Have we Lost a Poet or Found One?

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Some time, in late 1976, when walking along the Tuam Road, near my home at Athenry, I noticed a small black book lying on the ground. It was a rainy evening and even though the book was getting damp and wet, and looked as if it might have been thrown away, I was sufficiently curious to pick it up and shake the water off it thinking that it might have dropped out of a child’s school-bag on his or her way home from the Presentation College or School.

On opening it I discovered that it was an unlined notebook in which was handwritten a collection of poems, most in green ink, a few in a bluish green, some in an unusual light blue ink, and the last three in a darker blue ink.

I took the little book home, dried it and examined it. It is 8 ¾  inches high, 5 ½ by inches wide, by a quarter of an inch thick. It has a handmade look, or at least the black cloth-bound cover seems to have been made [especially for it. It consists of 62 pages (counting both sides of 31 folios) of which the last eleven are blank – except for the last one on which is written in pencil:

Sayings – Time improves but it can also condition.

On the first page of the book, written in green ink, is the never completed four lined comment, “Most of these poems were written between …. and ….

The second page gives a clue to its author with the dedication “This single self published edition is given with love to Meabhdh and Maurice Mac Ghearailt with love from their daughter Aoife.” As in all good publishing, the date, “Made on the 3rd day of March, 1976”, is written at the bottom of the same page.

The third page is the title page. On it, nicely spaced out is: The Quizzical Search By Aoife Nic Gearailt

The next 36 pages are filled with 30 poems, all but the last one dated. The first 32 of these pages are numbered in Roman numerals. The poems mostly are confined to one page, and date from 1967 (one poem), 1970 (one poem), 1973 (two poems), 1974 (nine poems) 1975 (nine poems) and 1976 (seven poems, of which two are specifically dated to the “2nd, Sep, 76”, and one to “early 76”. They are not arranged chronologically, but with the result that the 1967 one, an excellent well-thought-out poem fulfilling the collection’s title, is on page XIV. It reads as follows:

Why am I existing?

Why was I conceived?

Where do I come from,

What do I perceive?

Are we all puppets,

Of a greater mind,

Or are we really links,

Of an infinite kind,

Do we think, or

Just obey.

Could you tell me,

Do you know?

What am I, and you

 

 

The shortest and perhaps the most imaginatively arranged, showing an unexpected maturity, is that on page IX, composed in 1976. It well describes and encapsulates one’s feelings and impression of an unexpectantly cold winter morning. It reads:

floating

through

the

Cosmic

Void

Beautiful nothingness descends.

And covers all, in its thick

Mantle of frost.

These poems, despite their occasional misspellings and need of some re-arrangement of erratic punctuation, are surprisingly mature and display an active, thinking mind and wide meaningful vocabulary.

Many of the poems are of a high standard and most contain at least one or two line of thought-provoking brilliance! – others are less easy to understand.

When I die, let the mossy bog be my covering.

And let the scavengers, of the preying place,

Feed upon my corpse, and be filled with life anew.

So, creating a harmony, in the circle of nature.

The second last poem in the book was composed in 1970 and is, I personally believe, the best and most memorable, albeit the most pessimistic and gloomy of them all: ,

He sat there staring not knowing anything.

Even though in the eye of the world he knows, for he is wise.

He bends his head, for he is disillusioned and defeated,

Knowing what he’ll do, ignoring the fact of no return

Hoping still, when he comes again, in the shape of another being.

Maybe then he’ll have learnt the meaning of life.

S0 thinking he let himself slide into the waters,

And offered no resistance as the tide sucked him down into the deep.

To conclude, it is clear to me that Aoife Nic Gearailt had, in the 1970s, great potential as a poet. Shortly after finding her little book I made a few real, if perhaps not serious enough, efforts to find out who she was and how I could return her precious book to her or to her parents. I asked some of the clergy, some of the teachers and among some of my Athenry friends, but without avail. Even a look through the telephone directory did not help.

I then put the booklet aside with the intention of following the search later on — but somehow mislaid the book in one of several collections of miscellaneous papers and small books! It re-appeared now and again in the following years, but until now I never seemed to have an occasion to re-instigate the search. I wonder is she from Athenry at all? Even now, twenty-four years later, I’d like to meet her to congratulate her on her poetry and to apologise for the unforgivable delay in only now making this serious attempt to let her know what happened to what may well her magnum opus. Prof. Etienne Rynne, Athenry

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About this record

Written by Etienne Rynne

Published here 15 May 2023 and originally published Christmas 2000

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