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Opening of The Book of Shannow, more or less as it appeared in The Dublin Magazine, c.1972





Aid me now and forever Ye Juxtapositional Muses!

and especially Tusa, splendiloquent Dinneen!

hero of the fortuitous, commander of the unlikely,

first citizen of the joyous lexical state!

that bustest the blocks of planned alias random

garrulity, and with blind felicity circumventest

all infra-sublime imputations of arm-chancery:

so may my song-book, flying on an always plural wing,

arrive with no bump in that empyrean

of genial wifelessness and succinct hilarity,

in which - until it is time to go for our tea -

we may pass a while of the burp-free evening

in close Mylesian scrutiny of the form,

and descry in past and future mists

those outlines of that fugitive reality

which has hitherto, to the despair of

punter and philosopher alike,

evaded elucidation!   







The experience of the sacred constitutes an element in the structure of consciousness.

Mircea Eliade

Landscapes are   conditioned brahma, form & ground of ultimate reality & meaning where life & love may flower.

After T. Merton




Wheeling in from the horizon in great waves, the light   surges, it is dark overhead, but evenly away from us flying columns of cloud follow the earth curve. Gray, luminous, rainy, as if it had been all thought out. 

From any vantage point over the plain, roving over flattened treetops the eye will trip on some ruin, massive with ivy, Cromwell. Says you. The Butcher. His authentic pioneers.

Long walls, high-windowed mansions, surreptitious rectories disregard as best they know how the servile gate lodges, the mutinously low-browed cottages, the boisterous laneways. The view from Coome Castle Tower passes for preference over the village, Kilquane where the Ganniff River ploughs, under the bridge, an unwashed swirl. In winter the redness of osier flares through gloom, on the bank, below the wall of what was once the workhouse. ("Look at that," G used to say, "& the barrackses Collins's armies marched into forty years ago. Like a Norman keep. Motherhouses of repression. Big stone pegs to pin the people in place. Ever in the Four Courts? Go. As a pilgrim. The weight! Tailored, slabs of law, classical enunciation & pronouncements, Lord!"


And to stick my mottled vermilion neck out on the subject, there are also to be remarked in every Irish town grim tall institutions for the perhaps deaf & dumb in body, garrisoned by the certainly deaf & dumb in mind. Often enough a statue, exemplary, docile, cream-white plaster, idles on the lawn, eyes cast down, forefinger credulously probing that improbable scarlet heart, surmounted with the cruel bric-à-brac of   passion, or large toe wiggling as she crushes under the ball of her foot into the ball of the globe a bulging   serpent's head.

Shannow Wood School, save from certain oblique approaches, does not show overtly those qualities of discipline & moral rectitude which gleam, ferociously from frosted-glass street-level Christian Brother refectories (he who dares listen there can pick up the shape of stertorous breathing), more serenely from the first & second floor windows of convents, especially if they are set back from the road a few yards. In fact, Catholic purity, the object of the whole exercise, begins around the second floor of convents, sun shining demurely on waxed pine floors, crucifix pinned on the wall, and, framed against the blue in the window at the far end of the corridor, a vase with   tulips.

But the fact that   to the young Alexander, piled in a taxi with ten others, the solid outlines of Shannow Castle first appeared moulded by dark wine-into-bloodred Virginia creeper, cooling in early September evening sun, viewed from the shoulder of the Hill of Banard, buildings clustered in the middle of level fields like crowns at the close of a draughts game, long desired from photos by that gray eyed   eleven-year old, did not mean that this place lacked moral tone. On Sundays they released it odorously into the air, the rest of the week you breathed it unaware.







Mulroe fresh as May in the Phoenix Park, propounds to Mr G, with passionate abstruosity, La Questione della Lingua  - after Bembo.

Or maybe during Bembo.

Mr G listens. Mr G teaches, in Shannow Wood School, Greek and Irish and a few very advanced sums.

"I am redistributing the Turma theory," says Mr G, "Language comes to inhere in landscapes. It is diffused thru character. You're not going to be let make a volunteer hames of that."

Mulroe is stumped.

"Take me up into a high place," says Mr G, "any high place - and I'll show you the world. Tibidabo. My world," he says. "And many other possible worlds."

He adverts to a copy of Dinneen sitting on the mantelpiece.

"There,” says Mr G, “is a compendium of our dialect," he says, "the Kelto-Anglo-Italico-Bog-Tokharian we were elected to communicate in.”

“We peg little bits of it at each other.”

“You could Synge that if you had an air to it.”

“We shy clods of it against the visage of the stars...”

“What else is there to do. At least as much good writing has been done in it as in any other dialect of the twentieth century, angst says he or no fkn angst, and spare me Bloomsbury, Sitwells and Satchwells and Woolves and Forsters... Lookat. Don't think you can come here and palm off your R.P. or B.B.C. that no one talks, or M.L.A. guidelines for yon blinkered American pedants. I'll tell you where we begin. With the dictionary. The splendiloquacious, kallifactorial Dinneen. Passim, pissam. Leave us construct a Lexical Mobile. Are you on?"



Location: the Common Room of Shannow Wood School.

Personages: Mulroe & Mr G, Competitors.

1 or more copies of:


Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla


Irish-English Dictionary.











Procedure. Competitor One reads or professes to read at will, at won't, or at random from aforesaid lexicon. Competitor Two may challenge any word or phrase. If said word is not on the page, challenger scores a point and gets to read; if it is, the reader scores two and reads on.


Mr G goes first. One voice now lads! Analects & Recensions:


a boil a blister a blain; the pox from France; fierce valour; venom, a storm at sea, a secret design deciphered; perfecting a counter-tide with siege, investment and an oath; heather.

an ox of all work, a serf, dwarf with a long back and short legs.

a peevish man, a vicious horse.

changeful, the cunning vagaries of the wheedler's act; it was a good deed on his part to give it to you, since it could not be kept dark. only the roof remains to be put up.


"I'll believe you," mumbles Mulroe, "thousands wouldn't."


a small green crab, inedible - a splinter of good news; calm soothing gentle, like a little blade of grass; a thief in the act of surveying; dream or revelation.

tagra le ceann gan eolas, arguing with a blockhead, futile occupation.

tadhbhás, injury, loss, shame, song of God; fairrge teachtui, a frozen ocean - you have seven miles of frozen seas before you never yet traversed by any vessel.

a ship house.

of tin.


"The art of the lexicographer. Untrammelled by tradition."

"I deg to biffer," says Gillespie briskly. "Trammelled only by tradition. Trammel, incidentally," posits G, "machine for trapping the gunar al. ballan wrasse."




In Illaunaspie 'twouldn't've been.

"My turn now," says Mulroe.

"Off you go."


the glutton, changing his mind after the last sacraments (q.v.) begat (q.v.) a pure layer of flesh - not-hen; advanced in years through calumny, presaging an omen of great grief, this

descendant of the antediluvian race of Parthalon - who perished of the plague and were interred according to legend (see foot - also fylfot and gammadion) (no Nazis need apply) at Tallaght, County Dublin - survived the flood by various transformations: stag, boar, sea eagle, salmon; eventually being converted by Colmcille and passing immediately into Paradise (a syncretistic incident): Tuan. McCashel.


Gillespie teeters. "I’ll let you off, fire away."

"Getting the wave-length now, am I?"


three things to beware of: a little bell, a prater, a drop of drink, unkempt locks of hair hanging over the eyes. three things to praise: a linnet, a story that is neither a poem nor a child's tale, God exposed to the wind, your legs exposed to the cold, a fresh face. three things which are a matter of indifference: a happy Christmas, a momument, evening prayer, a variety of the superlative copula-phrase (ta sé ar an bhfile is fearr i n-Éirinn he is the best poet in Ireland.)


"Pass friend," sighs G, "though I doubt it is all as you say."


brought to nought I am put in comparison with mud; a magician an astrologer and driving by the stars, I swell, grow strong like the cats; I excite (comparative degree) the spawn of a fish


"Whatever turns you on," murmurs G. "A personal penchant I presume.”


a female fish, a sprout, a young plant, a fit of temper, a whore's melt



"Couldn't resist it. Your turn."


eo a yew-tree, acadh dá eo, the field of two yews, Eochaill Youghal

eo salmon fig. a chief,  gan aon-alt anuaisle a chief without a single *ignoble taint, an t-eo fis the salmon of knowledge

*(the chieftain who is possessed of noble taints we will leave to the divine contempt of the thirty-nine Protestant gods.)

"There," said G, "you go again, I'm not able for it."

"Well you got your footnote in Tha Text."

"And my name in the papers. Don't I know. Here."

He passes over Tha Book.

"Who invented this?"

"We found it."

"Here. This'll do. Enter:


Nora: of the bogs, the common heron, nóra na bportaighthe, nora of the bones, nora the portly, the cormorant, forever in equity, forever envious

innisim I tell, mention, relate; d'innis bean dam gur innis bean di: a woman told me that a woman told her; an ill-supported tale

quiet, *unspirited, stealthy

*(you take a gloamy view of things)


law is

a reddy-haired woman in the morning

a door-knocker

barren land, bad diet, and a drug

extravagant, super-sititious


mirth is

a decapitated person or torso


upright joyous poems, soothing remarks


it was a luminous answer on Patrick's part

lurcher, who walks with shaking shoulders

a hogbristle from Poland hither over the sea for use in shoemaking (also a very generous man, Guaire, King of Connacht)

whirling wind

a sandy level on the edge of the sea, a shore-village

níl aon oil ins an ngear box (Barna 1967)


the smarting of our woe is a

disease in flax, an earwig

badger-like monster chained by Creiche at the bottom of Loch na Rátha

female blackbird, demure maid

leper a babbler a coward & a clown - we will continue with more multiple-choice poems after this message from our resident plonker-puller:


“They'll be coming now,” says G, “I thought I heard a bell.”


do not be attached to personal names or show affection for them. patience is preferable to bickering. in harmony: a drawn match - God the Father versus The Rest. ní nádúrtha an beatha ná an marbh life is not more natural than death

ye are the joy of the earth; if the joy lose its savour* wherewith shall it be reJoyced?

*(Saviour. RANDOM IS AS RANDOM DOES. End of Part 2.)


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