Launch of ORGANIC WORDS by Hugh McFadden. White House 31 May 2019. John Liddy

Launch of ORGANIC WORDS by Hugh McFadden. White House 31 May 2019. John Liddy

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In this new book its author makes a statement about what words mean to him. ”Words in Ireland, if not always certain good, are definitely certain meaningful and sometimes certain loaded.”  It is a forewarning for the reader on how to approach this book of essays, reviews and articles by Hugh McFadden, for words also have their organic attributes.

Page after page reveal that certain good in McFadden’s use of words, also that ingredient of certain meaningful between the lines and that certain loaded when implication is better than outright statement. In effect, the author’s canvas takes in the gamut of human feeling, postulation and integrity of his subjects and his own personal credence regarding the use of words enshrined in a language of honest labour.

The introductory piece ‘Elegies and Epiphanies’ provides valuable background to the author’s childhood roots in Derry and Donegal and later in Dublin. His various jobs are listed and his time as a journalist and literary columnist with The Irish Press open the door to what follows in these pages. We are also made aware of his poetry publications and the editing of the work of John Jordan, friend and mentor. I might as well add here that this is where Hugh and I meet for I too was a friend of Jordan’s and without his erudition as co-editor I would not have been able to edit that special edition of The Stony Thursday Book on the work of Kate O’ Brien. Towards the end of this Introduction, Hugh tells us that this is a book of memories and some epiphanies, some elegies for friends who have gone across the great divide. Of course, it is more than that. It is a book written with a journalist’s eye, a critic’s sense of fairness and a poet’s sensibility. Elegies and Epiphanes: Selected Poems, was published by Lagan Press, Belfast in 2005.

Organic Words is divided into 13 parts, beginning with reviews in History and Politics of John O’Leary’s  2 vols. The Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (Irish University Press, 1969) and The Descent in England: A Study of the English Revolution of 1688 and its European Background by John Carswell (Cresset Press, 1969).  Both reviews appeared in Hibernia in 1969 and they serve to remind us of events during those bygone times and make us wonder are we still living them, given the events of today.  Following on from those reviews is a letter by the author in reply to one by the historian J.C. Beckett, both letters published in The Times (of London) August 22, 1969. They make for déjà vu reading 50 years later.  McFadden’s unpublished work is also represented in the keenly observant essay on England and the English in ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ 1973. It is a sound, sociological and political commentary on that country, the worst of which, unfortunately, raises its ugly head again. The author asks what does W.I.M.P.E.Y stand for and answers We Import More Paddies Every Year – shades of the looney Brexit debate, I fear. The chapter under discussion includes two articles on Daniel O’ Connell (Irish Press,1975), commissioned by Tim Pat Coogan to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of The Liberator.  Both are complimentary and I was surprised to learn of O’ Connell and his son Morgan’s connection with Simon Bolivar’s liberation of Venezuela from Spanish rule.

Such gems abound in McFadden’s journalisms and underline the historian in the writer’s make-up. The chapter closes with articles and reviews on States of Mind by Oliver Mac Donagh (1983), John O’ Beirne  Ranelagh’s  A Short History of Ireland (1983), Political Violence in Ireland: Government and Resistance since 1848 by Charles Townshend, Henry V111 by Jasper Ridley (1984), The Revolt of Silken Thomas by Laurence Mc Corristine (1987), The Irish Co-operative Movement: Its History and Development by Patrick Bolger (1977). One paragraph in Hugh’s piece caught my eye and reminded me of when I first read this book – “The Irish founding fathers of the cooperative movement – Horace Plunkett, R.A Andersen, Fr. Tom Finley, S.J. and George Russell (AE) are heroic characters who struggled against widespread ignorance and amazing prejudice to help the impoverished tenant farmers to help themselves.”  If only we could revive that credo again, the meitheal of survival. McFadden continues with appraisals of AE to whom he refers to as ‘the finest journalist in the country and an editor of genius in his time’. The 1913 Lockout is reviewed as is Dirty Old Dublin and Strumpet City by James Plunkett. The chapter closes with the author’s examination of Irish Neutrality, Revisionist History, The Easter Rising, Women and the Rising, Poets and Politics which throws up some wonderful titbits such as Thomas Kinsella’s intervention in a discussion about Ezra  Pound’s fascism.

We are now well-oiled to take on Part 2 which gives us letters in defence of the poet Auden, a eulogy for John Lennon, a commemorative piece on Padraic Colum, a generous expose of the actor Pat Layde, the poets Akhmatova, Ian Gibson’s Federico Garcia Lorca, another piece on Gibson himself, an appreciation of John Jordan and two superb Introductions to books about Jordan edited by McFadden, Crystal Clear and Selected Poems. In the first we can read about Jordan’s friends and acquaintances: Pearse Hutchinson, Anthony Cronin, John Ryan, Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan, Flann O Brien, Gainor Crist, Pamela O’Malley, J.P. Donleavy, Micheál  MacLiammoir, Hilton Edwards, Edward and Cristine Pakenham, Kate O Brien, Enid Starkie, Lorna Reynolds, Paddy O’ Brien of McDaid’s and Grogan’s pubs, Patrick Swift, Ben Kiely, James Liddy, Michael Hartnett, John Montague, Paul Durcan, Macdara Woods, Eiléan Ní Chuilleannáin, Francis Stuart, Austin Clarke, Jim Fitzgerald…. and more.

To highlight but one or two inclusions, we learn about the founding of Poetry Ireland Review, a moving account of the passing of Paddy O’ Brien, the widow Katherine Kavanagh who was almost buried in the wrong grave because of the childish behaviour of Peter Kavanagh, the passing of prominent solicitor John Jay, Anthony Burgess and Tim O’Keeffe.

Part 3 – ‘Bohemian Days’ in Dublin contains a review of Tom Stack’s No Earthly Estate – God and Patrick Kavanagh: An Anthology. Patrick Kavanagh and John Jordan. Beyond the Celtic Mist – a review of Kavanagh’s collected poems edited by Antoinette Quinn, reviews of Brecht, Delanty, Jennifer Johnston, Parson’s Bookshop – a gem, gleaning with anecdote, Holub and Ginsberg’s visits to Ireland and the death of Brian Coffey.

Part 4. Hugh McFadden surely must be the only writer who bothered to review Poetry Readings! Here we have accounts of readings by Hutchinson together with a review of his book The Frost is All Over, Paul Durcan’s reading and a review of that poet’s take on paintings in The National Gallery, Seamus Deane, Andrea Voznessensky, Seamus Heaney, John Montague, the Russian cellist Rostropovich, the Beckettian actor Barry McGovern reading Beckett’s poems, Francis Harvey, Eamonn Grennan, James Plunkett handing over his papers to the State, an exhibition of artist’s books, a review of Paula Meehan’s Pillow Talk, tipping Heaney to win the Nobel prize for literature, a piece on the Irish Chair of Poetry, comment on Ni Dhomhnaill’s and other writer’s essays.

By now I am convinced that Hugh McFadden is an incisive commentator on the literary scene and he does it with his own unique style. There is a sense of fearless truth-searching in his approach to his subjects but he is also considerate of their human failings. This section ends with the inclusion of photographs: the young and not so young author along with John Jordan at the Patrick Kavanagh seat at the Grand Canal, Paul Durcan and John Montague.

In Part 5 the canvas broadens to include Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien with a letter reproduced from Carl Jung to Joyce and Beckett’s reply to a journalist’s request for his New Year resolutions which McFadden refers to as stunningly Beckettian: Resolutions…colon… zero… stop… period… colon …zero… stop… Beckett (sent by telegram). There are also comments on the work of Colm Tobín, Seamus Deane and a personal piece on Michael Hartnett.

In Part 6 we enter the terrain of Play review and a lovely piece on Tom Kilroy. In Part 7 we are taken on a romp through Prose Fiction and Criticism with comment from Hugh on notables such as Richard Russo, Seamus de Faoite, Neill Jordan, Ireland’s minstrel Tom Moore, young John McGahern and McGahern and the Catholic Question which now seems so long ago.

Parts 8 to 10 are taken up with McFadden’s reviews of Irish and Scottish poetry sprinkled with photographs of the author with Elizabeth, Kevin Kiely, Tom McCarthy and reviews of Medicine and Literature, Physicians, Alchemy, Clerics, Identity, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dr. Steven’s Hospital, Newgrange, Donegal and the Famine. Is there a subject which McFadden has not written on?

Part 11 is devoted to Austin Clarke and Thomas Kinsella with whom McFadden has a deep affinity. The closing sections educate us on the work of John Hewitt, Robert Greacen, Michael Longley, Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, Seamus Heaney, Gerard Dawe, Francis Harvey, Gerard Smyth, the soldier poets of the First World War, the poetry written by women between 1870 and 1970, Harry Clifden, Macdara Woods, Moya Donaldson, Matthew Sweeney, Maurice Harmon, Trevor Joyce, Knute Skinner, Eamonn Grennan’s translations from the Italian of Leopardi (1798-1837), Paddy Bushe, Mark Roper, Kerrie Hardie, Catherine Phil Mac Carthy, Dennis O Driscoll, Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Writing against the Grain, a revealing essay called Boogie and Burgh Quay – when McFadden served his time under the wing of Tim Pat Coogan in The Irish Press, another gem called War and Peace in which McFadden uses this review to set out his own stall on Human and Civil Rights, some more on Jordan and Patrick Kavanagh with the superb opening of Kavanagh’s Literary Adventure. Enough to say here that the word ‘just’ in that poem would later be hauled up as an example of weakening another poem by Kavanagh. McFadden leaves us with an obituary of Brian Friel, a review of Yeats 150th anniversary (1865-1939), James Joyce and the Law, Virgil and Joyce, After Ireland (Beckett) and the collected letters of Flann O’ Brien.

This is a book that will rest easy beside most people’s beds, thrill the student of literature, sate the gossiper’s desire for risqué detail and serve as a god-send to the researcher on matters literary and human. Organic Words has the feel of Jim Kemmy’s two masterpieces The Limerick Anthology and The Limerick Compendium.  (Mention must also be made of the homage publication by Limerick Writers’ Centre’s  Kemmy’s Limerick Miscellany  edited by Denis O’Shaughnessy), with its kindred desire to reveal and inform, through its similar layout and organisation of material. It is a remarkable book which places McFadden ahead of the field because of its uniqueness. His words are ‘certain good’, ‘certain meaningful’ and sometimes ‘certain loaded’.  I was particularly pleased to see Limerick represented by Michael Hartnett, Kate O’ Brien, a mention of The Stony Thursday Book and Liz Henry – friend of Patrick Kavanagh’s who was minding her daughter Rio one day and on returning to the house, Liz overheard Kavanagh say  “F… Bo Peep”. Apparently he was fed up with Rio asking him to read that story over and over again.

To finish, I want to congratulate the publisher Dominic Taylor of The Limerick Writer’s Centre, his brother Joe for the catching cover, Lotte Bender for design and, of course, the poet, journalist, essayist and critic, Hugh McFadden for this masterfully written book.

Organic Words is available from O’Mahony Books, Limerick and Quay Book, Limerick. Kenny’s galway, Hanna Books, Dublin.  On-Line at

John Liddy, born in County Cork but raised in Limerick, is a poet whose collections include Wine and Hope/Vino y Esperanza (1999, Archione Editorial Madrid), Cast-a-Net (2003, Archione Editorial Madrid), The Well: New and Selected Poems (2007, Revival Press). Most recent book is Gleanings (2010, Revival Press). He co-founded The Stony Thursday Book with Jim Burke and edits occasional issues. Liddy lives in Madrid and is recently retired. He worked as a teacher/librarian. He also runs the annual poetry festival An Tobar/El Manantial, along with Matthew Loughney and the Embassy of Ireland.




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