Hyacinths and Biscuits Poetry Reading: A resounding success

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    Hyacinths & Biscuits

An evening of poetry with

Nessa O’Mahony

Margaret Galvin    Tom Mooney

Patrick & Aisling Williams

John O’Connor   Paddy Kehoe

On Saturday 2nd June 2012 at 8p.m.

In the National 1798 Centre, Enniscorthy

This reading was kindly supported by


                                                        Part of Enniscorthy’s Strawberry Festival 

A RAY of the most exquisite sunshine brightened up a miserable wet and windy evening on the Saturday of the Strawberry Festival.  While others endured the elements at outdoor venues and events in the town, Enniscorthy Athenaeum Limited, in association with Poetry Ireland, hosted a poetry reading in the town’s impressive National 1798 Centre.

Safe from the wind and rain, the 50 or so patrons enjoyed wine and strawberries, tea and coffee while listening to the offerings of seven poets and one beautiful soprano.

This is the fourth year the Athenaeum directors, who are celebrating its 120th Anniversary this year, have hosted a literary event in the ’98 Centre during the Strawberry Festival, and this year the event,  ‘Hyacinths and Biscuits’, did us proud  with an impressive line-up of poets who enthralled their audience with a huge variety of poetic genres.

The title of the reading, Hyacinths and Biscuits, is taken from a quote by Carl Sandburg, who said that: ‘Poetry is a synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits’ and the poets on the night could not have been more demonstrative of this definition.

First to the podium was long-time supporter of the Athenaeum restoration cause, Tom Mooney, editor of the Wexford Echo Newspaper Group.  Tom decided not to read his poetry but, to start the evening off and to set the scene for the following speakers, he read an essay he is writing for inclusion in an upcoming publication on the subject of poetry.

In a learned and academically impressive treatise, from Homer to Heaney and everything in between, he told us that people are fundamentally poetic and not merely rational and he left his audience with much to contemplate and consider, but essentially wanting to hear more.

Enniscorthy native John O’Connor was next to take the stage and he read poetry that instantly captivated the audience and kept them spellbound.   With poems entitled ‘Enniscorthy’, ‘Vinegar Hill’ and ‘Borodale’, these  familiar names and locations brought the magic of poetry into the realm of our everyday lives.

Although had a hard act to follow, Patrick Williams rose to the occasion and, with power and passion, grabbed the audience’s attention from the start.  In stark contrast to O’Connor’s pastoral verse, Patrick Williams brought us through the despair of a life in the darkness of addiction.  His impassioned poems, entitled ‘Heroin’,  ‘North South East West’ and ‘Clown’, were powerful and moving and unerringly authentic.  Here was a man who knew the pain of all he wrote and related it with sincerity and wonderful musicality.

Next at the podium was Margaret Galvin, a Tipperary native who has lived in Wexford since her  twenties.  Margaret traversed the gamut of emotions with poems that took us from Fishguard to Tokyo and from Tramore to Cork.

Margaret dealt with themes as ordinary as a trip to the supermarket and as heart-rending as the tragedy of the Tit Bonhomme trawler at Glandore.  Her attention to detail and observation of the finer points of our everyday lives are among her most engaging traits.

After a short intermission, Dublin-based writer Nessa O’Mahony  came forward and prefaced her reading with a footnote that it had been Margaret Galvin who had first published one of her poems when she was editor of Ireland’s Own.  Clearly she went on to greater things after that good start for which she was very grateful.

As with Margaret Galvin, Nessa’s poetry ranges from the general occupations in life in the Churchtown Chipper, through the pastoral Wicklow Gap, to the glamour of 1950s cinema and a cigarette-smoking  Bette Davis in black and white.

Nessa’s final offering was from her work ‘In sight of home,’ a verse novel telling the story of emigration  in the 19th century.  She introduced the excerpt by telling the audience of her huge interest in history and that she had done quite a bit of research into her own family history around the Civil War and it was during this time that she happened on a number of letters which record the adventure of the Butlers of Kilkenny who emigrated to Australia.

The poet’s aim to breathe life into the century-old archival documents that tell the story of the workhouse orphans who sought a new life in a far-from-home place, is achieved with gratifying success as it appeals to all of the senses and every emotion possible and, written in this unusual genre, it is supremely evocative and satisfying.

The last, but not least, poet was local man, Paddy Kehoe.  A journalist by profession for the last 23 years, Paddy recently had his first book of poetry published, ‘It’s words you want.’

Many of Paddy’s poems visited familiar themes and places, others told  of exotic Iberian locations but each and every one told a story.  His ‘Father’s Music’ was a declaration of his dislike for John McCormack’s singing, ‘Shields’ is, as he called it, an Ode to the stout bottle, and ‘Old Avenger’ paid homage to a faithful family car.  He accompanied us from Edenvale, St. Peter’s and The Mercy Bell to Spring on Calle Provenza – a journey through time and space.

The grande finale of the night came in the beautiful shape of ace soprano Aisling Williams.  Aisling is the daughter of Patrick Williams who delighted the attendance earlier with his poems, and Aisling sang one of his poems which had been put to music.  Although Aisling is a classically-trained soprano, indeed she has performed for the Athenaeum at the annual Operetta and will do so again this November, she sang her father’s composition in a very traditional style.  She showed an innate understanding and sense of the piece and delivered with a passion and truth worthy of the poem.

And so ended an evening of excellence and appreciation.  Thanks were expressed to the Poets for reading for us; to Jacqui Hynes, manager of the 1798 Centre;  to Maura Flannery who organised most of the poets  for the night;  to Tom Mooney for his constant support and advertising and exposure for all our events; to Joe Hogan for printing all posters and tickets free of charge; to Martin Murphy and Palace Signs who sponsored the strawberries, and to Anne McClean for donating the wine.  The striking and imaginative podium was a creation in steel by Noel Murphy, to whom thanks was also given.

It was half past ten when the patrons ventured back out into the pouring rain, richer for the experience of hyacinths and biscuits.