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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing October 2023
Children’s River Poems presented by Eileen Casey.
I grew up in the Midlands town of Birr, County Offaly at the dead centre of Ireland. Flowed under the bridge at the bottom of High Street (where I lived), the Camcor river back-dropped my childhood and subsequent journey into young adult. To this day, I pass over that bridge countless times, hardly ever failing to look down upon waters, tipped with silver in sunlight, bronzed after winter floods. I also like how a river isn’t static, how it flows onwards towards its destiny.
The Camcor attracts river birds and river flora, the natural world resplendent throughout each season. In summertime I walked into this river, wearing plastic sandals, protection against the stony floor. As I grew older, I played with friends on the Mill Island nearby or generally just ‘hung out’ on the river bank. I attended The Mercy Convent Primary School, situated right alongside The Camcor. On warm days we’d sit by the railings and I’d sing pop songs, the lyrics of which made whichever nun was on yard duty, dip her head with embarrassment. I of course, hadn’t a clue what I was singing! In a later poem (‘Schooldays’), I imagine my song notes drifting over the railings, all the way down the river right up to the bottom of High Street hill.
There, perhaps, my mother hears them as she goes to the town to shop. Or perhaps those notes are swallowed up by a croneen, the fish of Birr, a trout like fish that comes over from Lough Derg to spawn in the Camcor. After all, anything is possible in a poem. My schooldays were generally happy. My brothers too spent many happy hours fishing at the Camcor, rarely coming home empty handed.
Earlier this year, I received a Creative Ireland Award, to write a sequence of poems ‘River Songs’ about the rivers in the Midlands. Through this Award, I returned to Mercy Primary school, not only as an ex-student but as a writer. I wanted the children to see that writing could provide a worthwhile life choice. I also wanted to talk about the river that runs right beside their school; how it impacts on them or indeed, if they have even given the river much thought.
I wanted them to know how privileged they are to attend school with so much of the natural world going on around them. It was an awakening of sorts for the children. Often, what’s familiar holds little attraction but together, we looked at the many facets a river can provide to the imagination. I also visited Saint Brendan’s Primary School, the school my own brothers attended. At that time, Saint Brendan’s could be reached by ‘hopping’ the wall at the end of a field right behind our house in High Street.
Both schools were responsive to language elements and how to approach a poem. We explored simple forms, haiku, cinquain and devices such as kennings. Children are the best poets in my view. They have that wonderful sense of freedom when choosing an image or a descriptive phase. The children in Mercy Primary are aged 11 – 12 years, also the age group of the boys in Saint Brendan’s Primary.
Acknowledgements are due: Karen Grey, Creative Ireland Officer, County Offaly Arts.
Niall Crofton, Principal Saint Brendan’s Primary School for Boys, Birr and Barbara Hanamy, Principal Mercy Primary School for Girls, Birr and to the teachers in both schools for their enthusiasm.
Gratitude also to photographers and artists who feature here.
To Bird Watch Ireland. Their generosity with photographs is most appreciated.
Special thanks to Mark Ulyseas, Live Encounters. Without his support, poetry would be all the poorer.
© Eileen Casey
Born in Birr, County Offaly, Eileen Casey is now based in South Dublin. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry are widely published in anthologies by Dedalus, New Island, Arlen House, The Stinging Fly, Poetry Ireland Review, Orbis, among others. A Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship recipient (poetry), she is also a Sunday Tribune/Hennessy award winner (emerging fiction). Birr Town Stills, a collaboration with photographer Jackie Lynch was commissioned by County Offaly Arts for Culture Night 2023. Previous collaborations include Visual Artist Emma Barone, Composer Fiona Linnane and Canadian academic, visual artist and writer, Jeanne Cannizzo. Bog Treasure (Arlen House, 2021), Casey’s sixth poetry collection, received a development award from The Arts Council, An Comhairle Ealaíonn. A TAP (Teacher/Artist Partnership) practitioner, she works with primary school and secondary school children and young adults. She was Writer-in-Residence in Stradbally Arts Centre, Bealtaine, 2023 and currently facilitating The Elements of Fiction there. River Songs (poetry themed on the rivers of the midlands, awarded by Creative Ireland 2022) is due out.