“….what injustice shall we next upend…”

Inspiring men, who believed in biblical justice, applied it to their own lives, and established righteous laws. William Wilberforce doggedly presented his bill to abolish slavery over 18 years, finally succeeding in 1807.


Brazen slavers cracked lead-tipped whips,

split black skin in tight-packed ships,

Western passage, hope’s eclipse.

Rhythmic chants in cruel cotton-fields;

no angels saved with swords and shields:

slaves branded by bastards, raped to yield.

Albion’s law, the investors reward,

cruelty contested in House of Lords:

thirty years until freedom accord.

Lobbyists pulled political strings:

saviours mocked by barbs and stings –

scroll of signatures caused slaves to sing.

Parliament ended this laissez faire

hard men wept at answered prayer;

then friendly snowball fights in wintry air.

Jubilee justice those men celebrated,

brave such souls, biblically educated

halted all such un-human hatred.


Wilberforce—dubbed “the prime minister of a cabinet of philanthropists”—was at one time active in support of 69 philanthropic causes. He gave away one-quarter of his annual income to the poor. He fought on behalf of slaves, chimney sweeps, single mothers, Sunday schools, orphans, juvenile delinquents and more…


A jazz pianist, poet or writer, in dreams

In his day-dreams, my father saw himself as a jazz pianist, poet or, possibly a writer. Life didn’t turn out quite like that… but I appreciate my many memories of his piano paying, and his quite extensive jazz LP collection.

This my dad playing Jazz on an electric piano.

This my dad playing Jazz on an electric piano.


After Sunday church my father played

piano blues, melodies self-made

in an audience-empty sitting room,

far from drink and smoke fume

of New Orleans honky-tonk bar,

parked outside fin-tailed cars.


Father rarely jammed with others,

solo-jived, no band of brothers;

tunes started off well, then stumbled:

complicated codas got jumbled,

lacking drum discipline, tight beat,

absent tuneful trio: incomplete.


Passionate pianist, poet in dreams

and smashed to smithereens

the unwanted title: company director;

an alter-ego emigre, consensus defector,

an imposter with spurious claims;

he fled family, setting bridges aflame.


His sharp tongue recalled by this child;

Ninety-year father, almost reconciled,

sometimes a sardonic grin;

fallible, orphaned from kith and kin;

Dixieland desires still fondly recalled

but arthritic hands mid-melody scratch-stalled…


Piano blues track (with washboard percussion) recorded by my dad, circa 1944


I had the accidental priviledge of working in Carraig Books, Blackrock 1979 – 1981. Even though I came from a bookish, non-academic background, I never thought of working in bookshops.

Carraig Books have a printers at the rear of the shop. I had been struggling with printing competence. It was with relief, after a number of years, that I discovered that the bookshop employee wanted to work in the printers. We simply switched jobs, no interviews required.


Saturday’s light opera songs from upstairs cause questioning looks from browsers, rummaging through the cardboard boxes; eyes scanning the wooden shelves with tireless, jumble-sale, hopeful, “gem” find intensity. Nan Day is hitting the high notes to some old favourite chorus on the radio, working in her kitchen, above the bookshop.

“Sunny” the boxer-dog sits by the shop door looking up at the ceiling, questioning crinkles furrowing his forehead, listening to Nan’s singing, amazement in his bloodshot, world-weary eyes. Sunny had a slight incontinence problem. If he wasn’t let out promptlyin the morning he chose to sprinkle the rows of spine-up runs of books on the floor, just below the shelves. His urine had the ability to glue even hardbackbooks together in a tight unit. “ Text a little “damp stained” indeed…

I sat at a “golf-ball” electric typewriter, typing bibliographic details of books, onto oblong offcut pieces of card. My feet were showered in a confetti of price-tag triangles, cut from decades-old book covers. Every so often I pause my two-fingered typing to flick through a book and admire the old fashioned type-faces, or black & red title pages. Book titles in bold lettering, lovingly crafted by Batsford, Foulis, Macmillan, Talbot & Dolmen Press.

Strangely enough I didn’t buy many books there at the time. One book I did buy, though, was Stephen Graham’s ‘The Way of Martha & The Way of Mary’, a travel book published in the early 1920’s by Macmillan. It was about the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt & the monasteries in the deserts. I was drawn to it by the tipped in colour icon depicting both Biblical ladies. The author had a letter in it which added to the appeal.

Interesting characters came into Carraig Books. There was ‘Owney’, like an extra from Strumpet City, shoulders haunched, socks instead of gloves on his cold hands. He had come to make a stab at cleaning the shop windows for the price of a bottle of porter, “on the QT, ya know”. A cigarette butt slurring his Dub, working-class accent:

“Dickle-dee-boo, dickle-dee-boo. How are ya, young fella? Where are dem lhadders? I’ll get shut o’ ya fer hidin’ dem. haha”.

The unobtrusive browsers were startled by his unexpected conversation, engaging them about the price of drink, or the awful weather. They stood on step ladders or the circular “elephant’s foot”, arm extending to some dust covered, long-forgotten book, just beyond reach. They either ignore ‘Owney’ or smiled condescendingly at him. His chatter was ruining their concentration, they are seeking the “deeper things” in life. After “finishing” the window cleaning job & being paid the price of a drink, ‘Owney’ would wobble off  into the traffic, on his sit-and-beg black gents bicycle that had no brakes worth talking about.

Remembering now, years later, the risen dust caught in sunlight, when a book was pulled from a half-filled shelf, buttress removed. Remembering the slap-happy chaos: the clutter, the stacks of boxes or the Pisa-like piles of books on the floor. Remembering now the atticy-smell of dust, ink on paper or the full calf covers with their gold-blocking “tooled” inlay.

I came to love the bargain hunters & collectors, nearly all of them middle-aged men. Some browsers silent, others whistling old Irish tunes under their breath, on their haunches or climbing the creaky old-fashioned library wooden ladders. I even came to love sweeping the scabbed lino floor, from the long room  –

Literature, Poetry, Genealogy, Reference, Catholic theology,  Latin, Greek Classics and History books;

then past the cramped packing room where the giant weighing scales, an oversize cast-iron Victorian clamp, and large rolls of corrugated parcel cardboard stood;

then into the shop where all those price-tag triangles lay underneath my desk, surrounded by the Irish interest books; then through the arch to Art, Collectibles, Music, Folio Collectibles, Juvenelia, Topography, Travel, Antiquarian.

See those rows of books jutting in and out: octavo, quarto, small quarto,large quarto, landscape and folio; all of them show flagtips, white cards peeking out the top edges, with my badly typed bibliographic information on them.

Between the pages are forgotten letters, bookmarks, old stamps, rusty paper-clips, and lined note-paper marking pages or passages. Sometimes refutations, pencilled annotations, written in by would-be scholars on the page’s edge.

Those books held secret dialogue; clashing ideologies peacefully co-existing at last; breaking through hostile borders, where time has disarmed the guardians of prejudice and hatred.

And over twenty five years later, I still work there, so that owner can go for a round of golf.  There is little passing trade these days, so I can browse the shelves or even surf the internet at leisure. My wages for such a priveledge are a coffee / sandwich meal-deal.

The book-collector clientele of yore is dying off & the hard copy catalogues are becoming a thing of the past. This bookshop is 48 years old now. It just about manages to survive the vagaries of modern retail & the onslaught of the all pervasive internet of online bookselling and the compliments that don’t turn into cash.

If ever you are in the Dublin area , you should visit Carraig Books, in Blackrock. You will enter an old-fashioned world that has no piped music, or garish posters, nor three-for-the-price-of-two offers. Though, if you ask with a smile, you may get a token discount, due to the times that are in it.

You too might jump, whilst browsing, when you unexpectedly hear the front door still slam, just like it used to. Its almighty wooden clunk-click, causes even me to sometimes jump out of this bibliofile-blissful reverie….

originally published in The Blackrock Historical Society Journal, 2013

Don’t be coward

  • “We begin the day with bread; we end it with wine. We can bake bread in a few hours; wine takes years of cultivation, preparation, aging. Personal profit is good, but we don’t thrive if we eat and drink alone. Everything we make is a loaf, formed to be broken, distributed, shared….” – PETER LEITHART


    artist: Mahmoud Qoqyan



    His broken body lit faith’s fuse,

    paper-thin faith he won’t refuse;

    if feeble prayer or faith cold

    stray sheep welcom back to fold.


    Swallowed slow, broken bread –

    priestly blessing whisper-said;

    small portion hard to swallow:

    forgiveness today, not tomorrow.


    Chalice lifted to hesitant lips,

    cup slanted slightly, salvation sip;

    holy his hands, brutally crux-nailed,

    wine-warmed sinner, freed not bailed.


    Biblical blood holds healing power:

    don’t be coward, no need to cower;

    slate wiped clean, not slave to sin:

    welcome feast – let life begin!

    What you must solemnly realise is that every time you eat this bread
    and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions
    the death of the Master – 1 Corinthians 11: 26


Not prettiest of God’s creatures

(2016) I spent a few months living outside Roscrea town, in late winter. One day I visited a livestock mart, to experience this aspect of country life. Opposite the mart was a huge bacon factory, where large transporters queued up to deliver pigs to the slaughterhouse. It was quite distressing to hear the many porcine squeals drift across the road. I thought that I should try and capture the life of pigs in a poem…


Not the prettiest of God’s creatures,

bulbous in bulk, zany features,

spot-smudged, bristly bodies pink,

pungent perfume, porcine stink.


Ark-protected,  proclaimed good,

pigs mock-fight, rollick in mud;

intelligent, known for empathy,

uncelebrated, in any elegy.


Free range lives few receive,

much disliked those hooves that cleave;

drug-injected, in smelly sheds,

cruelly confined, shitty cold beds.


Merciless mocked, frequently affronted,

unanswered prayers clumsily grunted;

hear holocaust squeals in transporters,

snouts smell dread, blood and slaughter.