|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
On a July evening when the official headlines in Ireland refer to an official report from learned economists that almost half of us nowadays have difficulty in meeting our monthly bills, I want to introduce ye to the fabled Bard of Molagga in the county of Cork who, almost certainly, has witty things to say about that situation this very day. Maybe he even has a new poem on the subject.
Frankly, my own view is that I cannot ever remember a time when the most of us did not have difficulty in coping with the unending stream of brown envelopes with our baptismal names blurred out by squinting cellophane windows.
It has always been a part of life and living, even in the prime of the Celtic Tiger, and is certain to so remain for the overwhelming majority of us. You just do the best you can in an exercise involving both Peter and Paul and the grace of God.
And the unending battle is greatly eased by the presence among us of characters like the Bard of Molagga from Mitchelstown in Cork. The official name behind his own cellophane windows, by the way, is Mike Cullen Aherne, and his brown envelopes are addressed to the district of Hawthorn in Marshalstown, Mitchelstown. I give his full postal address for a good reason, I'll explain later.
The presence among us of what we often call "gas characters" has always been a great salve and healing ointment against the slings and arrows of the day and week.
They had their own wonderfully effective way of dealing with their days and hours. That made us smile or laugh out loud when otherwise we might be frowning.
It is a fact there used to be one or two of these priceless people in every townland. They illuminated their own regions and, in truth, formed a golden facet of our fabled Cead Mile Failte to visitors to these shores.
Sadly, in an era where we have become infinitely more sober, industrious, classified, careful and boring in the extreme, the "gas characters" have become as scarce as hens' teeth. I hugely miss them in any company, and so do the most of us in rural Ireland. They were the baking soda in the social dough.
In that context, and in these drenched days of midsummer, it is a pleasure to report that the Bard of Molagga is not alone as hale and hearty as ever, but is even expanding his area of healing.
I first encountered the man only last summer at the Bowen Trevor Summer School in Mitchelstown.
This is a lively and learned school which I enjoyed immensely.
At some stage of my first evening, I was outside the lecture hall (enjoying a cigarette in the fresh air, of course) when this jeep of the ilk used by General Patton roared into the car park, a man resembling the piratical actor Anthony Quinn in his Zorba era jumped out and went into the hall behind me, and I said to myself that there was a rascally rogue and there should be some craic around him.
By the time I got inside he was surrounded entirely by summer school students of all ages, learned professors and lecturers, and they were hanging on to every word he spoke. That was the Bard of Molagga and I too, having met him over a drink later, immensely enjoyed his style and presence.
I've professionally covered many of the famous summer schools which enliven and inform the season just beginning again. I've written stories about them from Donegal through Sligo (the Yeats event which begat the rest), to Merriman in Clare, Goldsmith in the Midlands and many others.
All of them, in my experience, attract one or two entertaining rascals who are different to all others and who, somehow, you know at once, are speaking about the novel or history or poem or song which they are going to publish next year, but you know will never see the light of day.
I suspected this was the situation behind the wit and whimsy of the Bard of Mologga in full flight in Mitchelstown. I am delighted to be very wrong.
I had an impeccably handwritten letter from him this very morning. I will quote the first paragraph of it.
"I am bringing out a collection of poetry. It has the working title of 'Disregard the Bard at Your Peril.’ I am seeking a review to include in the book.
“The review can be good or bad, no indifference please, as long as I have your permission to use it. Unfavorable reviews only concern me when it comes to sex."
And he added he was seeking reviews of the poems he sent me from a list of names including our (poet) President Michael D. Higgins and Willie Shakespeare.
"Willie Shakespeare doesn't know anything about poetry. I'll probably have to write that review myself. He is an electrician living in Fermoy but I think his name might impress!"
See why I remember the man so clearly and fondly?
Now the real proof of the pudding is the quality of the poetry I received from the Bard of Molagga.
I'm no expert, and I've only read some of them at time of writing this, but I'm touched to the bone and heart by the words and lines and sentiments and substance.
Here, as an example, is the first one I read. I think it is very special in dealing with the realities of a working man so often invisible in literature. It is simply titled "The Laborer.”For him there is no sense of completion,Just the moving on from one place to another place To so the same thing againAt the end of a dayThe blocklayer can count the rowsThe plasterer stretchHis eye along the wall, the Carpenter view his construction.But the man who feeds theMixer, makes the glue, stacksThe blocks and carries the Rubble from over here to over thereIn a trench dug only to be filledIn again. He is gone before theTrades come together. Nine to fiveIs the measure of his toil.No beginning without end. Nine to five from over here to over thereWith little thanks for it.
Is that or is that not the work of a genuine bard? I await the publication of his book eagerly.
Meanwhile, if you are visiting Mitchelstown and see a jeep being driven briskly by a rascally type that resembles Zorba the Greek then know you are meeting the Bard of Molagga.
Stop him in his tracks and demand to know where you can buy a copy of Disregard the Bard at Your Peril