Monday, December 31, 2007

Destruction at the Hill of Tara

A major part of Ireland’s cultural and archaeological history is under threat from the construction a toll motorway (the M3), which is slated to run right by the Hill of Tara and to destroy thousands of years of important archaeological remains in the surrounding area. There have been many protests, falling on the Irish government’s apparently deaf ears. (Ironically, the new Minister for the Environment is John Gormley of the supposedly environmentally-conscious Green Party, who still claims to oppose the construction of the M3, yet seems to be doing nothing of substance to stop it from going ahead. It is to be hoped that the Green Party is roundly rejected by the Irish electorate the next time around.) A new protest is scheduled for January 8th in Dublin, and in other cities around the world. The following information is taken from the website of TaraWatch. (The Save Tara campaign also has a lot of information on its own site.)

Lismullin Henge • Gabhra Valley, Ireland
by Jarrett A. Lobell (Archaeology magazine)

Early last year, archaeologists working on the route of a controversial highway near the village of Lismullin, Ireland, stumbled across a vast Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, or henge, surrounded by two concentric walls. The 2,000-year-old site is just over a mile from the Hill of Tara, traditional seat of the ancient Irish kings and site of St. Patrick’s conversion of the Irish to Christianity in the fifth century A.D. The discovery of the massive henge, measuring more than 260 feet in diameter, confirms the long-held belief that the area around the hill contains a rich complex of monuments.

The extraordinary amount of archaeological remains on the Hill of Tara — burial mounds, religious enclosures, stone structures, and rock art dating from the third millennium B.C. to the twelfth century A.D. — makes it Ireland’s most spiritually and archaeologically significant site. Construction of the new M3 highway, meant to ease traffic congestion around Dublin, threatens not only the Hill of Tara’s timeless quality, but also newly discovered archaeological sites in the surrounding valley.

Lismullin, seen in an aerial shot taken during excavations (above), and other sites that stand in the way of the new road are now approved for destruction. Although archaeologists and concerned Irish politicians are rallying support worldwide for the protection of the Hill of Tara, the iconic site remains in great peril. At press time, the European Commission had initiated legal action against the Irish government over the M3, charging Ireland with failing to protect its own heritage.


TaraWatch is calling for 300 volunteers to participate in a demonstration/video production, in protest of the M3 motorway works at the Hill of Tara. The demonstration will take place in the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin, at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8, which was the day the National Roads Authority was supposed to hand over possession of the National Monument at Lismullin to SIAC Construction, before it was done early just before Christmas.

There are two different Tara songs that will be performed, either by the original artists, or on tape, for purposes of making a video. Professional dancers will help choreograph some movements, with props such as 300 white crosses, so it should be an interesting demonstration, creating some powerful music and images. Participants should be available to attend a rehearsal on Sunday the 6th of January at 4.00pm at the Garden. Please sign up anonymously, here.
Protests will also take place on 8 Jan. in Belfast, London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Melbourne and other cities. For more information please email

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Art and Revolution

Poetry Ireland recently updated their website, and I discovered that they’ve archived an opinion piece I was asked to write for Poetry Ireland News in 2004. The article is called “Art and Revolution”, and deals primarily with poetry in a social or political context. It sprang partly from criticism leveled at me for (supposedly) having an anti-political agenda when I was editor of The Burning Bush. That criticism (I felt) was always misplaced, but it led to a worthwhile debate, of which this article was one part. While most who were involved in that debate have long since moved on from it, it makes for an interesting backwards glance.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kevin Higgins reviews Ancestor Worship

Kevin Higgins has reviewed Ancestor Worship in today’s edition of the Galway Advertiser (which is Galway, Ireland’s free weekly paper). It can be read at this link, and I also reproduce it below. Much thanks to Kevin and the Advertiser.

An Irish-American Poet in Galway

By Kevin Higgins

I FIRST met Pennsylvania-born Michael S Begnal 10 years ago at an open-mic poetry session at Apostasy Café on Dominick Street when readings often went on towards midnight.

Mike was a Sinn Féin supporter with a big interest in experimental poetry, especially the Beats; I was a recovering Trotskyist who had just discovered TS Eliot. They weren’t exactly idealistic times. However yesterday always seems less cynical than today.

Later we launched The Burning Bush magazine, harbouring illusions of overthrowing the ‘literary establishment’ (I have since realised that the literary establishment exists mostly in the minds of unpublished poets and old men on park benches). The hoped for revolution didn’t happen; our exact aims were rather vague!

Yet The Burning Bush created a space where people could disagree without descending into crankiness. Mike, in particular, used the magazine to open up Irish poetry by promoting linguistically radical poets such as Alan Jude Moore, Trevor Joyce, and Randolph Healy.

It is fashionable to complain about America, but the American influence on the Galway poetry scene — from Jessie Lendennie to the late Anne Kennedy to Mike Begnal to North Beach Poetry Nights — has been profoundly positive. Mike’s contribution, from the Apostasy days to his return to the US in 2004, was important, making the publication of Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry) a cause for celebration.

As the title suggests ‘Irishness’ is one of its big subjects. From Expatriation: “I too’m ‘American’ now,/sauntering the local lanes,/land of ghostly progenitors,/cold stone,/bitter defeat”. Begnal is not any old Irish-American; he’s acutely aware that he is addressing an issue about which the greenest clichés are forever being spoken. His interest in his Irish roots is altogether more profound than that of the typical elderly Bostonian in golfing trousers boarding a tour bus outside Jurys.

A number of the poems here are written in Irish. And in the title poem, Ancestor Worship, a distinctly separatist — almost supremacist — tone is struck at the end: “like LeRoi Jones’s move to Harlem,/broke with his white friends,/changed his name://ancestor worship/is the only religion/truly compatible/with the fact/of evolution”.

The three-page The Conquest of Gaul successfully combines the political and the erotic: “breasts still sway and shake and/bodies soak in camaraderie/the soaked flesh intensely perishable/lust lush will outlast the brick/of the industrial estate”.

The weaker moments in Begnal’s poetry are when concrete images give way to too many abstract concepts. He is at his best in View from a Galway Window: “the faint smell of sewage,/some girl ditches her dog/and a fat woman/heads for the beauty parlour,/open for Saturday business/this Bealtaine,/but all I see are/Mormon missionaries/sent severely from Utah.”

This is not an easy, crowd-pleasing, collection, but then it is not trying to be. It is though, often witty, often caustic, and for me evokes the recent Irish past in a starkly unsentimental way.