Human Chain and Butts on Mullaghmore
In the week that Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain was published, four of us – me, Joan, Deirdre and Mary – wound our way along the blue waymarked path around Mullaghmore in the Burren. The heat of the day was blunted by a lively breeze and Mary asked us, Did you hear Seamus Heaney on the radio this morning talking about how he searched his father’s suit pocket for cigarette butts? He had a way of describing the look and smell of that suit but for the life of me I can’t remember the words he used. I said I could tell them about it after Sunday since I was going to hear Seamus read from his new collection at the Abbey Theatre two days later.
Then we followed the red-arrowed path that took us between Mullaghmore and its sister hill Sliabh Rua for a spot of lunch and chat and then down the west side with a fine view of Craggy Island Parochial Hall – Father Ted’s House – and back to Corofin and a drink in Bofey Quinn’s where a girl paraded in a blood-red bridesmaid dress.
The sun had deserted Dublin by late Sunday afternoon and drenched hurling supporters waited at the Luas stop beside the Abbey – the Tipperary fans the happier after dethroning the Cats – and I met up with my friend, Heather, and soon I had a signed copy of Human Chain in my hands. There it was, the description of the blue serge suit in the poem, ‘The Butts’, and that smell: stale smoke and oxter-sweat/came at you in a stirred-up brew/when you reached in.
The poet ranged over and back between old poems and new ones ‘written in sudden swoops’ and in a nice symmetry ended with an earlier piece ‘Postcript’ that is set in The Burren: And some time make the time to drive out west/Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore/In September or October, when the wind/And the light are working off each other …
We headed back in a grey night drizzle, caught up in the Kilkenny and Premier County traffic after the hurling heroics. I knew the summer days were over.
I set off full of anticipation and the evening did not disappoint. There is something very powerful being in the presence of a great poet who can make connections between the apparently unconnected and convey deep and meaningful insights into life and death to the common man by his masterful way with words. Thank you for making the experience possible.