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.
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 (Irish: Príosún 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.
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.
i am told by carp drifting in the languid
current that Burnhole Willie has been found
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.
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…
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.