poetry-Trail-smA series of commemorative plaques featuring the writing of well known Irish and International poets  have been installed around the City of Galway.

Often with a Galway twist, this series has become known as the Galway Poetry Trail and has so far included James Joyce, Mairtín Ó’Direáin, Seamus Heaney, Pádraic Ó’Conaire, Walter Macken, Louis MacNeice, Kevin Faller, Moya Cannon, Patricia Burke Brogan, W.B.Yeats, Gerald Dawe, Rita Ann Higgins, Gerard Hanberry, George Moore, and this year Máire Holmes and Arthur Colahan have been added

 —————————————————-
Dear Editor,

I think the first verse of Mary Devenport O’Neill’s poem should be commemorated in The Galway Poetry Trail. I think she has been unfairly neglected.

Galway
I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play’
She was born in Loughrea in 1879 she attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art for teacher trainings and boarded at The Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin and went on to write poetry and established herself as a writer and one of the literati of the Irish Free State.
The  O’Neills’ salon was attended over a period of years by all of the major literary figures of the time including Æ, Jack B. and W.B. Yeats, Sibyl le Brocquy, Lennox Robinson and Austin Clarke.
Yours sincerely,


I had sent Tom Kenny, whom I know of old, an email when I was in Galway on holiday in July.
tomkennygalway
and he replied:
Dear Jeanne,

Thanks for your note. Mary Davenport O’Neill has been on our list from the beginning,but we can only do so much with our limited budget. The poem is fine but it is a bit long so we have to think carefully about where to place it.

The project is ongoing, we are now up to seventeen plaques, and it will always be a balance between living and deceased writers. We are also hoping that poets will start to write specifically for the trail.

I hope you are well. Things are good in sunny Galway and we are all anxiously waiting for The decision of the European Capital of Culture 2020 judges. We will know tomorrow.

Beatha agus Sláinte

Tom

(Galway’s bid was successful. Yea.)

I don’t accept the excuse as women are so unrepresented in the Poetry Trail. And I think Galway- a town tormented by the sea is a punchy epiteth for Galway. We’ll see!

Here is the poem. I used to have a handwritten copy of it in any bedsit I had when emigrated to London along with the Louis Mac Niece Galway poem.

GALWAY by Mary Devenport O’Neill

 

I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play,’
And their tall houses crumble away.
This town is eaten through with memory
Of pride and thick red Spanish wine and gold
And a great come and go;
But the sea is cold,
And the spare, black trees
Crouch in the withering breeze
That blows from the sea,
And the land stands bare and alone,
For its warmth is turned away
And its strength held in hard cold grey-blue
stone;
And the people are heard to say,
Through the raving of the jealous sea,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play.’

And here is MacNiece’s which was written in Galway when he was told about the outbreak of war when Poland was invaded. He was on Nimmo’s Pier at the time where the plaque is.
.Mac Niece Galay Poem
Galway by Louis MacNiece.
O the crossbones of Galway
The hollow grey houses,
The rubbish and sewage,
The grass-grown pier,
And the dredger grumbling
All night in the harbour:
The war came down on us here.Salmon in the Corrib
Gently swaying
And the water combed out
Over the weir
And a hundred swans
Dreaming on the harbour:
The war came down on us here.

The night was gay
with the moon’s music
But Mars was angry
On the hills of Clare
And September dawned
Upon Willows and ruins
The war came down upon us here

Mary Devenport O’Neill was born in Loughrea in 1879. She attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art for teacher training and boarded at The Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin and her address is recorded as Sea Road Galway. She moved to Dublin with her mother and sister. She married Joseph O’Neill in 1908. He was also from Galway and was an author and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education.
They lived at 2 Kenilworth Square, Rathgar Dublin
2-Kenilworth-Sq-Exterior_m
The  O’Neills’ salon was attended over a period of years by all of the major literary figures of the time including Æ, Jack B. and W.B. Yeats, Sibyl le Brocquy, Lennox Robinson and Austin Clarke.

Mary Devenport O’Neill has been forgotten and neglected in a way that many women writers and achievers have been. The backdrop to this was the prevailing puritan streak in Church and State, the same smothering conservatism that had driven the nation’s greatest cultural figures to take refuge abroad (Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, Yeats) or, for the men, to escape to the relative freedom of the bars of Dublin frequented by the likes of Behan, Kavanagh and O’Brien.

The vision of the new Irish State as promulgated by the narrow-minded, sexist President DeValera which was broadcast over the radio to the nation on St Patrick’s Day 1943 sticks in the craw of so many Irish women.

A land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides for the wisdom of serene old age.

She worked with W.B. Yeats on  A Vision . This short poem is from her one book, the 1929 Prometheus and Other Poems. Her work is all out of print and does not appear in many of the numerous anthologies of Irish verse.

THE BELL

It seems to me
I live perpetually
On the cloudy edge of the sound of a bell
For ever listening.
I cannot tell
If it is memory
Of something that rang beautifully
Or if a bell will ring.

She published three verse plays,Bluebeard (1933), Cain(1945) and Out of The Darkness (1947). Her final play War, The Monster was performed by the Abbey Experimental theatre Company in 1949 but was not published. When she was fifty, she published a collection of poetry Prometheus and other poems (London: Jonathan Cape 1929)- thirty-three lyric poems, four “dream poems”, one long poem, and a verse-play. This was the first collection of poetry published by an Irish poet, besides Yeats, which could be considered modernist

.Mary devenport o neill and husband Joseph

She published regularly in The Dublin Magazine and contributed reviews to The Bell and The Irish Times. Two of her plays were performed by Austin Clarke’s  Lyric Theatre Company. She engaged in lengthy correspondence with Clarke from 1929-48 concerning the production of her work and combining choreography with verse for these productions. Bluebeard, a ballet based on her play, was choreographed by Dame Ninette De Valois  as one of the final productions of the Abbey School of Ballet.

There is an interesting article about her poem entitled  A Crooked Slice of Bread

http://sibealnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/a-crooked-slice-of-bread-mary-devenport.html

A Crooked Slice of Bread

A convent parlour with a floor

Of shining boards and a glass garden door,

A wide ring of slippery chairs,

Saints on the wall – a young saint with a skull,

An old saint thin with prayers –

Sea-shells upon mats of coloured wool;

An oval table set with bread

And wine the colour of foxglove

And little vases,

Such as children dress their altars with in May;

In these I poured the wine,

But why did he who got the first vase shove

His vase away?

I stopped pouring the wine;

And then as if a rain-cloud spoke he said,

‘You’ve given me a crooked slice of bread.’

I turned and found a loaf so stale and dried

‘Twas hard as sandstone, and a knife

As thin and waving as a blade of grass;

And then while centuries seemed to pass

All things had faded but the task I tried.

Do I in some less palpable life

That slides along one side of this

(Using the force and strength I miss

In this life here) work hard instead

To cut that straight smooth even slice of bread?

 

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