The west of Ireland, the old province of Connaught, is, for the most part, a wild and beautiful place. Its rugged coastline breasts the broad Atlantic. Its mountains and glens are often lonely places, but if you look closely against a slanting evening sun you might see the traces of some old cultivation ‘where mountainy men have sown’ as Padraig Pearse observed. And those of us who grew up there remember how it used to be when the fields were tilled and the turf was saved.
I know only too well from Favourite Poems We Learned in School that poetry is a great vehicle of memory. Lines lodged in the heart can conjure up better than any other medium, I think, scenes from our childhood. And if we were lucky enough to be born in that magical place we will cherish those lines and, remembering them, we will recall, too, the people who lived there and the lives they lived.
All collections of poetry are, of course, subjective. The poems I have selected here are poems from our younger days. They are well known. You will remember them. They will bring you back. There is nothing wrong with being sentimental about people and places we loved. The west of Ireland suffered the scourge of the Great Famine more than any other province and consequently emigration has played its tragic part in its history. The poems and pictures from this collection will, I’m sure, be cherished by people from the west no matter where they have settled in this great world.
There are, of course, poems that recount our history. We are nothing without our history. For the most part, then, these are the poems of our childhood, the kind of poems we learned in school but have half forgotten. Some are in our native Irish tongue. The poets are, for the most part, native to Connaught. The photographs, like the place itself, have a haunting beauty about them.
Thomas F. Walsh, compiler of the very successful Favourite Poems We Learned in School series published by Mercier Press, was born in Headford, County Galway. He is also the author of a biography entitled Once in a Green Summer also published by Mercier and a collection of short reflections entitled In Silent Moments published by Currach Press. He has been a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany and Quiet Quarter on radio. He is a retired primary school headmaster and now lives in Westport, County Mayo.
Liam Lyons, a professional photographer, lives on the shores of Clew Bay, where Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, comes and goes, forms and dissolves constantly in the sun and cloud. His surroundings have been a source of constant inspiration throughout his career. Now retired, Liam was the first Irish photographer to have been awarded an honourary Fellowship for Landscape photography from the Irish Professional Photographers Association. His work hangs in many homes around the world including the White House and the state residence of the Irish President. Currently, Liam is working with Mayo County Library archiving fifty years of his photographic career.
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Photographs by John Reidy