Terry McDonagh – Door through Time
Guest Editorial

McDonagh LE P&W Vol 1 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023

Door Through Time, guest editorial by Terry McDonagh.

Baphuon temple angkor Photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

I loved Colette’s NicAodha’s editorial, Between Worlds, in the September issue of Live Encounters. The writer/artist is in and out of exile. She’s caught up in a world of art, with the bigger world paying little more than lip-service to its existence…a bit like a mainland might be in relation to an island. Writing is a tiny island and could be regarded as a decent enough place to spend an hour after the ‘real’ business of the day has been dealt with.

Like Colette, I have travelled quite a bit and always feel close enough to a new line or set of words…even casual phrases that transport me to a place where imagination takes priority and the result might be a new poem or, at least, a collection of ideas and words, leading somewhere of nowhere – often not much further that the paper-bin.

This, Between Worlds, feels like intense time out. It reminds me of library visits as a child where I could be immersed in millions of words without ever having to leave that little haven – between worlds in a magical world of books and comics. I’d always wanted to be a cowboy with my very own herd, horses and guns of course – and I loved football. I once imagined a football winking at me before I kicked it. It seemed to say, go easy on me chum, and, as a result, I did go easy on it…even cleaned and polished it after the kick-about, I did.

As a former teacher, I still love working in schools. Children will almost always ask when and why did you start writing? I don’t have to think up an answer. My current home and the birthplace of the last of the Irish travelling bards, Anthony Raftery, are only a few hundred metres apart. Raftery was the blind poet of Cill Aodáin, where I was born and grew up. My immersion in legends and tales was childlike, immediate and complete.

Aside: When I, first, met Colette NicAodha many years ago, she said she was mad jealous of my place of birth as she had always loved the work of Raftery and had written a thesis on his work and life. Colette and I have become great friends.

There are seven fairy forts in Cill Aodáin and I played on all of them…especially on Lios Árd (The High Fort). It was and is a very imposing sight, crowned with beech trees. Here I lived out some of my dreams because, here, was where the fairies shared the space with our distant ancestors. I was between worlds in every sense of the word. Up here, the blind poet, Raftery was asked by a thorn bush to choose between poetry and music. Thankfully, he chose poetry…word has it he was a bad fiddler, but we can’t be sure as his playing has been passed on by word of mouth only. He died on Christmas Eve in 1835 in Killeeneen, County Galway. The story goes, he was buried in darkness on a windy night but the candles refused to go out.

I attribute my entry to the world of magic in books to my mother but, most especially, to my uncle Tim McDonagh. He would visit our house on Saturdays and he would always want to go for a walk ‘up the hill’…the hill being The High Fort. He was a very kind person who knew how to tell stories. He showed me the thorn bush that had given Raftery the ‘gift’. He told me of Thady Conlon, my great grandfather who had been a source of knowledge and information when ‘scholars’ came to research the life of the old blind bard. Here I was completely between worlds

This poem, DOOR THROUGH TIME is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Tim McDonagh, whose memory will always remain with me.

Door through time

This particular uncle was timid
with a slight limp
that must have grown out of sadness.
He was a teacher
but not in that way.
He used to climb down
into our stolen wilderness
and among centuries
of involuntary tales,
he’d stand on ‘the hill’.
We’d listen to the victims of the púca,
peer into the sealed cave
under The High Fort’
and on down to Thady’s headstone
in Cill Aodáin graveyeard
by the river.
In puddles among the rushes
under the Easter moon,
I saw footprints of the poet.

He’s often stand long
as if trapped in something far away.
As he had come he went,
screaming – his voice
only half used.

Those hills and bushes
though smaller now,
Still dance.

My work as a poet has taken me to many countries in Europe; to Asia, USA and Australia and I have come into contact with poets, writers and artists of all shapes and sizes. My books and work are a record of my journeying. They are a kind of diary. I find it fascinating when I sometimes read through earlier and later work because so many things have changed. My language has changed, somewhat, but the underlying message of being somewhere between worlds has remained a constant. I grew up in Cill Aodáin in a parallel world among the fairies and the legend of Raftery but that Door Through Time, into other worlds of imagination has always remained constant and open.

My poetry is published in Ireland by Arlen House. My most recent collection is Two Notes for Home – 2022.

© Terry McDonagh

Book cover Two notes from Home McDonaghTerry McDonagh, Irish poet and dramatist has worked in Europe, Asia and Australia. He’s taught creative writing at Hamburg University and was Drama Director at Hamburg International School. Published eleven poetry collections, letters, drama, prose and poetry for young people. In March 2022, he was poet in residence and Grand Marshal as part of the Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in Brussels. His work has been translated into German and Indonesian. His poem, ‘UCG by Degrees’ is included in the Galway Poetry Trail on Galway University campus. In 2020, Two Notes for Home – a two-part radio documentary, compiled and presented by Werner Lewon, on The Life and Work of Terry McDonagh, The Modern Bard of Cill Aodáin. His latest poetry collection, ‘Two Notes for Home’ – published by Arlen House – September 2022. He returned to live in County Mayo in 2019. www.terry-mcdonagh.com

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