We Interrupt This…

We have had a series of storms since I last posted. Storm Dudley started six consecutive days of power outages, landline disruption and no mobile signal, since that one was swiftly followed by Storms Eunice and Frederick. Living as we do in a rural outpost of Dowra we are prepared for storms and occasional blackouts, but this winter has been the most challenging power wise. Even the arctic winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 did not pose challenges beyond snow and ice rink roads. Storm Barra was our first blackout, with some water pressure problems ensuing. Though we didn’t have the problems of friends in their eighth decade living further uphill from us who were without power for four days solid. They missed their telly, but coped otherwise. We do. But by the sixth day of random power outages I was certainly feeling a bit frayed at the edges. The prospect of snow overnight had me in full preparation mode, cooking at midday because cooking in twilight even by the glow of a head torch if you do have a gas stove has some challenges.

Sidebar: I never heard thundersnow and saw lightning in winter until I moved to Ireland. Don’t know if it is a unique weather feature to this island. Certainly the high winds are not unique and are the culprit for the power outs.

At any rate, in between blessing the Electricity Board crews and Eir phone repair people shinning up telephone poles in winds in excess of 43kph, my friend from South Africa reminded me that random daily power outs are what Johannesburg experiences all the time. So…counting my blessings even if I do feel a bit frazzled.

I was ringing the Electricity Fault Line so often my husband said that we have a t-shirt made for me emblazoned with the slogan “I am part of a known fault!”

But these interruptions are mere irritations when compared with the storms that have loomed on the international stage. But the experiences of the past ten days or so did give rise to certain reflections.

How to Undermine

Harry people until the unpredictability-
the routine dropped, changed priorities
diverting and disrupting-
unmoors them 
from the margins 
guard-railing their life.

Steal the sense of control 
over the small details that are
the adhesive tape holding the day together.
The day has got away from you,
hi-jacked, held hostage,
lost.

Make them feel robbed,
that the mortgage on life
has been foreclosed,
which is not fair.
It was supposed to be fair.
It was supposed to be fair!

Induce vertigo. Say that
the poles are switched, the globe’s axis
shifted, and everything is
falling, 
especially the stomach.

Nothing 
is completely recognisable.
The labels’ meaning has 
reversed, so
you question that you have
properly understood.
Surely not, but…


Deny access to the mother lode.
When there is a cave in
say it was their own fault,
they had it coming.
Leave them believing lies.

The Slow Accretion of Light

We have passed the midpoint between Yule, Winter Solstice, and the Vernal Equinox at Spring. In Ireland the month of February is Imbolc, meaning in the belly. Despite the fact that we have had hail stones hurled at us and sleet falling since St. Brigid’s Day on February 1st, the earth’s belly is quickening. I flicked the gardening calendar over and found that this month I can sow parsnip seeds. We are figuring out what surfaces can be cleared for seed incubating. Slowly, slowly, we notice that sunset is getting later and day break is less smudgy. Slowly, tentatively, we emerge from hibernation and isolation. The first snowdrop appeared just days before St. Brigid’s feast day in our garden for the first time in years. Normally, it would be another couple weeks before the snowdrops showed up.

I have written many poems inspired by St. Brigid and by the goddess who gave her name and many of her matronages to her over the years. Patricia Monaghan has written of the goddess Brighid as emblematic of survival. Along with Mary the mother of Jesus, St. Brigid is the relic of the cults of the divine feminine that simply would not disappear no matter how hard patriarchy tried to disappear Her. While Brighid is a fertility goddess of abundance She handed on her sacred association with poetry and song making, smith craft and healing to St. Brigid who moved with the times generation upon generation. The fertility preferment made Brigid the patron (matron?) saint not just of mothers, infants and midwives, but of dairy maids, butter and cheese making, and the protector of lactating animals – cows, ewes and nanny goats. She also gathered in poultry and egg sellers. The corn sheaves were symbolic of the abundant harvest at Lunasa in pre-Christian Ireland. With Christianity, the four legged St. Brigid’s cross made of humble rushes became more popular than corn dolly making. (though that craft is not completely extinct.) The corn dollies can become life-size has mummers don extraordinary straw woven hats, masks and outfits to stroll as Biddy’s Boys. That custom has died out in most of Ireland, but County Kerry has had a resurgence in the 21st century Imbolc celebrations.

Both the goddess and saint are beside blacksmith’s forge fire, hammer and anvil. Whether you are a blacksmith who works with iron, tinsmith, or a jewellery maker working in any other metal, the goddess and saint are with you and your craft. Likewise, poetry and song makers, harpers and writers can apply to both. The sacred, spring fed holy wells that are associated with cures of various ailments are also associated with both the deity and saint. But given that vision and prophecy are key elements to both, wells that have the cure for the eye are particularly under their care.

You can see where this is going. Basically, St. Brigid is for everyone whether you are seeking justice at the Bridewell court or are incarcerated in a Bridewell gaol. Several English cities still have law courts or police stations with the name Bridewell, notably Leeds Crown Court and London. The Irish Travelling community hold St. Brigid particularly dear. In the 1990s the Irish peace and reconciliation organisation AFRI held a conference where one Brigiding nun, reignited St. Brigid’s Eternal Flame in Kildare Town. And, yes, you can see the remains of the pagan fire temple of the goddess where 19 priestesses tended this eternal flame. Whereas after founding her abbey in Kildare, 19 nuns did the flame keeping.

Fisherfolk come under her care, too. When Ireland was about to have Russian war games start in our economic zone start on 1st February I almost felt sorry for them. The Cork fishing fleet was intent on going out and interfere with anyone who was interfering with their livelihoods. This was all supposed to kick off on St. Brigid’s Day and those who farm in the sea are dear to her. And she was allegedly a very cunning negotiator with those in power in her time. They never came off looking good or gaining anything. She heard our prayers and the Russian navy did not play war games in our waters.

As you can see, adaptation and moving with the changing times has been part of Brighid’s strategy for surviving, and becoming ever more relevant, in the 21st century. All those plants and flowers make her a Climate Change Saint I reckon – the oak, feverfew, the dandelion, the bee who pollinates.

If you would like to learn more about various traditions and associations with the goddess and saint, I invite you to scroll back to past January and February posts on this blog. Google Sojourning Smith St. Brigid and you will find lots of posts.

After my own hibernation this past month I can confirm that I have been writing, just not posting. This felt very restful. But I felt spurred to post today after last week’s modest Brigid’s Day festivities were over. I read two poems on John Wilmotts Nature Folkways yesterday if you would like to listen.

The various animals associated with St. Brigid or the goddess are many and various. This year’s Imbolc poem celebrates some of them.

Bear, Swan, Cow and Calf


		1
Bear bones buried in pre-history’s caves.
Mama licked her cub, giving it its shape.
Devotion her art, giving her infant
the strength from her mighty beating heart. 

		2
Each winter the whoopers return to Lough Moneen,
swan’s down littering lough’s verge,
their harsh honking a joyful noise, their flight
a confident formation, each knowing their place
in the scheme of things.

		3
The cow keens in the pasture,
her calf sold off. This one would never
find the kine to offer strangers a third milking
in a single day. Her mourning echoes
round the townland.
A child is given, lives by your side,
sucking, grazing, lying by your side.
A child is given. It grows. It goes away.
A cow keens for her calf lest we forget
how.

		4
The fox flicked its tail. It danced a few tricks.
It kept the King happy enough before
the fox flicked itself again. And disappeared
right under the hedge. Gone.
King out-foxed. Again.
Timing. Everything. All. 
We wild things.

		5
In the islands of Skye, Lewes and Uist
they say that it was a seal swimming out to sea 
and the oystercatcher flying above the waves
that acted as pages for St. Brigid’s mortal remains
when the angels carried her beyond
the Ninth Wave, out of sight
until there was just a shimmering
of her at the turn of the tide.

		6
Once
a  white bird singed its feathers when it flew
too close to the smithy’s forge.
It flew out black as the anvil,
its golden beak ember bright.
Only its song remained the same.

A blackbird visits my garden.
It has two white spots either side of its beak.
Those were the feathers spared the flame,
the badge of what it once was until
the forge made it what it became
what it is now.

I hope that this slow accretion of light bring you new opportunities, projects, or people who come to inspire you and blow the fresh winds of spring through your life.

Thanksgiving Grace and Gratitude

It’s been forty years since I left the motherland and I have only partaken of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey celebration meal a couple handful of times over those decades. Sometimes I travelled back to family. At other times, I celebrated with other ex-patriots in England or Ireland. This does not, however, prevent me from contemplating gratitude on an annual basis. That is bone marrow deep. I don’t miss football games, parades, marathons or anxiety over gravy making. But my husband has often commented that having an annual day for gratitude is A Good Thing. So this morning, instead of making stuffing and pumpkin pie in preparation for the Great Feast tomorrow, I contemplated current events and gratitude…and the state of grace.

I write in Ireland when the L word has not been spoken, but rising infection rates are causing government to somberly talk of ‘extra measures’ and a plea for office workers to go back to working from home. With the riots against increased Covid restrictions across the continent this past weekend they are taking a softly-softly approach. Now Northern Ireland is also asking folk to work at home…but humans are social animals and after so much isolation they appear reluctant to give up on their face-to-face life. And, it has to be admitted, the seclusion and isolation has had a big impact on the collective mental and physical health. High Covid infection means elective and non-urgent procedures get delayed. For want of ICU beds a cancer patient’s delayed surgery may mean they get a terminal sentence.

Ireland has reportedly one of the highest take up rates of the vaccine available to eligible people. But the vaccine is no silver bullet to this viruses. Keeping our distance and wearing masks indoors is going to have to be a feature of our lives for some time to come.

Everything takes four times as long to get accomplished under Covid measures. Everyone is frustrated and sometimes that bubbles over into anger. No one is immune from this pandemic symptom. I suspect even saints are having a hard time of it these days to hang on to their haloes.

The great themes of 2021 have been Safety and Liberty. We have seen time and again great migrations of people fleeing war, civil unrest, the threat of gang rape, torture and death. Who can blame a family for taking to the road in the hope that they have a better chance of surviving. They seek a place of safety. Just as those of us in our various Lockdowns tell others in virtual messages to ‘Stay Safe.’ We do not just want to stay well., we want to stay alive from a virus stalking the globe.

On the other hand, there are the ones I think of as the Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry Brigade. Yes, civil liberties are under threat. But, for the time being, the virus is winning the Four Horseman of the Acopalyse Steeple Chase. Medical staff are quitting because the stress of dealing with this virus has stretched human and institution to snapping point. Even if the virus does not kill you, whether you choose to vaccinate or not, the more freely and widely we mingle we may asymptomatically spread it and unwittingly harm someone. That is a huge responsibility. We may hold the fate of a stranger in a breath we exhale.

Little wonder we are anxious…

Who is not vexed to the point of exhaustion with not seeing loved ones, or having a celebration with more than a handful of people, with the one with the cold masked in the corner. Love now comes with a health and safety risk assessment attached it seems. How much have we mingled before meeting indoors? Who does not want to hug? How many lateral flow tests can you do before your sinuses rebel? How many lockdowns before the economy, if not the health service, falls down?

My Thanksgiving meditations swung from the collective energy around to St. Brigid (random, I know!) and then it settled upon grace.

Gratitude and Grace

The grace for the bread we break.
The grace of the friendships we shape.
The grace of time to create.
The grace of the lucky escape.

The grace when we first awake.
The grace with fading heart ache.
The grace to hold and contain.
The grace, feather light, unexplained.

To partake. To not forsake. To sustain.
Just the same, grace and gratitude remain.



I wish you grace and its filling joy thi Thanksgiving.

Weekly Poem – Entropy

Correction from last week’s blog! The clocks did not go back last Sunday. We had the Halloween bank holiday last Monday (yes, Ireland has a weekend holiday each year to celebrate Halloween, or Samhain, as we call it.) The clocks go back on actual Halloween, the 31st, which is this coming Sunday. It gets a bit confusing (I was not the only one, which is always a comfort!) because many times the clocks do fall back over the Bank Holiday weekend. Given the low cloud and the dusky dawn that can stretch on through the day one would not be faulted for thinking that the Samhain darkness has already descended.

And the bank holiday also affected my blog post schedule for this week because Monday jobs and appointments migrated to Tuesday for this week. And the older I get the more I like to not have to multi-task too much on any day. Either its age or the pandemic lockdowns have re-wired me that way. Too much of anything – exposure to any outer stimulus – can be overwhelming and exhausting for an introvert at the best of times. These ain’t those! And I am trying to be a normal human who does see people outside of my property (with safety measures, masks, etc, in place.) Despite a 90% double vaccinated population cases are rising. This may be in part because the Irish population is vigilant in regularly self-testing and safe guarding elders and children who are not eligible for the vaccine. But it is a worry. Enough of one that younger ones have brought it up in conversation in passing with me this past week.

But before I get on with the weekly poem, some snapshots taken during our daily constitutional my beloved and I took down our lane a showery day last week. Hopefully the misty, betwixt and between atmosphere will help you get into the the proper Samhain mood.

The weekly poem grew out of a growing sense of frustration with…will anything get Done done!?! If you reckon I swallowed the lexicon, well, tough! It has been a dictionary and chocolate cake kind of week! As my mother would have said, “Go look it up!”

Entropy

has its own primogentive power
with a quirky, random order of succession
one item migrating to another
pile to clear one tiny space before another
"tidied" item can be effaced or dis-
played/placed/posed of *pick one or all three options*-
bin, bag, chest, drawer, cupboard, under covers-
before parthogenesis immaculately
happens, your home overrun. Books  unread/
read/to be re-read, the dust resettling itself
as the polish slides across the surface.

Face it! Housework is Sysiphus' job's worth.
All uphill and roll down again, toiling daily.
The pen precisely placed. The cup washed, drained.
Constant repeat and still disorder reigns.

I hope you have a festive All Hallows! Whether you dress up in costumes or not, feel the thin veil between us, our world, and the land that is Not.

Freedom Day

Belated Happy Juneteenth! And Happy Solstice -either Summer or Winter depending upon your hemisphere. My mother would have been 104 years old yesterday. A high school friendship with an African American girl, Nellie Gator, was strongly influential in her support of civil rights for black American citizens during the dark Jim Crow years. She never forgave the DAR for refusing one of her operatic sheroes, Marian Anderson, Constitution Hall as a concert venue. While she never scurried down the genological rabbit hole to prove her ancestors fought in the American Revolution (unlikely, as we now know many were Quaker), but she said very firmly, with tightened lips that “even if she could, she would never join them.” I think Mom would be proud to share her birthday with this newly proclaimed US national holiday.

I did not post yesterday because of my monthly Zoom poetry group. We explored free verse, or open form, poetry. While North Americans have a strong tradition in this form, my Irish students are less familiar with it. While rhyme has not been something that has come naturally to me, I often find that Irish people can spontaneously rhyme from their very first effort at a poem! So this was a bit of a challenge for the Irish born members of my Zoom group.

But I warmed them up with a syllabic form first, the cinquain. I used this in my Geopark Poetry Map schools workshops as an alternative to haiku. Most primary age children will have had a bash at haiku by the time they are ten years old. The cinquain is a five liner, easy for a 45 minute workshop; it’s lines run, 2,4,6,8,2 syllables.

We addressed the theme of freedom in our poems yesterday. In keeping with both the day’s theme and the free verse task, I read aloud poems by African American poets, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes and Gwendoline Brooks. All these poets were new to my Irish colleagues.

Here is my cinquain for Juneteenth.

To be
Able to breathe
Not always watching your back
Knowing your someone's prey
Freedom

Happy Freedom Day! Happy Juneteenth, Mom! Meanwhile, it must be summer on schedule now. The wild orchids of West Cavan are out for Midsummer’s Eve. May this liminal day bring you gentle revelations.

Weekly Poem – What the Cat

It has been a hectic few days. Today is the closing date for the Geopark Poetry Map. Which is why the Weekly Poem is published a bit later in the day than normal. The rest of the week will also be busy reading the submissions and liaising with Geopark staff via Zoom.

It was also a day that began early with a school workshop on the Geopark Poetry Map in a Fermanagh school. While the rest of the world seems to be getting broiled, steamed or stewed in summer heat, here day broke with a temperature of 12C/54F. And there was no promise of it nosing much farther than that until much later in the day. The workshop had to be outdoors, but we had a bell tent for shelter and rough hewn ‘desks’ from reclaimed cable reel wheels and stools from tree stumps. The children sat on tarps spread over the bark ‘floor’. The rain held off, but the midges, as we say here in this part of the world, were mighty! This particular primary school is interested in the whole concept of Forest Schools. Given the pandemic, this is their moment! Covid Regulations do not allow visitors inside schools at all (except for repair and maintenance workers.) For freelancers like me, our only way of interacting with school children is outdoors and in a mask or face shield. For teachers who can squeeze us into their programme, they are grateful for the children getting some outside influence. A new face, even if it is behind a plastic face shield.

More than ever before I feel strongly that poetry writing needs to be part of the core curriculum.” Poetry makes you feel calm.” So said an 11 year old today. It has been far from calm these last two years, which make up about a fifth of their lifetime already. Poetry writing can help children process all the emotional challenges of this pandemic and what it has meant for them personally and for their families. Nature can be healing, too.

The school we visited today is very lucky in having over an acre of land that they can use for playing fields and outdoor activities. They plan on erecting another tent ‘classroom.’ But most schools do not have that option. In Brooklyn, where my brother lives, they closed his street so the public school on the corner could have recess space. The playground itself was transformed into an outdoor classroom last fall.

It was an early rising. Not quite amrit vela as it was already light. I dashed off a poem for today and began noodling with another. While one of our other cats has often been the featured hero of poems published in this blog, we have a new entry today. The ginger ‘legacy’ cat. Basically, we have an inexhautable supply of feline muses in this household.

What the Cat Brought In

through the bathroom window last night
would upset you.
A fledgling, some feathers more fluff
than sleek wings.
Maybe it had already tumbled down.
Maybe Toff
did not hunt it down, but either way
it's been left
outside the bedroom door, a trophy of his
devotion.
Even though birdie carcasses give me the
willikers
I get out the dust pan and brush,
removing
what would make you sad at start of
a new day,
the trophy of my own devotion.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.


It’s Not All Countdown

The closing date for submissions to the MACGeopark digital Poetry Map is fast approaching. The closing date is 15th June 2021 and I am still getting enquiries for submission guidelines. While I am feeling the countdown of days – 5, 4,3,2,1…it’s not all about the countdown. There are a lot of moveable parts to this project and even after the closing date there is much more that will happen before it is unveiled in October 2021.

Last month’s blast of poetry prompts and memes on Twitter and even Instagram seems to have caught some traction. We have had an open call out since Poetry Day Ireland since 29th April for poem on specific sites within Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark that highlights some aspect its geoheritage. Martina O’Neill, Development Officer for Partnership & Engagement created a wonderful document siting the geoheritage points of dozens of sites around the Geopark. (I quoted copiously during the 14 days of Geoheritage Poetry Prompts for the Poetry Map.) The earth has been reflected in ancient monuments like the wedge tombs and dolmens, and more recently, in industries like Belleek Pottery and family run lime kilns. The Geopark has glacial erratics, but also has the built heritage that the smaller rocks were used to make sweathouses, dry stone walls, castles and abbeys. We also have many sites of special scientific interest for plants and the blanket bog on Cuilcagh and other upland areas. Because of the limestone we have orchids, too.

Early Purple Orchid

But that is only one moveable part of the project. First we commissioned five established writers to create new work. Dara McAnulty, author of the award-winning Diary of a Young Naturalist, will write on Big Dog Mountain. (The North American edition has just been published by Milkweed.) Noel Monaghan has many poetry collections published by Salmon Poetry; Loughoughter is his chosen site. Maria McManus grew up in Belcoo with the Marble Arch Caves just down the road from her homeplace. Seamus Mac Annaidh has published in many genres – novels, poetry and history – in the Irish language and is known by English readers mostly for books centring on Fermanagh history. A J Quinn is best known for his crime novel series set in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

We were able to announce all the commissions for Poetry Day Ireland on 29th April 2021. Then began the push and open call to new and emerging poets for their poems which will conclude this Tuesday, 15th June.

Sundials are much quieter than ticking clocks…potentially more earth friendly, too…

The other part of the project has been really challenging. How to involve school age children? I have facilitated poetry workshops in primary schools before. So that held no terror. But there was a long wait for getting vaccinated as I felt it only prudent, given my age and health, to have that done before venturing out. Immunity Day came on 24th May for me.

But even venturing out still means not going into schools. And therein we have another challenge – the Irish weather! The school year for primary pupils ends in the last week of June. This has been an extraordinarily challenging year for teachers and having someone come into the school with an additional project which may, or may not, compliment the curriculum was just one factor to consider. The other is that they are playing catch up from winter when they have only had home schooling. In rural areas remote learning was sometimes just impossible. As far as I am concerned teachers are the unsung front liners of this pandemic.

Yet despite all these challenges one school in Cavan and Fermanagh agreed to have me come in for a 45 minute session on the project. Fortunately, the Geopark has a lot of good material that is aimed at schools that were stockpiled from when they could engage with them pre-pandemic.

Given Covid regulations the workshops are outdoors. Fortunately, the rain and the midges were busy elsewhere when I worked with the older students at Curravagh National School in Glangevlin, Co. Cavan. What better way to teach geoheritage than to point to the rocky outcrop behind the school and name it – karst, weathered limestone. And then swing my arm the other direction and talk about drumlins and how drumlins even gave their name to a Cavan abbey. Outdoor classrooms have more than just one advantage.

I have worked with these kids before and it felt joyful to see how much they have grown and matured over the two years since I last worked with them in June 2019. Even though we were outdoors, I masked so that I could look at their work and help them when they asked questions. But what really impressed me was that all but the very youngest pupil opted to wear a mask, too. As did their teacher.

But who they really wanted to see was my husband, who they know for his guitar and singing and sometimes even a story. He sang into his plastic face shield from a safe social distance. And somehow, it felt a bit like the old normal for us and for the kids. As their principal told me. They need to see new faces and hear new slants on things. It was a memory of how things were when we last met two years ago and how things are now, but still there could be some silly singalongs and laughter.

On the 15th Tony and I will be in Fermanagh, but there the primary school has a big bell tent that we can shelter in at a safe social distance with a large group. The tent has been acquired because of the interest in Forest Schools post-pandemic. And they are fortunate enough to have the space for it. There, too, the head teacher was keen when he learned that my driver can come along with his guitar. We dropped off the Geopark material and my lesson plan in advance to prep the class teacher on what we aim to accomplish – a poem. I have two short forms to offer that can rhyme or not, but what I really am eager is to hear where they have been in the Geopark and how they feel about those places. Getting some aspect of the arts into schools during the pandemic is considered a huge boost to the kids by teachers who know the added value they bring.

In the Cavan school I learned that one pupil has a lime kiln on their land. (Oh, for a lime kiln or sweathouse to feature in a poem; wish list!) Another lad climbed Cuilcagh with his family as a memorial walk on the anniversary of his father’s death. Geoheritage is not something museum-like to these kids who live in Geopark communities. It is all around them and inside them.

You can email queries or submissions to GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com by 15th June 2021.

MACGeopark Poetry Map Work Continues

It is a bank holiday weekend here is the Republic of Ireland. There is still time to visit various sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark and see if your poem could make its mark on our digital Poetry Map. The project includes five commissioned poets who are working on poems on the Marble Arch Caves, Cuilcagh Mountain, Big Dog Forest, Devenish Island and Cloughoughter. Your poem could be one among those written by Dara McAnulty, Anthony J Quinn, Noel Monaghan, Maria McManus and Seamus McCanny. Poems can be in Irish, but need to be accompanied by an English translation.

There are well over fifty sites scattered across the many hectares of land that straddle the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. The Marble Arch Caves was the original site, along with nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park, that first earned European Geopark status . We became a Global Geopark in 2004. But there was a wider vision. With the Good Friday Belfast Treaty of 1998, there was the real opportunity to create the very first cross-border Global Geopark on the planet. South Fermanagh and West Cavan share the lakes, drumlins and moraines, the limestone and Neolithic history that were formed long before a line was drawn on a map in 1921.

Just as UNESCO recognises that the Giant’s Causeway and Brú na Boinne are part of world heritage, so too do they recognise that this landscape is also an important feature of world heritage. Geoheritage will be celebrated in the poems that will mark these sites on our digital Poetry Map, which will go live on the Geopark website this October.

The deadline for teen and adult submissions closes on 15th June 2021. We have already received submissions not just from Cavan and Fermanagh, but from the USA, France and Singapore! The project has been able to engage with the Irish diaspora, as well as let the wider world know about the importance of what lies beneath our feet.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that working with the Fermanagh primary schools and the Cavan National Schools has been fraught with obstacles. So far I have a school in each county for one session each. Basically, I will be facilitating a geoheritage poetry workshop outdoors. The Fermanagh school has a bell tent, which is blessing, given the capricious and often fluid nature of Irish weather. The Cavan school will check the weather on the morning and we shall go forth accordingly in faith with a prayer that the weather gods be kind.

When I was first proposing a project in pre-Covid 19 days, it was with a plan to engage with schools on Poetry Ireland Day 2020. We may not be in Lockdown these days, but we still live with restrictions that are often unpredictable. I do want to try and involve the kids – they are the future of the planet after all – in some way. I have to say that teachers really have my sympathy. They are working under some really stressful circumstances. One principal noted that while the Department had said that school trips were now allowed, another directive indicated that transport for said proposed outings was not available! I imagine that across the country many feel that what is given with one hand is then often taken by the other! Teachers have been working heroes and sheroes these past eighteen months and they are sometimes not given the credit for being pandemic front liners.

I am just grateful that I am vaccinated and that we can do these gigs outdoors (roll on Forest Schools!), which is actually more appropriate when you are talking about the earth. I can wear a face visor, so the kids will be able to see my face. Both principals mentioned that their kids are hungry for seeing new faces and hearing a differant slant on a subject. In which case, I feel a bit like Inspiration R Us! (Tony is allowed to bring his guitar into the bell tent. When I cautiously asked if he was allowed to not have to sit in the car to wait for me, I tentatively ventured that he bring his guitar. The response was not just positive, but positively enthusiastic! He may even have a short Geopark kind of story up his sleeve, too!)

There are lots of moveable parts to this project. We have commissioned work, poems from new and emerging poets, and school children. The final piece will be recording all the poems so that there will be both an ‘off the screen’ and an ‘in your ear’ poetry experience. The digital Geopark Poetry Map will go live in October 2021.

There is still time for you to make a contribution to this project! Ten days left to submit a poem!

Geopark Poetry Map Prompts 12

Greetings Earth lovers and Poetry writers! I am posting the MACGeopark Poetry Map Prompt a bit later today because…you know…life laundry, messages (as they call those hunt and gather errands in Northern Ireland); a neighbour needed a lift to fetch their car that had been mended. They day evaporated and I am just getting down to this after a hastily eaten tea whipped up in the space that of a Bewitched nose twitch. (Beans on toast with a fried egg if you are truly curious.) Today I want to highlight a dramatic site in Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark that you cannot fail to notice if you travel the Blacklion (Cavan) to Florencecourt (Fermanagh) Road. The border seamlessly moves from Cavan with a segue into a “Welcome to Fermanagh” sign – no Customs post or passport control. This road known locally as the Marble Arch Road and it leads to many of the Geopark’s best known sites. Hanging Rock dominates the landscape. I remember seeing it for the first time twenty years ago and feeling full of awe as we drove past. It has showstopper writ large. If it were a Broadway musical it would be the 10 o’clock number.

But as I passed by with the jaw hanging loose, little did I know its truly remarkable nature.

Overlooking Lower Lough Macnean is a magnificent 50 m high limestone cliff – the Hanging
Rock. The limestone from which the cliffs are formed was created around 340 million years
ago during the lower Carboniferous geological period, when Ireland lay close to the
equator. Located on the edge of a supercontinent, where sea-levels were higher, the area
that we now call Ireland was covered by a shallow tropical sea. The limestones formed by
the accumulation of lime-mud on the bottom of this ancient sea floor and from the remains of dead sea creatures that would have thrived in these waters. Limestone formation is a very slow process; layers and layers of limey deposits build up on the ocean floor and are
compacted by the weight of the water over millions of years. Closer inspection of the
limestone will reveal, fossils (typically bones or shells) of creatures that lived in this ancient
tropical sea. This specific type of limestone is known as Dartry limestone.

Interestingly, two stream risings lay at the base of the cliff, known as the Hanging Rock Risings. One of the risings is constantly active, while the other dries up during times of low rainfall. The risings are traced to only one source, Legacapple on the Marlbank above, but the water is believed to combine from a number of other sources.

Yew and juniper cling to its face. At the bottom of the cliff is one of the finest ash woodlands
in Northern Ireland. It is believed that the great variety of lichens found here indicate
woodland cover since ancient times. An area was clear felled in the early 1940s and has
now grown back naturally.

To the west, in Rossaa Wood, oak, beech, great willow and elm have grown to full maturity
and shelter a rich variety of plants. There are slopes covered in grasses amongst which
grows the colourful Welsh poppy. toothwort, a parasitic plant, lives on the roots of hazel and
elm. It looks unusual as it is totally white and stands out against the mosses on the damp
woodland floor. Red squirrels can occasionally be seen in the woodland while the elusive
pine marten has been sighted in recent years.

Local legend says that a rock dislodged from the cliff and fell onto a local salt trader taking
shelter from a storm. This rock became known as the Salter’s Stone or Cloghoge and sits
prominently at the road side to the east of the reserve.

Martina O’Neill, MACGeopark Development Officer, Partnership & Engagement

A geoheritage poem based on Hanging Rock can tap into many of the elements of this MACGeopark site. First, there is the distinctive profile.

Image by Joan Shannon

The other components are wind and water, the fossil record in the limestone and.in the many tree species. Yew and juniper are considered some of the ‘first trees’ to have emerged after the Ice Age Melt. Indeed, at Florence Court House and Grounds, a National Trust site further down the road, there is a yew that is referred to as ‘The Mother Yew’ of Ireland, as they have the oldest representative of the species Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’. This is ancient landscape on so many levels.

You still have time to submit a poem to put this site onto our digital Geopark Poetry Map. Your poem may be represented alongside the commissioned work of five poets from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you want to submit a poem in Irish that would be very welcome, but please include the English translation alongside it. If you would like full guidelines please email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com. The closing date is 15th June 2021.

Geopark Poetry Map Prompt 2

Hello earth lovers everywhere! While curating the #MACGeopark Poetry Map digital project I realised that we have some international interest. For the next fortnight I will be publishing little Geopark Poetry Map Poetry Prompts to help you compose your geoheritage themed poem on one of the sites to put on our digital map.

Here in Ireland we have only just had travel restrictions to move around outside of one’s own country lifted last Monday. So the Geopark staff and I decided we would extend the closing date for submissions since even in Ireland there were only a small percentage of the population that could visit sites. Certainly, those two nearest to my home – Shannon Pot and Cavan Burren Park – were outside my 5km range all winter and I live in a Geopark community.

Poetry is all about connection, often making a surprising Venn diagram between two disparate subjects or objects. While yesterday’s geoheritage poetry prompt offered you images of rock art and megaliths in Cavan Burren Park, today we visit the wet ash woodland of Claddagh Glen.

Claddagh River, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh

And, since the sea is about an hour away from us, if I need some positive ions to wash away any angst this is my choice of where to go to ‘shower my head’ (shar yer hay-ed in Armagh parlance) – blow away the cobwebs and any cares.

I think you will agree – Power Shower Head at the Claddagh Glen Cascade Falls!

Poets have always used images – paintings, photos, visual art of all kinds – as poetry prompts. So I will include some photos of walks I have taken in Claddagh Glen over the years marvelling at what water and wind and time create.

I will leave you with a poem I wrote in July 2014 when I guided an American woman and her two children on a Day Out to Geopark sites. One my most vivid memories of that day is standing by the Claddagh River with Bergen as we witnessed a heron swoop down and pass us as it flew up the river course.

What Meredith, Tina, Bergen, Gretchen and I Saw One July Day

The ever shifting light, cloud, weather, shadow
The peat in bags, the drumlins, loughs reflecting light
The rock, the trees, the falling water stained by peat
The well, it's holy water, the cave carved from the rock
The moss dressed trees, bubbles from the well
The feathers, song thrush, surprise of heron swoop through Glen
Heart pebble and river rock with white feather
Water trickling, mizzling, flowing, cascading, the heart
The Pot, the source, the memory, the flowing back, trickling

Bee Smith © 2014

If you are unsure of what geoheritage is read the blog I published last week. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/05/11/what-is-geoheritage/.

You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for full submission guidelines and receive lots of research that the Geopark staff have prepared to help you write your poem.Closing Date is 15th June 2021.