Professor Gerald Dawe, Director of the Oscar Wilde School of Irish Writing at TCD, returned to Orangefield School in East Belfast in August as part of the East Side Arts Festival. During his talk another former pupil looked in the door and stood at the back for a while, before going on to perform in concert: Van Morrison. During his talk Professor Dawe mentioned that he had been a postgraduate student at University College Galway, where he completed an MA thesis on William Carleton. He was a contributor to the William Carleton Society International Summer School in 1994 and 2008. He has now published a new collection of essays and memoirs, ‘The Stoic Man’ (Lagan Press). In today’s Irish Times, he writes about the publication:
‘The Belfast I left behind doesn’t exist anymore’
How can one ever remember the tone and timbre of the 1970s and the values of the republic that really were on the cusp of lasting change? It was a different world, for sure, but some things remain lodged in the memory of that time. Like the grotesque disfiguring violence inflicted upon ordinary people by the paramilitaries; like the long and arduous battle women of all classes and backgrounds had to endure to achieve basic civil liberties in their own country; like the demeaning deference expected by a male-possessed Church and the preening patronising of many (male) politicians.
But I also have a lasting sense of the edgy, challenging focus of the culture that was calmly self-confident and productive of counter images and contrary views.
I have no nostalgia for that time, although in The Stoic Man, the new collection of essays and memoirs I have just published with Lagan Press, the recalling of life in the west of Ireland in the 70s sounds again like a “sheltering place” from the travails and troubles of the Belfast I had in part left behind. So The Stoic Man is accompanied by a collection of Early Poems written during those years in Galway’s old city, around the streets and canal-ways, the bridges, Lough shore and harbour where we used to live.
It is hard to think of how things could have been so different without making it seem as if things turned out not as well as one had hoped, which is not the case. The fact is though that no one back then that I knew really planned a future. It sort of just happened. Maybe that is the biggest change I can spot between then and now.
Targets, outcomes, graphs and statistics, the numerical volumes of which we seem to be increasingly addicted in post-“Celtic Tiger” Ireland, forecasting everything from weather to economic predictions to just about every facet of social life. These strainings after certainty certainly did not exist. We lived more in the moment. That may have been unwise, I don’t know, but what I can say is that the not knowing about these matters did not halt our growth or stunt our enthusiasm for life.
The petulance, complaint and unceasing quest for factoids and percentages, faults and failings, blame and admonishment which characterises so much of Irish life today did not play any significant part in our life back then, or if it did it hasn’t left any trace behind in my memory. Politics was cut and thrust; business was precisely that, business: nothing more, nothing less but nothing like the current fad for elevating it to a new religion.
There was an intelligent debate going on about literature and art, among many other things, that weren’t in hock to the market-place or the mantra of economy. Perhaps, surprisingly too, there was an openness and appetite in brashly engaging with European ideals, probably because we had only recently joined the European family. This act would prove critical in underpinning the modernisation of our infrastructure like roads, and the liberalisation of our codes of conduct. But also, critically, the opening of our minds as well; no longer being obsessed with England started to take root sometime around the 70s.
The Stoic Man sorts some of these bass notes into a record of personal time. From growing up in a vibrant 60s Belfast, through the blunt decades that at times followed, before the republic soared economically and then crashed unceremoniously leaving the ordinary “Joe” to pick up the tab.
And now what? The book ends with a few more questions than it can possibly answer.
I hope The Stoic Man is a good read, alongside those Early Poems written by a young lad who I kind of remember disembarking from the dewy CIE coach one crisp late afternoon many moons ago.
in memory of Bridget O’Toole
It is a desert of rock
the rain has finally withered
till we are left black
dots on a shrinking island.
We come like pilgrims
wandering at night through
the dim landscape. A blue
horizon lurks behind whin
bushes and narrows to pass
the pitch-black valley.
We are at home. A place as
man-forsaken as this must
carry like the trees a silent
immaculate history. Stones
shift under the cliff’s shadow.
Nearby the tide closes in,
master of the forgotten thing.
GERALD DAWE (from http://www.ricorso.net)
1952- [Gerald Chartres Dawe; fam. “Gerry”]; b. N. Belfast; ed. Orangefield Boys School (‘an extraordinary school’), East Belfast; worked with Sam McCreadt at Lyric Youth Th.; grad. NUU (Coleraine), BA., 1974; briefly worked at Central Public Library, Belfast; held major state award for research, 1974-77; wrote a thesis on William Carleton under Lorna Reynolds, Galway, MA 1978; lecturer, UCG ; appt. lect. in English and Drama, TCD, 1988; introduced to Padraic Fiacc by Brendan Hamill, 1973; Arts Council Bursary for poetry, 1980; Macauley Fellowship for Literature, 1984; taught at Galway University, 1977-1986; m. Dorothy Melvin; a dg., Olwen, b. 1981; also a son, Iarla; appt. lect in English, TCD, 1988; moved to Dublin, settling in Dun Laoghaire, 1992;
Poems: Sheltering Places (1978) and The Lundys Letter (1985), winner of Macaulay Prize [Fellowship in Literature]; fnd. ed. Krino; ed. with Edna Longley, Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (1985) and The Younger Irish Poets (1982, reissued 1991); criticism includes How’s the Poetry Going? (1991), False Faces (1994), and Against Piety: Essays in Irish Poetry (1995); Director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing (TCD); issued The Rest is History (1998), dealing with influence of Belfast culture on Van Morrison and Stewart Parker; issued Lake Geneva (2003), poems; appt. TCD Fellow, 2004; his Collected Criticism was edited by Nicholas Allen in 2007;
Has taught at Boston College and Villanova Univ.; issued Points West (2008), poems, his seventh collection; issued an anthology of Irish poetry of WWI (Earth Whispering, 2009); presents RTE poetry Programme [Sats.]; directs the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing; gives a talk entitled “From Ginger Man and Borstal Boy to Kitty Stobling: A Brief Look Back at the Fifties”, concluding a public lecture-series on that decade at TCD, March 2011; his wife Dorothea is head of Public Affairs at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
See also Graph, No. 1 (Sept. 1995), & No. 2 (March 1996). Also extensive contributions to The Honest Ulsterman, issues 57-97 (see Tom Clyde, ed., Honest Ulsterman, Author Index, 1995).
Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland: Essays in Honour of John Hewitt, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985), xviii, 242pp.; contains essays, James Simmons, ‘The Recipe for All Misfortunes, Courage’ [on Joyce Cary, S. H. Bell, Forrest Reid], pp.79-98; Michael Allen, ‘Notes on Sex in Beckett’, pp.25-38; W. J. McCormack, ‘The Protestant Strain: A Short History of Anglo-Irish Literature from S. T. Coleridge to Thomas Mann, pp.48-78; Edna Longley, ‘Louis MacNeice, The Walls are Flowing’, pp.99-123; Bridget O’Toole, ‘Three Writers and the Big House, Elizabeth Bowen, Molly Keane, Jennifer Johnston’, pp.124-38; J. W. Foster, ‘The Dissidence of Dissent, John Hewitt and W. R. Rodgers’, pp.161-81; Terence Brown, ‘Poets and Patrimony, Richard Murphy and James Simmons’, pp.182-95; Lynda Henderson, ‘Transcendence and Imagination in Contemporary Ulster Drama, pp.196-217; Dawe, ‘Icon and Lares, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley’, pp.196-217. The title of the collection derives from a poem by John Hewitt (‘across the roaring hill … our indigenous Irish din’). [See Table of Contents in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Editions”.]
Against Piety: Essays in Irish Poetry (Belfast: Lagan Press 1995), 193pp.; Brief Confrontations: The Irish Writer’s History ; A Question of Imagination: Poetry in Ireland ; An Absence of Influence: Three Modernist Poets ; Heroic Heart: Charles Donnelly ; Anatomist of Melancholia: Louis MacNeice ; Against Piety: John Hewitt ; Our Secret Being: Padraic Fiacc ; Blood and Family: Thomas Kinsella ; Invocation of Powers: John Montague ; Breathing Spaces: Brendan Kennelly ; Icon and Lares: Michael Longley and Derek Mahon ; The Suburban Night: Eavan Boland, Paul Durcan and Thomas McCarthy .
The New Younger Irish Poets, ed. Gerald Dawe (Belfast: Blackstaff 1982; revised edition 1991); contains poems by Thomas McCarthy; Denis O’Driscoll; Julie O’Callaghan; Rita Ann Higgins; Sebastian Barry; Aidan Carl Matthews; Sean Dunne; Mairead Byrne; Michael O’Loughlin; Brendan Cleary; Dermot Bolger; Peter Sirr; Andrew Elliott; John Hughes; Peter McDonald; Patrick Ramsay; Pat Boran; Kevin Smith; Martin Mooney; John Kelly; Sara Berkeley; also biographical and bibliographical notes; select bibliography; poetry publishers; acknowledgements; index of first lines. [Ulster poets are Martin Mooney; Peter McDonald; John Kelly; John Hughes; Andrew Elliot; Brendan Cleary.]