Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Lamp

Anna Kamieńska

The Lamp

I write in order to comprehend not to express myself
I don’t grasp anything I’m not ashamed to admit it
sharing this not knowing with a maple leaf
So I turn with questions to words wiser than myself
to things that will endure long after us
I wait to gain wisdom from chance
I expect sense from silence
Perhaps something will suddenly happen
and pulse with hidden truth
like the spirit of the flame in the oil lamp
under which we bowed our heads
when we were very young
and grandmas crossed the bread with a knife
and we believed in everything
So now I yearn for nothing so much
as for that faith

Translated from Polish by Grażyna Drabik and David Carson

from Astonishments, Selected Poems of Anna Kamieńska, edited and translated by Grażyna Drabik and David Carson, Paraclete Press, 2007.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Noises Off: Dublin’s Contested Monuments

published in Dublin Review of Books

Peter Sirr takes a walk about Dublin, looking up, sometimes looking down, at the ways in which the city has tried to commemorate its notable citizens, historical and imaginary. Statues, he finds, may be moving, may be moved elsewhere, and in extreme cases be removed by explosives.

As I walk down O’Connell Street on a September evening I cross over to inspect the parapet of the bridge in which a small bronze plaque is inset. It reads as follows:


To the right of the inscription is a relief of the unfortunate priest’s head. The poor man, I think, plunging into the murky waters of the river. What exactly were the circumstances? Peadar Clancy (the plaque misspells his name) was a republican activist so it’s possible this was an act of the British secret service. Maybe they thought Clancy was in the carriage. So what did they do exactly? How do you cause a carriage to plummet off O’Connell Bridge into the Liffey? It can’t have been easy. And what happened the horses, or the driver? Did they survive? As it happens, we know the answer; we know that, in a sense, everyone survived, because no one died, no one fell into the river, there were no circumstances, suspicious or otherwise, there was not even a Pat Noise, and as for the HSTI, whatever the initials might stand for, the organisation never existed.

Not that anyone noticed, at least for a couple of years after the plaque was set in the bridge. That happened in 2004 when the two hoaxers, dressed as council workers, laid it in the depression left after the removal of the control box for the ill-fated “Millennium Countdown” clock that was installed in 1996. The clock, weighing nearly a thousand kilograms, was placed just below the surface of the Liffey and its illuminated numerals were supposed to count the seconds remaining until the dawn of the millennium. You could have a postcard made showing the exact number of minutes and seconds left. The engineers, however, hadn’t counted on the uncooperativeness of the river. The digital numerals were soon caked with a greenish slime and were barely visible through the dark waters, which was probably not a bad thing as the water seemed to interfere with the clock, which was often wrong. In the end, nine months after its installation, the apparatus was fished out and the citizens counted their own way to the millennium. But the depression remained on the bridge, and eight years later it was quietly filled. Pat Noise from pater noster, our father.

For two years he lay at the heart of the city unnoticed, until a journalist spotted the memorial. Its discovery caused a dilemma for the City Council. It was clearly in breach of planning regulations, and it didn’t even commemorate a real person. Some councillors argued for the substitution of the plaque with a memorial for an actual, recognisable Dubliner. Some were particularly aggrieved that the plaque had lain undetected under their noses. When it seemed likely that it would be removed, Dubliners began laying flowers and ironic tributes on the bridge.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Maps and Mapmakers: A Pase Around Old Dublin

published in Dublin Review of Books

Why is a map of a city so evocative? It is, after all, in many ways a reductive representation, reducing the din, excitement and variety of the urban experience to a dry sketch, an outline plot, an aid to navigation or administration. It offers, maybe, an illusion of control: you gaze down at a city captured in its entirety, enjoying the bird’s eye view, as if you might swoop down into a park or street and bear off an exotic snack or trinket. For all its apparent dryness and strict functionality a map holds a pure appeal to the imagination. To look at a map of a city you don’t know is to inhabit it virtually, dreaming your way from Avenida 25 de Mayo to Avenida Scalabrini Ortiz, from Prinsengracht to Sarphatistraat or from the Riva degli Schiavoni to Piazza San Marco.
Technology has intensified this experience, so that we can test a city before we visit it, using Google’s street view to survey the restaurants near the hotel and scope out our evening stroll, swinging round through three hundred and sixty degrees like a prison governor at the centre of his panopticon to peer at windows, traffic lights and parked cars. It’s as if you could try on a segment of your life before submitting to the experience of it. In this sense technology robs cartography of some of its ancient magic, which for me also is a childhood magic. Maps are part of the unforgettable iconography of childhood, maps of imaginary lands, treasure islands, fabulous cities, maps of ancient Greece or Rome, maps of the underworld. Maps can be daunting or frightening. In a pub today a friend visiting from Japan pulled out a map of the Tokyo underground in Japanese, and we looked with a fascinated horror at the dense network of criss-crossing lines and the script of the station names.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

In the Double City

published in Dublin Review of Books

Thomas Street manages to be both within the city and outside it at the same time, as if the walls were still in place and this stretch of the highway outside the city still a distinct suburb. A stone’s throw from Christchurch, a brisk five-minute walk to the front gate of Trinity College, yet the air is different, the light is different, and the smell is different. On this cold February day I cross the wide trafficky expanse of High Street and Cornmarket towards Thomas Street. The traffic acts as a kind of wall, funnelling cars out to the south and into the centre and north of the city, increasing the sense of a passage from one district to another. As you pass St Audoen’s, the limit of the old city, and stare down the sharp incline of Bridge Street where the sun hits the pale brick of Cook Street flats, you realise that you are walking across a high ridge above the river, and this again reinforces the sense of exiting one kind of space and entering another.

There are other signs. In spite of the tiny distance, fashion has never made the crossing. The city has never bothered much with Thomas Street; it seems to exist in permanent neglect, many of its fine old buildings on the brink of collapse, torn down, altered, eternally endangered, at the mercy of the dreams of developers and the chaos of the markets. The street survives, tough, resolute, working class, with a bohemian sprinkle of cafés near the art college like a daub of icing on a crumbling cake. Here is the suit hire shop, the communion shop with the tailor overhead; here is Chadwick’s builders’ supplies with its arched gateway like the entrance to another domain; here are the discount shops, the pawnbrokers, the stalls with stacked toilet papers and chocolate bars; here is Manning’s bakery and what used to be Frawley’s department store, now an outsize clothes shop and soon to be a student accommodation block. For years it was the central shopping anchor of the street, drawing shoppers in from outlying areas, and spawning market stalls outside it to serve the crowds on their way in and out. It was, effectively, a department store for the poor. If you were the kind of person who shopped in Switzer’s or Brown Thomas you didn’t go to Frawley’s; you’d probably never even heard of the place. After a century of trading it ended up in the hands of a now broke developer who intended to demolish it and erect a retail and office complex on the site and has since been bought from the receiver by another developer. In the end, part of the physical structure of Frawley’s was saved by history; it turned out that its hardly imposing exterior hides a mansion in the form of twin “Dutch Billies” built in 1710 and once owned by Joseph Fade, a banker and one of Dublin’s first developers, who lived here with his twenty-one children. The site is also within the grounds of the medieval Augustinian friary that gave the street its name, and who knows what treasures lie underneath its foundations.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Interview with a General

Interview with a General was broadcast on RTE Radio on Sunday 15 October and is now on the drama website in case anyone wants to listen

This evening's radio-play is a contemporary recapitulation of an ancient drama from sixth-century classical Greece. It was Aeschylus, the father of European theatre, that first told the story of the opportunistic warlord who sacrifices his daughter for strategic advantage; and it is poet Peter Sirr, himself a professional translator, who has transposed the original setting of the Agamemnon to the slaughter-house of modern Syria.

Des Cave played the General, 
Deirdre Monaghan ... his wife Clara
Liz Fitzgibbon his daughter Anna
Cathy Belton ... Ellen the journalist.
Sound supervision was by Tom Norton.

The play was produced by Aidan Mathews.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Krakow debut

11 October 2017
Rehearsed Reading of Peter Sirr's first stage play  Krakow, Sunday 15th October at 7pm. Winner of the Eamon Keane Full Length Play Award.

Siamsa Tíre supports a national writing platform and hosts a Rehearsed Reading in association with Listowel Writers Week on Sunday 15th October at 7pm. Winner of the Eamon Keane Full Length Play Award, Krakow is the first stage play by acclaimed Irish writer/poet Peter Sirr.  For this Rehearsed Reading, Neil Flynn directs a top cast of Irish actors – Gerard Byrne (Malachy, Fair City), Geraldine Plunkett (Mary, Glenroe), Moya Farrelly (This is my Father) and Peter Hanly (Braveheart).

Friday, October 06, 2017


Krakow, Rehearsed Reading, Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, Sunday 15 October pm

This is my first play for stage, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing how it goes...

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The Lamp

Anna Kamieńska The Lamp I write in order to comprehend not to express myself I don’t grasp anything I’m not ashamed to admit it sharin...