100th Anniversary of Birth of Seamus Ryan O’Flaherty

Ireland’s Forgotten Bard

 

On March 2nd, 1912, Mary Rose O’Flaherty gave birth to an illegitimate baby boy- Seamus Ryan O’Flaherty- in County Kerry, Ireland.

The father was rumored by many to have been Liam Ryan- an inveterate womanizer and bog farmer- hence the speculative ‘Ryan’ in the poet’s hallowed name.

 

 

Only existing photo of Seamus from his time in prison.

Only existing photo of Seamus from his time in prison.

During his lifetime, Seamus wrote seven books of verse, three published by Dregs & Sons Press of Dublin; the rest were self-published and were thought to be the source, along with his alcoholism, of O’Flaherty’s financial ruin.

 

His most famous collection is, of course, Halycyon Pig, 1937. It contains the timeless poem (see below) that brought O’Flaherty to the attention of not only poetry-lovers on three continents, but also to the to the Constabulary of County Wicklow, where he was wanted for for kiting checks and dealing in tainted pork (hence the ‘Pig’ in the collection’s title).

 

 

He spent the next three years drying out in Portlaoise Prison (IrishPríosún Phort Laoise). After his release in 1941, Seamus disappeared from public view. There has been much specuation as to what happened to him; there are those who say he never died and is in fact still alive in an old person’s home in Galloway.

 

O'Flaherty's Most Celebrated Book of Verse

O’Flaherty’s Most Celebrated Book of Verse

 

 

Be that as it may, his official biography claims he died of acute alcohol poisoning and/or repeated kicks to the groin (by a jealous and jilted husband) in Limerick on June 13, 1969. He is reportedly buried in a small plot in Inniskerry.

Here is the least forgettable verse from that collection.

 

 

 

Like a Trout Upstream I Swim

 

like a trout upstream i swim

thru tepid waters murky black

‘neath the smarmy widget bridge

leading out of high-bottomed Snarf

the village of my regretted birth

here and there in the glaucous pools

flit mungous kilpish woggies, all a-char

and flanged with grommets not unlike

uncle Lucius long dead now from

poorly blended fermentations.

his elegy, only half remembered,

did in earnest laud his easy manner

with bottom-feeding fish and crispy

bog infesting newts named Gerald,

Maud or some other Celtic nomenclature

‘FUCK all and be damned!’ shriek the

dyspeptic mandrills,  lining up on

mossy banks to jeer the passing

school of fingerlings in whose

midst have i my rightful stature found.

and now my dorsal fin quivers

dullish with rage

that has scarce recourse

save its will to empower

my angry migration home.

and farther.

i am told by carp drifting in the languid

current that Burnhole Willie has been found

face-down,

skin a-leathery and nutshell brown

in a gutter in Blather Town, with fearless pigs

snuffling thru his pockets for bread crusts

and mildewed memories of more joyful days.

do not not say he is dead!  only comatose-

with plans on rising come this year’s

Paschal Feast. as for Coleen and Rose

the tempestuous barmaids at

the Foal and Gosling,

i cannot say. they have

lost their teeth but still leer at those

imbibing arf and arfs on dwindling credit.

i have minded my own P’s and Q’s

to no avail. my tab will go unpaid.

and so?

like a Fungous Bat emerging from its

cave I flutter-fly, twist and turn in humid air

still seeking glimpses of immortality or

insects fat enough to warrant effort.

from one distraction

to the next I meander

becoming an annoyance to all others.

there are those who bought my sausage

but they are dead now. there is no salmon

in salmonella- only sad regrets and meat

from unknown sources.

i curse them all.

like a trout upstream I swim

in rivers gurgling mud brown.

i should have learned to swim

for alas- i now flounder like a scrod…

then drown.

 

 

Critics have said that O’Flaherty’s verse made it retroactively possible for  Tennyson, Ovid and even Shakespeare to find the courage to explore their own mode of versifying; but critics have said a lot of things. O’Flaherty hated them all.

Here is a short film on the quest of ladder day scholars seeking answers about O’Flaherty- that no one has had the courage to ask.

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